Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana • Jan 19, 2019
GARY — One promotes health care in this city. The others maintain their business in Gary, support teachers and education, fought for workers’ rights or rewrote fire safety procedures.
Those five people earned Drum Major and Marcher awards Saturday from the Gary Frontiers Service Club at the group’s 40th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast at the Genesis Convention Center.
The awards recognize someone who has dedicated her/his life to improving the human condition of others. As Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson described them, the honorees share a “tremendous heart for service.”
Despite the snow, hundreds attended and watched as Dr. Janet Seabrook accepted the Drum Major Award. The CEO of Community HealthNet, Seabrook responded after Gary in 1996 was named “the neediest U.S. city without community health.” In 1998, one year out of medical residency, she founded Community HealthNet, which in the past two decades has grown from one trailer in the Glen Park section of Gary to six locations around Lake County.
“I am humbled and overwhelmed by this award,” said Seabrook, a 2018 Marcher honoree and great-niece of the late Martha Morgan Naylor, the 2011 Drum Major Award recipient.
Seabrook recalled the support she received from Naylor and Finis Springer, her kindergarten teacher at Gary’s Douglass Elementary. As classmates laughed when Seabrook said she wanted to be doctor, “Mrs. Springer said I could be whatever I wanted to be,” Seabook said.
Seabrook dreams someday that Gary will be a healthy city, “because being healthy is powerful. Healthy people take care of their homes, maintain their property and pay taxes.”
Disparities in health care remain, the doctor said, “but I want to be part of the solution.”
The four Marcher Award winners are:
Sharon Chambers, businesswoman
Wendell Clayton Harris Sr., activist
Nellie F. Moore, educator
Chief Monroe Smith, retired firefighter
Chambers became the first African American woman to own a State Farm Insurance agency in Indiana. She has maintained her business in Gary while serving with such groups as American Heart Association, Northwest Indiana Urban League and Methodist Hospital Foundation Board.
“It is truly an honor to receive this award,” Chambers said. “I’m trying to make a difference in my community. This award is a milestone as I try to make a difference in the lives of others.”
Harris was active in the Fair Share movement that boycotted Gary businesses that would not hire blacks. He is also a deacon at First Baptist Church in Gary, where his ministries include photography.
“I’m walking in the footprints of those award winners who came before,” said Harris. “This is an honor.”
Moore retired from the Gary Community School Corp. in 2005 after 41 years as an educator. A former Gary School Board member, she serves on the Gary Educational Development Foundation Board, which rewards innovative student projects.
“I’m thankful to the Gary Frontiers Service Club,” said Moore. “I’ve been a supporter of education as an administrator and school board member. I see my role as a supporter, because teachers are under attack these days.”
Smith rose through the ranks of the Gary Fire Department, reaching assistant chief in 1970. The following year, he became the fire chief of Compton, Calif., as the first black man to hold that position in California and the first west of the Mississippi River. He established a fire science academy and developed an accredited firefighter-training program. A Compton fire station is named in his honor.
“When you receive an award of this type from people of your color, it’s something you can’t get over,” Smith said. “I feel extremely blessed.”
Seabook suggested anyone can be a Drum Major or Marcher.
“All you need is a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love,” the honoree said.