ROCKFORD – Bill Johnson was with Jim DeVoe when he told their pastor at Rock Church about a dilapidated area west of town and asked if the church could help.
Rock Church sent its youth group to the area to help the neighbors beautify their gardens and even took on some of the bigger jobs that were too much for some of the aging residents.
What started as a one-block project in 2011 led by Jim DeVoe grew into an annual four-day cleanup with 36 blocks that was attended by hundreds of volunteers.
“It got so big that Rock Church couldn’t hold it all anymore, so we started a nonprofit, Project 1013,” said Johnson.
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The annual purge is just one of many legacies from DeVoe, a longtime Mulberry Street resident and West Side advocate, who died of COVID-19 on November 29, aged 72.
“We couldn’t say goodbye”
A memorial organized by DeVoe’s sister Jeannette England was held at the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens on Sunday.
Not only did the deadly virus take her brother, England said, but it robbed family and friends of the opportunity to spend time with DeVoe before he died or to gather together after he died to comfort each other and life and the Her brother’s gift to celebrate, to help others.
“We couldn’t say goodbye,” she said. “We couldn’t hold your hand. You couldn’t connect with those you loved and have a service.”
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In addition to the start of Project 1013 – a reference to the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible: “If the home deserves it, rest your peace on it. If not, let your peace return to you. ”- DeVoe also co-founded the West Gateway Coalition neighborhood surveillance group in 2005.
Bob Esmond, a past group president, said DeVoe has a heart to serve others.
Esmond said he and DeVoe would drive around the neighborhood in a pickup truck to remove discarded tires on several occasions. He said DeVoe would also routinely call ComEd to report any failed street lights.
“People downstairs at the public works might tell you that he called several times about problems in the neighborhood,” Esmond said. “He was always looking for ways to make things better in the neighborhood.”
Visitors to the memorial also spoke of DeVoe’s passion for gardening, model railways, and drawing, all hobbies they said he eagerly shared with the local children.
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Chris Green: cgreen: [email protected]; @chrisfgreen