By his own example and his advocacy, Vincent Toran has left a legacy to Milwaukee’s skilled trades’ community. Toran is the first documented African American construction apprentice in Wisconsin. Sponsored by an instructor and a Milwaukee Vocational and Adult School counselor, he entered the union trades in 1948—37 years after Wisconsin became the first state to write a law for apprenticeships.
When Milwaukee became a national pilot for the Labor Education Advancement Program (LEAP), a federally funded initiative whose mission was to recruit, train and place more minority and female candidates in better-paying skilled jobs, then deputy director of the Milwaukee Urban League, Elmer Anderson, immediately pegged Toran for the job. For the next 20 years or so, under LEAP and eventually a new program called Big Step (Building and Industry Group Skilled Trades Employment Program), Toran gathered, nurtured, taught and mentored workers, opening doors in the skilled trades that were previously closed for minorities and women.
Born in Iowa, Toran moved to Milwaukee as a young boy and eventually completed carpentry courses at Milwaukee Vocational and Adult School (later MATC). He completed an apprenticeship through the Milwaukee Area Carpenters Joint Apprenticeship & Training Committee until he took the job with LEAP.
Though he was a first, Toran is quick to point out that his job never came without his being the victim of discrimination. He had the talent, the skills and the credentials, but he still encountered racism. That said, his reputation, determination and tenacity eventually knocked down barriers for those he helped and those who came behind him.
Toran is now retired, but his legacy lives on and recently more than 150 came out to pay tribute to and show their appreciation to Toran as part of a fundraiser for an apprenticeship preparation lab named in his honor.
Mildred English Parrish wasn’t very tall in stature, but she had big ideas and made her presence felt throughout the Milwaukee community and beyond.
Married to Judge Clarence Parrish, she earned two bachelor degrees—one from North Carolina Central University and another from Marquette University. She also attended the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison.
The mother of two daughters—Sheila and Sharon—Parrish never walked in the shadow of her husband. She was co-owner with her husband of Ben-Hur Real Estate Company and Burial Assurance Company, co-founder/organizer of Squaws-Milwaukee chapter, and owner, editor, founder and publisher of Excellence Magazine, an international publication that promoted local Black businesses, education and historically Black colleges and universities.
And, as if she didn’t have enough to do as wife, mother, student, and entrepreneur, Parrish was very involved in civic and community organizations. She was past president Milwaukee Chapter of Links Inc; co-organizer of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.-Pi Upsilon Omega Chapter in Freeport, Grand Bahamas Islands-1987; past president Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc-Epsilon Kappa Omega; Jack & Jill of America Inc – Milwaukee Chapter; first African-American member of Alverno College Board of Trustees; past president Wisconsin Court and Civic Women; board member Marquette University Business Department board; co-founder of Clarence and Mildred Parrish Christmas fund for needy families; board member Milwaukee YWCA; member Calvary Baptist Church; active with Milwaukee Chapter NAACP; college scholarships in the name of Clarence & Mildred Parrish-Milwaukee Foundation, Omega Psi Phi-Milwaukee, University of Wisconsin Law School-Madison, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc-Pi Upsilon Omega Chapter-Freeport Grand Bahamas Islands.
Though no longer with us, Parrish’s enthusiasm and passion for volunteerism and making a difference in the community are legendary. She left a legacy of service that continues through her daughters.