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CCHCC mourns beloved 5th & Hill leader, M. D. Pelmore

July 1, 2021

Dear friends,

A mighty oak has fallen.

Champaign County Health Care Consumers and our 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign is mourning a beloved leader and dear friend, Mr. M.D. Pelmore.

Mr. Pelmore passed away on the night of Friday, June 25, 2021.

For more than 13 years, Mr. Pelmore has been a resident leader of the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign. And he has been an extraordinary leader – strong, generous, kind, determined, and undeterred. Mr. Pelmore was sweet, welcoming, gracious, and nurturing to all of us working on the Campaign. But his gentle exterior belied his fierceness and tenacity when it came to advocating for justice for the 5th & Hill neighborhood – his neighborhood.

Yes, a mighty oak has fallen.

But even as we mourn Mr. Pelmore, we are also filled with gratitude and wonder for having our lives enriched and made better for having had the honor of knowing and working with Mr. M.D. Pelmore. I do not exaggerate when I say that anyone who knew Mr. Pelmore, and who was on the side of justice, had their lives graced simply from knowing this extraordinary man.

(Please scroll to the bottom of this message to see information about Mr. Pelmore’s service tomorrow – Friday, July 2, 2021.)

The 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign, started in 2007, is an environmental justice campaign dedicated to protecting the health of the neighborhood residents and the rights of the community in relation to the former manufactured gas plant toxic site owned by Ameren, located at 5th and Hill Streets in Champaign. CCHCC is organizing this campaign in collaboration with neighborhood residents and former residents. The Campaign is currently focused on trying to make the IL EPA and Ameren expand the area of investigation in order to identify all toxic contamination that resulted from the operation of the former manufactured gas plant.

The 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign has had many significant victories over the past 10+ years, under the leadership of Ebbie Cook (deceased in 2018), along with Maggie Cook, MD Pelmore, Eileen Oldham, Sandra Jackson, JB Lewis (deceased in 2021), and Jessie Clarette. Some of those victories include forcing Ameren to excavate and remediate the 5th & Hill property, compelling the City of Champaign to “cap” the toxic pipe that funneled tons of coal tar into the Boneyard Creek, filing a lawsuit against Ameren, and engaging the US EPA to investigate indoor vapor intrusion into residents’ homes (currently ongoing) as a result of the spread of toxic chemicals through the soil and groundwater in the neighborhood.

We first met Mr. Pelmore in late 2007, when CCHCC helped organize the very first community meetings about the Ameren-owned toxic site. I remember a meeting that was held at the Douglass Annex, hosted by the City of Champaign. IL EPA representatives were present, along with City of Champaign representatives and consultants. A city consultant got up to speak and he was mocking residents who claimed to have old wells and cisterns in their homes and on their properties. The reason the issue of the wells and cisterns was important is because the wells – even if they are somewhat covered up – trap toxic vapors and can release those into the indoor air of the homes, increasing residents’ risk for toxic exposure.

This city consultant was openly mocking residents who claimed to have wells. He said there are no wells in people’s homes. The whole purpose of his mocking statements was to try to convince residents that there was no risk to them.

Well, I did not know Mr. Pelmore well at that time – what I knew of him was his kindness, his soft-spoken and gentle side. I had no idea what a strong and courageous person he was. He stood up in that meeting and he confronted the city consultant. He said “I am one of those people who has a well in my home, and in my side yard. My home was built over a well.” And he went on to challenge the city consultant to the point where the consultant had to apologize and acknowledge his own lack of knowledge. Mr. Pelmore’s stern statements, and the way he stood up and would not back down, impressed me greatly. I thought he was magnificent! The response Mr. Pelmore got from his fellow residents also showed that he possessed gravitas, and that he had the respect of all the residents in the room.

After that insulting meeting, the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign kicked into higher gear. Mr. Pelmore offered his home to us for regular campaign meetings. So, between 2008 and until around 2017, when Mr. Pelmore’s health started to decline, the Campaign leaders met twice a month, almost every single month, at Mr. Pelmore’s home!

Not only did Mr. Pelmore open his home to us for these regular Campaign meetings twice a month, but he welcomed all sorts of folks into his home, for the purpose of advancing the Campaign. We had other resident leaders attending the meetings – leaders like Ebbie and Maggie Cook, JB Lewis, Eileen Oldham, Jessie Clarette, Mel and Bev Lacy, just to name a few. We also had dedicated Campaign volunteers like Andy Bloeser. Andy canvassed the neighborhood for 5th & Hill for years, and he earned a special place in Mr. Pelmore’s heart for his dedication to the Campaign and the neighborhood residents. We had stalwarts like U of I History professor Kathy Oberdeck, and students from Landscape Architecture like Jose Castillow-Pilcol; Environmental Engineering like Serena Hou; and the U of I Urban Planning student group, including Christopher Di Franco, Djordje Takov, Chris Ackerman, and community members like Michael Cox, and CCHCC Board Members Shea Belahi, and Ellie Fujimoto. There are too many folks to name who dedicated themselves brilliantly to this Campaign, inspired by Mr. Pelmore. We also had lots and lots of students from the U of I, from a variety of disciplines and student organizations who were welcomed by Mr. Pelmore, and whose efforts were made to feel appreciated. Many of their lives, and their career paths, were influenced by Mr. Pelmore and their involvement in the Campaign.

