Street named for Erma Bridgewater
CHAMPAIGN — When Ron Bridgewater was growing up in Champaign, his mother forbid him to enter The Russian Inn at the corner of Washington and Fourth streets.
Of course, as a teen-ager, he did. One day as he was coming out of the inn his mother, Erma Scott Bridgewater, drove by and saw him.
"I will forever remember this corner and this sign and that whipping I got that day," Ron Bridgewater told about 80 people gathered there Friday morning.
Neighbors, friends, admirers and the extended Bridgewater family turned out for the city's unveiling of a sign declaring Washington Street the Honorary Erma Bridgewater Way.
One of the most beloved and respected figures in Champaign-Urbana, Mrs. Bridgewater died on April 2, at age 99. Champaign Mayor Don Gerard, who spoke at the ceremony, told The News-Gazette he believes it was city council member Michael LaDue who had suggested, before Mrs. Bridgewater died, naming a street in her honor.
During her long life here, Mrs. Bridgewater touched countless lives through personal example and her positions, among them with the city of Champaign as an urban renewal officer and director and assistant director of the Douglass Recreation Center.
Barbara Ware, 62, said Mrs. Bridgewater created at the center a safe environment for young people.
"She had a big impact on my life," she said, before addressing her remarks to the Bridgewater family:
"I will always remember your mother. She was a wonderful, beautiful lady. I wish more people would step up to the plate and do what she did in the community; then maybe we wouldn't have so much violence."
Jenny Putman, intern coordinator at the Frances Nelson Health Center, carried to the dedication a cardboard souvenir fan from Mrs. Bridgewater's funeral, with her photograph on it.
"I keep this in my office at Frances Nelson so it's the first thing that new interns see," Putman said, adding that other Frances Nelson employees do the same. Mrs. Bridgewater had been the first intern coordinator there.
Also taking the microphone was Patsy Howell, Ron Bridgewater's mother-in-law; she called Mrs. Bridgewater the most tolerant and wise woman she had ever known.
"It wasn't I had Ron Bridgewater as a son-in-law," Howell said. "It was I had her — I was in her family."
The strongest link between the two women was their grandchildren, Howell said, calling them perhaps Mrs. Bridgewater's most important legacy before she introduced them as a group.
The Rev. Steve Gilbert, who lives next door to Mrs. Bridgewater's home on Washington Street, told of how he had wondered where Mrs. Bridgewater and her best friend, Ruth Latham, were going every day at 5 a.m.
One day he followed them to the YMCA, where Mrs. Bridgewater swam laps until late in her life. Gilbert saw them and decided if they could swim like that, so could he. He's now up to a mile and a quarter every day.
Gilbert said Mrs. Bridgewater never stopped learning and growing and was always inspiring others to do better in their lives.
"As long as you got a pulse you got a purpose. That's what Mrs. Bridgewater was all about," he said.