Ms. Thelma Berry, sixty-nine years old, is a community leader in the Sherman Park Neighborhood. Her parents moved to Milwaukee when she was two years old. After her mom passed away, she attended primary school in Alabama while living with her grandparents. During the summer holidays she would come back to Milwaukee and stay with her dad. She hated having to deal with segregation in the South and is thankful that her children and grandchildren did not have to experience what she did when she was young.
In 1966, after graduating from high school, Ms. Berry attended cosmetology school. She married her high school sweetheart, and they spent two and a half years in Germany together. After returning to Milwaukee, Ms. Berry worked multiple jobs—including at Briggs & Stratton and at a nursing home. Ms. Berry is the mother of three children, has nine grandchildren, and is a great-grandmother of four. Her southern upbringing instilled sound moral values in her and also helped her understand what discrimination looks and feels like. She learned how to work hard and remain steadfast in the face of difficulties. She passes these values to her family, friends, and acquaintances.
Currently, Ms. Berry resides in a house that was purchased as a birthday present for her by her late husband in 1976. Her husband chose this home because of its location; the Thirty-Eighth Street School was nearby. Her children ended up being bussed to different schools, which they were not too pleased with, because they liked the Thirty Eighth Street School for its location. A drugstore on 35th Street & Center Street and the National Food Store located on 35th Street & Fond du Lac Avenue were close by. Ms. Berry recalls that when they first moved in, most of the families in the area were white. She got along with everyone, but her children were suspicious that the neighbors were watching them whenever they played outside. One day, Ms. Berry had her children mow a neighbor’s lawn, and they quickly realized that the neighbors were nice people.
Ms. Berry is well respected in her neighborhood. She organized a block club and has served as block captain, captain of the Sherman Park Residential Council, and a member of the Sherman Park Community Association. The mission statement for her block club states, “If I go to your house and knock at one o’clock at night, I want you to let me in because you know me.” She has been block captain for as long as she can remember— only giving it up twice. She notes that there are only about five original homeowners who have been involved since 1976, and the rest are renters. Renters may not be as interested as homeowners to attend block club meetings, which is perhaps why membership decreased over the years. However, Ms. Berry tries to involve renters in community conversations by personally going to talk to them. She loves meeting new neighbors and being outgoing. She also has a great relationship with the kids on her block. Her commitment to maintain social networks and community conversations proves her love for her block and the Sherman Park neighborhood.
Ms. Berry remembers that when she first moved into her home, she hated it. She did not want to tell that to her husband because it was his birthday present for her. She felt that the house did not have enough closet space, the kitchen was not big enough, and the one-car garage was inadequate. She ultimately decided to look past all those things and make many changes to the building. Ms. Berry recounts a story of her young nephew who accidentally started a small house fire which forced them to fix some things. She ended up making changes to the yard and exterior of the house as well. She did some remodeling in the kitchen and bathroom as well. In the future, she hopes to re-stain the floor; her husband was going to finish it, but he never got a chance to do so. She proudly showed us a small well-tended garden in her backyard and flower beds in the front yard. She told us that her garden has been around since 1976.
Why her Husband Purchased the House
Establishing a Relationship with the Children on the Block
Her Southern Upbringing