WOODLAWN — As Lucinda Rogers celebrated her 100th year of life on a beautiful summer evening, her front entryway became a dance floor and she showed off the moves of a spry young woman.
“There’s that 100 — 16-year-old queen,” one partygoer joked over a loudspeaker playing Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday.”
Rogers was twisting for her loved ones and neighbors who came out to celebrate her birthday Thursday.
Born June 18, 1920 in Biloxi, Mississippi, Rogers has called her ranch house on the 6800 block of South Champlain Avenue home since the 1970s.
A surprise parade and block party at the house was organized by members of Rogers’ Washington Park church, the Greater Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church, and the Andrew Holmes Foundation, whose “Club 100” throws grand celebrations for Chicagoans’ 99th and 100th birthdays.
Dozens of attendees made the celebration “out of this world,” said Preston Allen, whose wife Lizzie was Rogers’ longtime co-worker.
He didn’t expect the gathering to be as large as it was, but said it made sense considering how long Rogers has been alive and her care for those in her circle.
“This is just Mama; this is our play-mother,” Allen said.
The entire block was closed off to traffic, just as it was when Rogers oversaw a block club committee that threw regular parties. Rogers stays involved, as residents said she’ll stroll the block with her walker, picking trash out of neighbors’ lawns.
But “the neighbors are different” than they were when Rogers first moved to the West Woodlawn block, she said. It was quieter then, home to professionals like Jolyn Robichaux, the Black chairwoman of the Baldwin Ice Cream Company who died in 2017 at the age of 88.
Though long-time residents like Patricia Flakes said some former professionals have stuck around in retirement, the sense of community from decades past has been lost as others moved in.
However, Flakes and other Champlain Avenue neighbors said they’re looking to restart the block clubs in an effort to rebuild that sense of community.
“We want to bring the block back and surpass where it was, because we did know all of our neighbors,” Flakes said. “[We don’t] right now. Just the ones that have been here.”
Without a formal block club, newer residents looking to bond with their neighbors — like Diane Reasonover — have depended on Rogers to show them the lay of the land.
“Miss Rogers represents longevity,” said Reasonover, who moved to the area five years ago. “Her telling me, ‘I’ve been here for all these years; I see the difference and want [the neighborhood] to be come better’ — I can receive that.”
The coronavirus pandemic meant Rogers wasn’t able to take a ride in a limousine like Club 100 members usually do, said Andrew Holmes, the Dolton community activist. Instead, his foundation brought the party to her.
“I gave her 100 roses from me, and people in the neighborhood have been giving her roses too,” Holmes said.
Though she didn’t know about the parade plans, Rogers said she stayed up until midnight Thursday so she could claim a century of life as soon as possible.
From those first moments alone as a 100-year-old to the neighborhood party, Thursday gave the lifelong lover of travel and dance an opportunity to reflect and celebrate.
“I’ve done so much in my life,” Rogers said.
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