Photo provides glimpse of woman Elgin park is named after

Photo provides rare glimpse of woman Elgin park is named after

  • Clara Howard Park, 448 Fremont St., was dedicated in 1978. Jerome Roth and Harold Seigle donated the land in 1975.

      Clara Howard Park, 448 Fremont St., was dedicated in 1978. Jerome Roth and Harold Seigle donated the land in 1975. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
Posted2/27/2020 6:00 AM

For more than four decades, Clara Howard Park in Elgin has had the distinction of being the only park in the city named after an African American woman.

What Howard looked like, however, is only known to a limited few since she died more than 50 years ago and photos of her seem to be rather scarce.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Connecting a name with a face got a little easier this past year thanks to Judy Roth Ries, daughter of one of the park's original donors. Roth uncovered a photo of Clara Howard taken many years ago and recently shared it so the park's namesake will always be known.

This photo from approximately 1952 shows Clara Howard with Gordon Roth. A park in Elgin was named in Howard's honor.
This photo from approximately 1952 shows Clara Howard with Gordon Roth. A park in Elgin was named in Howard's honor. - Courtesy of Judy Roth Ries

According to her obituary, Howard was born in Mississippi in 1910. She came to Elgin in the 1940s. Howard was a prominent member of the Second Baptist Church. She was also a president of both the church choir and usher board. Howard also served on the church's missionary auxiliary and was a church group captain.

For many years, Howard was also a highly regarded domestic employee of Jerome Roth and his business partner Harold Seigle. In 1975, the pair paid tribute to Howard by donating land on the 400 block of Fremont Street for a small city park named in her honor.

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The city of Elgin's website describes it as "a small neighborhood park consisting of a playground and small picnic shelter, named after an admired resident on Fremont Street, Clara Howard, in 1978."

Howard, who lived only a few doors away, never saw the amenity since she passed away in 1968.

Clara Howard Park has seen varies improvements over the years, according to Maria Cumpata, Elgin's Parks and Recreation director. These include a community-built playground in 1994 and other upgrades in 2007.

Clara Howard Park is also one of two parks named after African Americans. The other is Newsome Park at Dundee Avenue and Kimball Street. This park recognizes the Newsome family members and other early African Americans in Elgin.

"Clara Howard was a loving and respected part of our families for many years," said Judy Roth Ries, in sharing her feelings about Howard. "Her loving way and kindness toward our family will always be cherished."

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