By Anita Wardlaw
Responding to comments of how sharp she is, Marion McElroy said, “God is good and I am blessed,” at her surprise 90th birthday party held at the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center on April 14.
From as far as New York and Texas, more than 100 friends and family members attended the dinner celebration, including many leaders that McElroy has mentored. “She has friends of all ages and races, from Washington, D.C. to California and Oklahoma. She’s not only blessed, but a blessing and inspiration to all of us. I love her dearly,” said McElroy’s niece, Andrea (Dee Dee) Majors-Hollin of Minneapolis.
A video at the event honored McElroy, who was born March 16, 1922 in Minneapolis and graduated from North High in 1940. At Strutwear in Minneapolis, McElroy became the first African American woman to operate the power seaming machines and the first African American shop steward.
Furthermore, McElroy was the first African American woman hired by Northwestern Bell, where she worked from 1969 to 1986, rising to manager and coordinator of the Corporate Minority Business Exchange.
In 2007 McElroy won the prestigious Andrus Award for Community Service, the American Association of Retired Persons’ (AARP) highest honor, given annually to only one person in each state.
“That award goes to leaders who inspire others to serve,” said Amy McDonough, Associate State Director of Advocacy for AARP Minnesota. “Marion is remarkable. She founded the Sabathani Chapter of the AARP — one of our best chapters today. Marion has coordinated bus trips to lobby with legislators in St. Paul, is dedicated to intergenerational mentoring, and is involved in so many of our initiatives.”
She also has served as Wallin Scholarship coordinator for the Friends of North High School, secretary to the Minneapolis Socialites, youth employment director for the National Alliance of Businessmen, and on the Minnesota Board on Aging. Recently the African American Breast Cancer Alliance honored McElroy as the oldest survivor — trumping the disease 48 years ago.
McElroy also is active at St. Peter’s AME Church where she’s served for 52 years, attends a Bible study at Sabathani Community Center, and participates with Volunteers of America Elder Center.
“Mrs. McElroy is a trailblazer who paved the way for many, particularly in the corporate sector. She has her place in history and in our hearts,” said Barbara Milon, executive director of the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center where McElroy has been involved most of her life; the center became like a “second home” to McElroy as she was growing up.
“Her accomplishments are many, including participation at Phyllis Wheatley Community Center on the board of directors and Phyllis Wheatley Senior Alumni Association. She was a reader for our after-school youth program and supported the book drives.
“I appreciate her mentoring, leadership, and belief in community. She has a very special way of connecting with people. She is an esteemed elder who is very respected. She dresses to ‘the nines,’ and no one says no to Mrs. McElroy.”
Recently, McElroy and other seniors voiced concerns about a proposed dog park for Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, which captured the attention of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. The community-wide discussion resulted in the dog park’s placement in a more suitable location and a renewed focus on what it means to have a park named after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
McElroy, who has lived in the same home for about 40 years, has made it a warm, welcoming, and nurturing place. At her 90th birthday party, flanked by adoring guests, it was clear that a key to McElroy’s success is strong faith, a loving extended family, good friends, and a prevailing passion for giving back to the community.
Anita Wardlaw welcomes reader responses to Anita@Wordspin.net.