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The mother of the City — that’s how a fellow alderman described Maxine Horn Lange (c1932-2013). “She was the perfect example of a hard-working alderman,” says former Ald. Don Borah (9th). “She was diligent, thoughtful, kind and worried — the city mother. She hovered, worried and oy-vehed.”
A tiny woman, only five feet tall and weighing a hundred pounds, she willingly entered the fray against bigger, louder, older and more established male foes to do battle on issues she believed in, whether it was the need to scatter public housing or to overturn Evanston’s 117-year temperance tradition.
This month Evanston mourns the passing of both Maxine Lange and her husband Charles for whom memorials were held at the Jewish Reconstruction Congregation. “They were a classic Evanston couple,” said Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, “thoughtful, involved and always together.”
And how they were together! They met as undergraduates at Roosevelt University. Married in 1953, they had a short stint in New Jersey when Chuck was in the Army and Maxine taught grade school but soon returned to Chicago where they had spent their childhood and before long enjoyed their own children — Beth, Amy and Robert. They moved to Evanston in 1962. On Oct. 7, in their 59th year of married life, Maxine died. Six days later, Chuck passed away. As his son Robert said at the funeral, his dad had survived prostate cancer, stomach cancer and a stroke, but he couldn’t survive a broken heart.
And how they were involved! Maxine Lange was all about community and community building. Soon after they moved to Evanston in 1962, she was marching for fair housing and, as Beth remembered, “she had us kids all marching with her.” In 1966, Ms. Lange enrolled her son in kindergarten at Foster School, in an integrated pilot program for the Lab School that was to open there in 1967 when Evanston schools were officially desegregated. She organized a Madison Street block party with her across-the-street neighbor and friend, Mary Schiltz, who remembered it as a novelty back then “but soon a tradition.” In 1975 Ms Lange co-founded the Evanston Farmers’Market. Throughout the 1980s she volunteered to read in local schools; and in the late 1980s, as a United Way board member, she helped get the Evanston Community Foundation on its feet. She also served as a board member for Youth Organizations Umbrella (YOU) and the Jewish Reconstruction Congregation (JRC). In 1990, she was board president of the Visiting Nurse Association, and during the 1990s she ran the VNA home hospice program.
Charles Lange maintained a quieter profile. “Chuck was Maxine’s opposite,” recalls close friend Sandy Gross. “He was low-keyed, unflappable, laid-back. Somehow they balanced and counter-balanced each other.” When he was still working as an immunology researcher and faculty member at Loyola University’s Stritch School of Medicine, Mr. Lange stayed in the background as his wife’s greatest cheerleader and supporter and a member of her favorite organization outside the Democratic Party of Evanston – the League of Women Voters. After retiring, he turned from science to art, taking painting lessons and serving on the Evanston Arts Council. He also taught at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Northwestern University as a peer leader of classes in everything from science to folk music and opera.
The Evanston League of Women Voters functioned as a filter for kindred souls, introducing Maxine Lange to many friends and strengthening her analytical skills for her future in politics. She is still remembered for chairing a committee on whether the U.S. should recognize Red China for admission to the United Nations.
“The League served as a launching pad for putting women into government,” said Donna Gerson, a close friend and former 3rd-ward alderman herself.”We learned about government through our study projects, we observed council meetings and we met the aldermen and city manager.” Sandy Gross agreed. Evanston’s first woman city clerk, she said, “The League was where we gained experience, confidence and drive to do these things.” She said, it was also a haven, “where we could meet other concerned women and talk about issues plus the League even provided babysitting.”
Both women helped Ms. Lange in her campaign for 9th-ward alderman. “It took a lot of guts to run for office then. Women just didn’t do it before the feminist movement when most of us were stay-at-home moms,” Ms. Gerson recalled. “It was so exciting. We were swept up in what we thought was a great and important campaign. We were devastated when the local newspaper endorsed Maxine’s opponent, but we just kept fighting harder. We knocked on every door. We pushed for Maxine because we knew she would be a hardworking alderman and an agent of change. And she was.”
Ms. Lange won the election by a 1,459 to 883 margin, becoming the city’s sixth woman alderman.
Controversial issues facing the City Council during Ms. Lange’s years of service, 1971-79, included condo conversions, handgun bans, policing, the Westcor downtown shopping development and concern that rising real estate taxes would push industry out of town. Two budget issues grabbed Ms. Lange’s attention. To bolster Evanston’s anemic economy, she voted in 1972 to let alcohol be sold with meals at downtown restaurants, overturning more than 100 years years of prohibition and transforming Evanston into a dining hub. She also chaired a committee to study tax-exempt properties in Evanston and then proposed bringing specific properties back onto the tax rolls and requiring other tax-exempt entities to make payments in lieu of taxes. She introduced a 1973 resolution urging the state legislature to ratify the Women’s Equal Rights (ERA) amendment, a resolution the council passed unanimously. In the debate on public housing, she led the fight for scattered sites. Karen Chavers, Cook County’s 13th District director, says that “Maxine, along with Sue Brady, Alice Kreiman and the rest of that ground-breaking crew, fought hard for scattered-site public housing so it is all over town, not ghettoized. Our office considers Evanston’s public housing the best model in the county.”
Commissioner Suffredin recalled “Maxine as a no-nonsense person, who cut to the heart of the matter.” Ms. Gross called her “energetic, feisty and smart.” In particular, she remembered “Maxine locking horns with John Wyandt over public housing” and protesting to city manager Ed Martin that his plan to save money by reorganizing would mostly cut out women employees. Ms. Gross even recalls a stand-off between the two of them. She said, “I chaired a committee that recommended moving city hall to the former Marywood High School for Girls on Ridge. Maxine hated the idea of moving the civic center north. Mayor Vannemann and most of the alderman were for it, but Maxine stood against it.” Armed with a new master’s degree in urban planning from Northeastern Illinois University, she insisted city hall should be in the center of downtown or at least on the edges. “She argued articulately and fervently, but she lost. Intense as that debate was,” Ms. Gross said, “Maxine never let it affect our friendship. She was the best sort of politican.”
“Mom loved the political scene,” Beth Lange said. “She campaigned for many candidates and served as mentor and guide to many who sought public office.” She called her “a wonderful mother and role model.”