Gathering at Nathan Haliburton Jr. Way Photo by Bob Seidenberg  

Before she became alderman, Delores Holmes was best known for work as executive director of Family Focus. The agency played an early role in providing support services for unwed mothers, during a period when that status was still viewed as a stigma.

It was during that time she got to really know Nathan Haliburton, Jr., director of the Haliburton Funeral Chapel at 1317 Emerson St., but in a much different role.

 “Mr. Haliburton did something which made our kids feel really special,” she recalled.  “We had a program for our pregnant parents and teens, and he would take them on outings and trips. And Mr. Haliburton would bring a limousine, line them up, and take them to whatever they were doing and bring them back.”

“Now if you’re a teenager,” Ms. Holmes continued, “and people are already looking at you cross-eyed because you are pregnant, that’s really special. And he did that, and it had never been done.”

Ms. Holmes and other family and friends gathered at Emerson Street and Wesley Avenue, just down the street from Mr. Haliburton’s funeral chapel, to dedicate that portion of the street “Nathan Haliburton Jr. Way” in his honor.

Ms. Holmes and current Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, worked together on the street naming honor, which City Council approved late last year.

The resolution took note that since 1975, Mr. Haliburton has served as the funeral director of Haliburton Funeral Chapel. “He is a steward to families in the grieving and decision making process, showing compassion, insight, comfort and helping hands.”

The resolution also took note of Mr. Haliburton’s roles within his church, Mount Zion M.B. Church for 35 years, and his considerable community service.

Mr. Haliburton has “provided leadership and support with an organization devoted to Evanston’s youth, Youth Backers Scholarship Club, as a previous President and Vice-President of the organization that provided support systems for youth as they matriculated through college with scholarships and provided a platform to showcase their talents.”

The resolution noted that Mr. Haliburton also served his country in the United States Air Force as a radar technician, taught electronics and mathematics and served as a general foreman for the Chicago Northwestern Railroad.

Ald. Simmons got to know Mr. Haliburton when she was still a young girl at Family Focus, where she was volunteering and involved in programming, she said. She remembered his limousines, too.

“It was my 12th birthday where he arranged for a limousine service to pick me up at King Lab (School), and he had my Mountain Dew and Doritos in there to bring me to Family Focus for more programming,” she said. “But that’s the type of service he did – just without ego, and very quietly.”

Through the application process, Ald. Simmons said she learned a lot more about Mr. Haliburton, including his service at the local Masonic lodge and volunteer efforts in the broader community.

“I know that he’s done much to support families in their time of bereavement, sometimes with reduced or free services in burying their families. He always has an encouraging word when you see him – and a joke,” Ald. Simmons added.

As a funeral director, centered in Evanston’s Black community, Mr. Haliburton brought a special sensitivity to his work.

“You’re dealing with people and families in their most vulnerable times often,” Ms. Simmons explained, “and the community that he has a heart for often is under-resourced in giving their loved ones the home-going service that they deserve.  Mr. Haliburton has worked with families and found many creative ways to make sure they get the services that they need to honor their families.

 “It’s a social service. It’s a human service,” she said. “He works very close with the faith community here and he’s been just an important partner really in the community work we all do as leaders.”

Ms. Holmes and Ald. Simmons had tried to keep word of the resolution away from Mr. Haliburton until closer to the ceremony itself but word slipped out.

Family, friends, members of the faith community and Mr. Haliburton’s Mason brothers poured out along Emerson Street for the street naming and then regrouped at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center to pay tribute and share a buffet lunch in Mr. Haliburton’s honor.

Mr. Haliburton said, “This is such a wonderful” honor, and expressed gratitude for the love expressed. He spoke of his own humble beginnings, making a journey “from the outhouse – no running water and no gas, heat and picking cotton – to have my name up on a street.”

He filled in the group on an experience in his background that had a major influence on his life.

“I was a Boy Scout at age 11. I ascended to the ranks of Eagle Scout. I went to the National Jamboree, there were 50,000 boys,” he recalled. “We were segregated then. I had two Black troops and I was the senior patrol leaders for the entire Boy Scouts from six states.

“Scouting taught me basic principles,” he said. “One is ‘Be Prepared.’”

About his own contributions, “I’ve never given anything looking for anything. I’ve always given because every time we give we also get something.”

Looking out at the group, he said, “When I see this love and support from all of you, this is what keeps me going.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.