In the summertime, Dorothy Gregory often walks right out her front door barefoot, swimsuit on, and wades into Lake Michigan. She’d tell you what a blessing it was to have an accessible lakefront in Rogers Park.
She should know; she advised on Loyola’s failed expansion into the lake, one of her many roles over five decades in the neighborhood.
As Loyola has wrestled between being able to grow its campus and keeping the surrounding community happy, a 50-year resident of Rogers Park has been at the forefront of keeping the university’s expansion at bay.
Dorothy Gregory, an 82-year-old woman who lives a hop and a skip north of Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus, has served over decades on numerous neighborhood boards and committees. She’s extended her concern for the happenings of Rogers Park into multiple areas of local government, education, business affairs and — yes — Loyola’s relationship with the neighborhood.
She’s worked behind the scenes and on the front lines as she’s desperately advocated for the neighborhood’s interests against Loyola’s potential encroachments.
She’s in Alderman Joe Moore’s Zoning Committee, the Rogers Park Business Alliance and Moore’s Committee on Our Rogers Park Schools. She helped spearhead the Sheridan Road revamp in the early-1990s, helped found the Southeast Rogers Park Neighbor’s Association and sits on Sullivan High School’s fundraising arm. She served on Loyola’s Lake Shore Advisory Council and advised on Loyola’s long ago proposed fill-in of Lake Michigan.
Last summer, she received two awards recognizing her for her decades of service to the community — Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Seniors of the Year award and the first Gem of Rogers Park award from the Business Alliance — the only person to ever receive the award.
Gregory planted herself in her large, ivy-adorned lakefront home in 1968 and went on to raise four kids with her husband. Along the way, she’s seen Rogers Park change.
She sat in an armchair and reminisced about businesses that used to stretch across Morse Avenue in the ‘60s. She recalled tales of rowdy Loyola students walking the streets around her as the university grew.
Whenever she felt that change wasn’t for the better of the community, she stepped in.
First, it was an issue concerning a difficult-to-deal-with pastor at St. Ignatius Grammar School on West Loyola Avenue.
“Someone should do something about it,” Gregory said. “I said, ‘Well I guess that would be me.’ That’s sort of been my motto. That someone is going to be me.”
She loves Rogers Park because it’s quaint and rich in diversity. She said a huge draw for residents is it’s one of the only neighborhoods with lakefront beach access.
“If I as a resident don’t care about my neighborhood, why would I live here?” Gregory said. “As far as I’m concerned, most people should do that, as opposed to having someone else take care of the problem.”
“So whether it’s the schools, or economic development or whatever comes up, I’m there cause this is where I live,” Gregory remarked sitting in her Albion Avenue home.
That’s what led Gregory to butt heads with Loyola as the school began to develop its campus.
When Loyola wanted to demolish apartment buildings on West Loyola Avenue to put up a women’s dorm in 1986, Gregory went to housing court to argue against it. The university was taking on development into the neighborhood on a case-by-case basis. It didn’t have a long-term plan, Gregory said.
This made locals uneasy, as they figured Loyola would continue to keep their expansion plans close to the vest.
She and her neighbors canvassed the area to garner support and hired a lawyer. It was the inception of the Southeast Rogers Park Neighbor’s Association.
Instead of stubbornness, Gregory confronted Loyola’s development with mediation.
“Universities are always considered to be kind of the enemy,” Gregory said. “They’re always muscling in and taking things, and so on and so forth, and why have that? Why not have a cordial relationship?”
The application for that development was pulled by Loyola after just a few months, records show. Gregory attributed that to her and her neighbors speaking up, and said that spat was a stepping stone to a realization from the university.
Loyola had to be a good neighbor.
After encouragement from Gregory and her constituents, Loyola amended its planned development in 1988 to ease the community’s concerns.
Planned developments lay out the details of how large landowners such as Loyola plan to build and expand to assure residents future developments won’t be detrimental to the surrounding area.
For example, in 1988 Loyola set tentative boundaries for where the campus planned to expand, along with height requirements for future buildings and traffic flow guarantees.
The resulting master plan became part of Loyola’s planned development (PD), PD 34. Loyola has one of the oldest in a city that now has thousands. Loyola amends its PD every ten years or so to account for building plans getting scrapped or new property being acquired and the community is involved in the process.
While she remains a healthy skeptic, Gregory said it’s no doubt relations between Rogers Park and Loyola have improved fantastically since the ‘80s.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
When Loyola sought to expand its campus eastward and fill in Lake Michigan in the late-1980s, neighbors didn’t jump on board immediately.
Gregory was part of an advisory group sent to Ottawa, Canada to observe environmental testing on how the lakefill would transform the area.
While her association eventually supported Loyola’s efforts at the time, she said she was worried about the environmental impact. Loyola was all set to fill in the lake when a federal judge struck down their plans, citing a violation of the public trust doctrine.
Looking back, Gregory said that decision was a godsend. It helped preserve her and her neighbors’ piece of the lakefront.
But she’s done more deliberate things to keep the neighborhood desirable. She’s worked to encourage parents to send their kids to Rogers Park public schools and helped organize one of the city’s five pilot programs for community policing.
In 1994, she was part of a project to revamp Sheridan Road, serving on the project’s Planning and Development Committee. The $1.5 million endeavor sought to preserve and beautify Sheridan by promoting small businesses and planting greenery up and down the street from the entrance of Rogers Park north to the city limits.
It was the Sheridan project that rebranded Rogers Park with the logo residents are familiar with today — multicolored hands forming the leaves of a tree above the blue waves of the lake.
Gregory said she thinks she and her fellow committee members were pretty forward thinking with the design.
“This neighborhood has not evolved the way it has evolved by chance,” she said. “A lot of people in this neighborhood have worked very hard to make it an inclusive neighborhood, to make it a welcoming neighborhood … I can’t imagine wanting to live anywhere else.”
Moore said when he was first considering an aldermanic run in the early-1990s, she was such a fixture of the community he was almost obligated to get on her side. He said he was honored to nominate Gregory for the Seniors award, dubbing her the unofficial “neighborhood historian.”
“The future of Rogers Park and the future of Loyola depend on each other,” Moore said. “She sort of served as a moderating voice.”
Jennifer Clark, a community relations administrator at Loyola, said she remembers her first meeting with Gregory vividly. When she had just joined the university in 2001, Gregory invited Clark over to her home.
She told her that, while she believed Clark had good intentions, at some point she’d go “over to the dark side” and align herself rigidly with Loyola interests.
It’s a sentiment that’s stuck with Clark, she said. With that, Gregory made sure Clark always kept at least one community member’s thoughts in mind.
“She’s not afraid to hold Loyola accountable,” Summur Roberts, Loyola’s director of civic engagement, who’s worked with Gregory for more than a decade, said.
“[Loyola students] might not even realize that there are people outside the university walls that are advocating on their behalf,” Roberts said. “The ideas and the work that people like Dorothy Gregory do make for a more enriched university experience. It’s people like Dorothy Gregory who make it desirable.”
Gregory remarked about her hopes for young people getting more involved at the local level.
“It doesn’t matter what your age is, you’ve got things to contribute.”