Cordelia Taylor retires from Family House
by Taki S. Raton
“Cordelia has done a marvelous job. She has been absolutely outstanding creating something that did not exist 26 years ago,” said Clarence Johnson, Family House board member at the August 2, 2013 retirement dinner and program honoring Mrs. Cordelia Taylor.
He adds that Family House has been a “beacon of hope for people who are aging; for individuals who need not just quality care, but also compassionate care. “She is unique. She is one of a kind and an icon of and for this community. Her legacy will continue for many years to come. I am proud to be a part of this effort.”
A host of friends, family, foundation representatives and community stakeholders attended Taylor’s retirement dinner at the Italian Community Center. Themed “Celebrating 26 Years of Caring for the Community,” the evening’s celebration featured board member compliments, family congratulations and remarks from the community and close friends.
Cordelia Taylor is founder and director of Family House, a residential long-term care facility that has served the Milwaukee community at its current location, 3269 North 11th Street. Family House services 58 seniors 55- years and older on a 24-hour schedule in a comfortable home setting that does not resemble any facility in the city offering a comparable level of service.
“My upbringing in the South has turned out to be the cornerstone of my work here at Family House being raised with my grandparents,” says Taylor in a late July interview.
“In that day, children took care of their grandparents because our parents went to the fields to work. And if there was a grandmother, grandfather or a great grand mother, the children stayed home and brought them water and did whatever they told them to do.”
The Family House founder said that she has been around seniors since “the beginning of my life” and that her work on 11th Street is but a formal continuation of putting her upbringing and home training into practice as in her words, “serving the needs of my community.”
Rest assured, Mrs. Taylor is an exemplar product of southern Tennessee stock. Described as being a prideful Black man, her father was determined to be independently responsible and take care of his family. But in 1947 when Taylor was only 12- years-old, two white men killed her father after he bragged that he would not have to borrow money from a White man’s bank to plant his corps.
When her mother and grandfather sought a lawyer, the banker and the sheriff warned them that if they tried to hire an attorney, they would burn the family’s farm and force them to leave Tennessee. To preserve their property and a home to raise and educate the children, her grandfather and mother opted not to pursue murder charges. As cited in Barbara J. Elliot’s 2004 “Street Saints: Renewing America’s Cities” writing:
“So I grew up a very bitter, very racist young woman. I was looking for revenge. But my grandfather, Joe Thompson, chose not to do anything. He was trying to teach me that love and forgiveness are the way to go, and that if you carry hatred, it would harm you more than the person you were hating. But I didn’t understand that for a long time.” To the question of what did she think her father would have said about her work and accomplishments at Family House?
“My father would have seen my work here in Milwaukee as almost an impossibility given the times then under Jim Crow. He saw white people as having a very strong hold not only over Black people but over poor white people as well.” But her strong southern upbringing is reflective of her father’s courage, the family’s foundational faith in God and, in her words, she feels her father would look at her and say: ‘I am very proud of you.’”
At the age of 17, she moved north with her husband in search of employment and after giving birth to eight children, Taylor returned to school at the age of 37 to study nursing. Upon the successful completion of a nursing program and then continuing on to earn her Registered Nurses (R.N.) degree, Taylor took a job at a large nursing home facility, but was overwhelmed by the fact that the residents were not treated with dignity and that care was often governed and prioritized by cost. Those who most needed assistance were not able to afford it.
In an article by this writer on Family House in May of this year, Taylor said of her experiences at the Plymouth Manor Nursing Home on Sixth and Walnut: “I couldn’t take what was going on in this nursing home. Things just aren’t the way they should be.”
Sharing with her husband the frustration, pain and sorrow for what she was going through on the job, he in response challenged her to open her own residential treatment center for the elderly that would, “be more like a real home and make care available to them regardless of their income.”
Described as a Christ-centered ministry dedicated to providing a comfortable home to senior citizens and disabled adults, Family House opened 26 years ago in 1987. Taylor shared in our interview that again, her upbringing served as a guide to insure that the residents are given Christian love, respect, and a sense of dignity:
“Throughout my entire life, we were raised that no matter what, you never talked back, argued or showed disrespect to the elders because they are the adults and you always respected them and their words. We therefore continued and cultivated these traits of nurturing, caring, respect, and a sense of connectedness, one to another, here at Family House.”
Her daughter, Dinah Taylor who planned the evening’s retirement festivities said of the honoree that the evening was exciting and eventful and that her mother now, “will get the rest that she is well deserving and can travel a little bit more.” She adds:
“Mrs. Cordelia Taylor worked very hard for other people. She can now enjoy the fruits of her labor. But I will have to pick up where she left off and I am truly honored to carry forth this proud legacy. I am reminded of the words of Albert Einstein when he wrote: ‘When we work for others, our lives are worth living.’”
Earl Luckett who attends the Family House Friday evening prayer services says of Mrs. Taylor that she is “a wonderful person and is hard working.” Family House employee Brenda McGhee who also attended the event said of the founder that “Cordelia Taylor started everything for me. She is the one who brought me into Family House. She taught me everything that I know and I wanted to be here for her in this celebration of her retirement.”
Guest Queenie Lock shared that “I met Mrs. Taylor many years ago. She and my husband were working together when she started Family House.
“He was working with her and that’s how I met her. I worked with Family House at one time with their Food for Thought program. She has done simply amazing things with Family House and with that neighborhood. So I came here tonight in honor of her work and out of respect for her lifelong contribution to the community.”
Board member Dr. Kevin Izard at the conclusion of the evening said of Taylor that, “she is one of a kind. She is unique and very humble about what she has accomplished.
“My hope is that when she retires, that she will find another place where she will continue to be busy because Family House has been her life now for all these 26 years.”
Representing the Milwaukee Urban League, President and CEO Ralph Hollmon said that, “Mrs. Taylor is definitely our community angel. She is a tremendous asset to the community and an inspiration for all of us. She has done something for the seniors in this community that is just outstanding and magnificent. She has provided them with a place to live with dignity and with respect. The Milwaukee Urban League works to enhance the quality of life for everyone in this community. This is why we think so highly of Mrs. Taylor because she has done this work admirably over her entire 26-year career.”
When asked of her legacy, Taylor responds: “I hope that I am leaving a legacy of working together and to show that all of us have something to contribute. And if we just work together, we can make a positive change in our community. I would hope that my contribution has been bringing about a positive change in this neighborhood.”
Taylor continues to explain in her July sharing as to why she feels that she, her husband and Family House has made a difference there around 11th and Ring:
“My husband and I have been connected to this neighborhood since 1960. I have never had a flower stolen. I have never had a window broken. I never had a break-in of any kind. And that follows through to today. And I attribute all of that to getting to know your neighbors, working with your neighbors and treating people the way you want to be treated regardless of where they live, what they did, or the color of their skin. “
During her retirement, she said what she will miss most is the routine of getting up and coming to work every day and that at some point, she might even concentrate on writing a book:
“So many people have said that to me – ‘please write a book’. Given our life in Tennessee after with what happened to my father and then moving forward here with Family House and now this next stage of retirement, it would be great to share with others my journey in life.”
When asked if there would be a focal point or a theme that might be carried throughout the pages of her writing, she reveals not surprisingly: “I think that one of the strong points that I would focus on in a book would be the character of my upbringing that we previously talked about and how those same values now serve as foundational ingredients in Family House and in many of our programs. And, in part, those values would be the recurring themes of honesty, education, dignity, connectedness one to another, and respect for all people.”
We wish Mrs. Cordelia Taylor well in her retirement and very much look forward to the wisdom, guidance and inspiration to be shared in her published memoirs.