Educator, civil servant and activist Wadell Brooks Sr. of North Chicago dies; ‘His work helped so many people’ – Chicago Tribune
Wadell Brooks Sr. of North Chicago gave his three children two “nonnegotiable” rules when they were young — they would go to church every Sunday, and they would go to college.
“No matter what else we were doing, we made time for church,” Cassandra, Brooks’ daughter, said. “We had to attend college. There were no questions. No exceptions. He was all about education.”
Brooks’ three children — Cassandra, Yolanda and Wadell Jr., — who are in their late 50s and early 60s, have seven degrees between them, successful careers and are all leaders in their respective churches.
“Life would not be worth much without either,” Cassandra Brooks said. “He stressed that without God nothing would be possible. It was our faith in God that kept our family together.”
Brooks, who earned three degrees himself in a life devoted to helping others as an educator, civil servant and activist in numerous organizations, including the NAACP and Urban League, died Monday from cancer. He was 89.
Daisy, Brooks’ wife of 64 years, said faith and education were the foundation of the family. Her children’s professional success and continued involvement with their religion has become the family legacy.
“It makes me feel like a very proud mama,” Daisy Brooks said.
Wadell Brooks Sr. was born Jan. 20, 1933, in Lexington, Mississippi, and moved with his family at a young age to East St. Louis, where he was the first Black graduate of East St. Louis High School.
Cassandra Brooks said schools in East St. Louis were desegregated just before the second semester of her father’s senior year. When he entered East St. Louis High, he was the only Black student that semester.
After graduating from what is today Illinois State University with a degree in business education, Brooks joined the U.S. Army, where he served 16 months of his two years in Korea. In 1959, the Brooks family moved to North Chicago where he was working.
Initially working at the VA hospital at Naval Station Great Lakes as an educational therapist, Brooks held multiple positions with increasing responsibility at the hospital and then the naval base.
Jobs with the federal civil service ranged from educational specialist to housing director, and eventually 11 years as deputy equal opportunity employment director, retiring in 1990 after 35 years with the government including his time in the army.
While working as a government employee, Brooks got involved with different organizations in the Waukegan and North Chicago area in the 1960s, including the NAACP, Urban League, Rotary International and many more.
Waukegan Township Trustee Percy Johnson said he got to know Brooks shortly after he arrived in North Chicago. Johnson said Brooks’ mission was making people’s lives better, and getting them involved in their community.
“He was very compassionate and wanted all people included,” Johnson said. “He was very devoted. It was the way he lived his life. His work helped so many people in the community. He thrived on getting people involved.”
While he was still working for the government, Brooks and his wife opened Tots & Toddlers day care center for children 3 and older in North Chicago. Sensing a need for infant care in the area, Daisy Brooks said they sold Tots & Toddlers in 1979 and opened Daisy’s Nursery for babies the same year.
A few years after selling the nursery, Daisy Brooks said she and her husband opened Daisy’s Resource and Development Center, also in North Chicago. It was a residential facility for girls from 12 to 21 who were wards of the state. Education and vocational training were provided.
“The goal was to make them self-sufficient,” Daisy Brooks said. “We had a school on site. We taught cosmetology, computers, child care, so they could open their own center, English as a second language and nursing,” she added referring to the vocational programs.
Daisy Brooks said the center was closed in 2016 when the state withdrew funding.
While Brooks’ children were growing up, Cassandra said her father insisted they learn to play the piano and later choose another instrument so, “we would be well-rounded.” There were many band concerts. Waddell Brooks, Jr., said their father never missed one.
“He was always in the audience,” the son said. “I was so proud he was there. He was clapping for us.”
Among Brooks’ accomplishments, Cassandra said he had a weekly radio show on WKRS in Waukegan, which continued until he became ill with cancer.
In addition to his wife and children, Brooks, who was an only child, is also survived by his daughter-in-law, Pamela, and two grandchildren.
Funeral services are planned at 11 a.m. Saturday at Shiloh Baptist Church of Waukegan, 800 South Genesee St. Visitation starts at 9 a.m. at the church, with burial following the service at Northshore Garden of Memories Cemetery in North Chicago.