The Chicago Area’s nonprofit community is mourning the death of revered community activist and leader Karen Ruth Chavers. A champion in the fight for fair housing and community preservation, Ms. Chavers died on Aug. 23 after a long battle with cancer.
Ms. Chavers was born on Jan. 26, in New Orleans, La., to Thyra Emily (Bluen) and Harold Clark. She was the oldest of five children and the only girl. The family moved to Chicago when she was a child. A life-long Catholic, she graduated from St. Elizabeth High School. Her higher education experience included Olive Harvey College and Mundelein College. She met her husband Angelo Raphael Chavers on Thanksgiving Day, 1966. They were married on Aug. 11, 1973. The marriage produced a son, Angelo, on July 3, 1980.
Ms. Chavers’ career path began as an administrator in Human Resources with Illinois Bell and led to Manager of Human Resources with FMC Corporation. After her son was born, the family moved to Evanston. There she focused her talent for organizing and her passion for serving people on the nonprofit arena.
From the early 1980s to 2000, Ms. Chavers led the Evanston Neighborhood Conference and its teen empowerment program. She also served as a founding board member and later advisory board member of the Evanston-based Shorefront Legacy Center, which collects, preserves and educates people about Black history on Chicago’s North Shore. Dino Robinson of the Shorefront Legacy Center says, “Karen Chavers taught me the value in understanding community and how communities interconnect with each other.”
It was her dedication to solving fair housing issues that best defines Ms. Chavers’ community engagement. In 1994, she served as board president of Open Communities, an organization that promotes housing, economic and social justice in north suburban Chicago.
In 1999, Ms. Chavers helped organize North Suburban Housing Partners, a housing coalition of two dozen organizations working to put a face on housing issues on the North Shore. She was a board member of Turnstone Development, a not-for-profit that creates and preserves affordable housing opportunities for low-income families and seniors on the North Shore. She also served as treasurer of the Housing Authority of Cook County.
In 2003 when Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin took office, Ms. Chavers was appointed the District Director, a position she held until her passing. Mr. Suffredin said of her, “She was the leader of our team and the moral compass for many social justice initiatives.”
Ms. Chavers was a shining light in Evanston’s nonprofit community and a mentor to many.
Gail Schechter, a fellow community activist, said “An organizer is always behind the scenes, bringing forth the leadership of others.” That sentiment certainly describes Karen Chavers.
Ms. Chavers’ greatest joy came from spending time with her family and serving her community. She was preceded in death by her father, Harold and brothers, Harold and Kevin. She leaves behind to mourn her, her mother Thyra, son Angelo, brothers Mark and David, grandchildren Ariana, Marcelo, Jaden, Amaya and Nia, a niece and many nephews, cousins, aunts, an uncle and a host of friends and colleagues.
The Celebration of the Life of Karen R. Chavers’ Life was held at St. Felicitas Church on Aug. 31.