From Mississippi to Chicago: Mother Rendell turns 100


BRIDGEVIEW, IL — Like the concentric circles of a tree, Josephine Rendell’s rings span ten decades. She is the matriarch of her family and the oldest member of the church her mother founded more than 65 years ago. His incredible life was celebrated Monday at his 100th birthday party at Moraine Court Supportive Living in Bridgeview, where Rendell has resided since 2018.

Visibly moved by the pink tablecloths covering the folding tables in the activity room, the elegant “Mother Rendell” descended from the elevator to the applause of her cousins, church friends and the “beautiful old people” of Moraine Court came to celebrate his century of life.

Born on July 25, 1922, in Jackson, Mississippi, Rendell was brought to Chicago’s South Side by her parents, Henry Beamon and Josephine Kimball, when she was nine months old. As part of the great migration of African Americans from the South to find a better life in northern cities, her father soon landed a job as a cook at the Michael Reese Hospital. He died when Rendell was young.

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His mother remarried a fellow Jacksonian transplant, Richmond Sheriff, who worked for the downtown Chicago post office. On weekends, Richmond traveled to Champaign, where he served as a church minister. The great gospel singer Mahailia Jackson sang frequently during services.

“The kids loved him so much,” she said.

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Rendell would return to Mississippi each summer to spend time with his grandmother, a country teacher at a black school, who had a small farm. Although Rendell faced Jim Crow racism from the Deep South, their neighbors, white and black, would gather on her grandmother’s porch on Sundays to get her opinion on the day’s events.

“My grandma worked me to death,” Rendell laughed in an interview the week before her birthday. “I had to churn butter, feed chickens and suckling pigs.”

Moving to Englewood with her mother and stepfather, Rendell attended DuSable High School, which she considers her best decade. She loved swimming and ballroom dancing. His favorite teacher was Mrs. Brook, who taught English. Rendell was also classmates with future Chicago mayor Harold Washington.

“He was really comedic,” she said. “He was a nice boy.”

After graduating from high school in 1941, Rendell continued his studies in painting at the Art Institute of Chicago.

“I was really born to paint,” said Rendell, who has become Moraine Court’s foremost artist and does the preliminary drawings for the support community’s Sip and Paint nights.

As a young woman, Rendell danced the night away in the sprawling Savoy Ballroom at 4733 S. Parkway, with a control room that could accommodate 6,000 coats and hats and featured the country’s top jazz artists, including Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday.

“I loved jitterbug,” she said.

Once, while attending a play in downtown Chicago, Rendell met Cab Calloway, who gave him a hug. “I was hugging a celebrity,” she laughed.

She met her husband, Alton Rendell (he died 10 years ago), who worked for Ford Motor’s assembly plant, at a house party. She didn’t like him at first.

“He kept yelling at me,” she said. “I guess I finally gave in. He was a good, kind man.”

The couple settled at 63rd and Carpenter in Englewood and had one son, Alton Jr., who resides in Oceanside, California. The district was an important commercial area on the south side of the city.

“The neighborhood was Jewish, black and white,” Rendell said. “It was like downtown Chicago. There was a Sears, Wieboldt’s, Moody Bookstore and Montgomery Ward.”

She worked as a typist, first in a doctor’s office in the Pittsfield building, then in the I. Fish furniture store, as it allowed her to stay close to home while raising her son.

“It was one of the good jobs women could get at the time,” Rendell said.

His dynamic mother, also named Josephine, founded the Home Mission Apostolic Church, bringing the children of the community together in their home. Rendell helped his mother teach the children Bible verses and give them treats.

“There were so many people coming that we had to get a bigger spot,” Rendell said.

The church moved to 58th Street and State Street. Today, Home Mission Apostolic Church is based in Lansing. Rendell taught Sunday School for 30 years, rewarding students with gold coins for successfully reciting Bible verses. To this day, her former students, now in their 50s, 60s, and 60s, still approach her who remembers the gold coins, including the pastor.

Warren G. Harding was President of the United States when he was born. When asked who his favorite president is today, Rendell’s face beams.

“Barrack Obama.”

Throughout his life, Rendell witnessed many advances in technology. As much as she enjoyed listening to “The Shadow” on the radio, she considers the best invention to be television. “I Love Lucy” has always been one of her favorite shows.

“We not only had something to listen to, but we could see them,” Rendell said. “When it comes to new inventions such as social media, I don’t mess with that.”

She is a few days older than innovative television producer Norman Lear, who also celebrates his 100th birthday this week, and four years older than Queen Elizabeth. She loves church, children and serving Jesus Christ. Rendell credits his longevity and good health to the love of the Lord and time spent in his church.

“Reading the Bible calms me down,” she said.

Her advice to young people and to herself younger is to “stay with the Lord, the only one who will make it through”, and not to marry too young.

“Wait till you hear more.”

Her most desired gift for her birthday was $100, which Moraine Court achieved. She also received art supplies, treats and homemade gifts from residents, where she is much loved.

What is his secret to reaching his 100th birthday?

“Everyone asks me that,” Rendell said. “I pray a lot. I read my Bible all the time. God is good. His word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. I love people. I just give them what the Lord gives me. said to say.”

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