We also had a variety of guests attend the meetings at Mr. Pelmore’s home – City Council members, the City Manager, other City staff, consultants, experts, attorneys.

And, for every meeting, Mr. Pelmore provided refreshments afterwards. He called them “vittles”.

(By the way, I loved that he called refreshments “vittles”. I’m from Texas and that is an old-timey term I don’t hear much anymore.)

Our meetings were held in Mr. Pelmore’s formal dining room. The beautiful room became our headquarters for the Campaign. And after meetings, Mr. Pelmore would encourage everyone to go to the kitchen to enjoy the “vittles” and to socialize.

It became my job to cut the cake and then serve it up. I would always serve Mr. Pelmore and Ebbie Cook first, and then everyone else. I don’t recall how that started and how it became “my job”, but it was an honor, like carving the turkey at Thanksgiving. No one would touch the cake until I finally came into the kitchen from the dining room, where we’d been meeting. If I took too long (as was often the case, because I’d be delayed by a post-meeting conversation), I would sure hear about it – especially from Ebbie Cook! Everyone would tease me and I’d be cutting the cake while apologizing and putting up with the ribbing. I loved every moment of it. It was a family-feeling.

Those after-meeting times were some of the best times of the Campaign, and some of the best and most memorable times of my life (and I know this is true for other folks, too). The camaraderie that developed as a result of us sitting in Mr. Pelmore’s kitchen – whether around the table, or the counter on the stools – created eternal bonds among us.

Mr. Pelmore made us feel like family. And so we became a chosen family with one another. It was beautiful, and Mr. Pelmore made it possible.

The stories that we got to hear – especially with Mr. Pelmore and Ebbie Cook and JB Lewis reminiscing and telling us what things were like in their youth in Champaign-Urbana – were funny, poignant, educational, and just the stuff of great times.

(I should mention – even though we were like family, we never ever learned what the “M. D.” in Mr. Pelmore’s name stands for! This must be one of the best kept secrets in the community!)

One of the things that I appreciate so much about Mr. Pelmore is that he took an interest in all the people who got involved with the Campaign. He was fatherly toward many of us, doting on us at times as if we were his (other) kids. He took us out to special dinners to celebrate our birthdays. Whenever he would travel (oh, how he loved to travel! He loved road trips!), he would bring back souvenirs and knick-knacks for us and he would distribute them to us at our meetings. There were even times when I had to travel to Texas, when my mom was ailing, and Mr. Pelmore would pull me aside and press a little money into my hand. I tried to refuse the money (I’m a grown up with a full-time job, after all), but Mr. Pelmore would insist, saying, “It’s pocket money. You can get yourself something to eat at the airport.” He was so kind and nurturing like that.

Mr. Pelmore would also offer up a prayer at the end of every meeting. We stood around his dining room table, holding hands, and listening to Mr. Pelmore’s prayer. He prayed to support everyone who was dedicating themselves to the Campaign. He prayed for my mom’s health. When I had cancer, Mr. Pelmore included me in those prayers.

Mr. Pelmore melted my heart every single time that I saw him.

But he had a fun-loving side to him as well! Mr. Pelmore and Ebbie Cook (Ebbie passed away in 2018), were like adventurous, mischievous kids together! As I wrote in Ebbie’s tribute: “…at times they were like two teen-aged boys on escapades. They went on adventures, investigating 5th & Hill, following the trucks that were hauling toxic waste out of the neighborhood; later on reporting to us where the trucks had gone and what they had seen.” One time, they even followed a truck so far as to follow it into a gated lot and almost got themselves stuck in there! They laughed so hard about that, and they had us laughing too. They also patrolled the neighborhood, checking on residents and seeing what was up and what was happening, and calling me if there was something going on.

Mr. Pelmore’s work on the Campaign was brilliant, diligent, and tremendous. He did countless media interviews, met with local, state, and federal officials, canvassed and educated the neighborhood, spoke at Champaign City Council meetings, and was vigilant in the neighborhood. Mr. Pelmore, along with the other resident leaders, spoke at many UIUC classes and forums, joking along with Ebbie and Maggie Cook, that he was an honorary U of I professor. Mr. Pelmore and the other resident leaders found a special joy in working with young people, and engaging UIUC undergrad and grad students in the 5th & Hill struggle.

Mr. Pelmore’s commitment to 5th & Hill was profound and abiding, and he appreciated every single person who ever helped out in any way – big or small. He knew that it took all of us. Mr. Pelmore  made sure everyone felt welcome and appreciated, and he loved our multi-generational, multicultural group with people from all walks of life and from all parts of the C-U community, the country, and the world.

Every single activist and volunteer who ever helped with the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign was part of the “5th & Hill Family”.

Mr. M. D. Pelmore lived his life brilliantly. He was a dedicated family man, and his home was often full with his grown son, Danis, as well as his grandchildren – and it was clear that there was so much love there. Mr. Pelmore was also dedicated to his church, his friends, and his community. Mr. Pelmore was a real and effective leader for 5th & Hill. He was, in essence, the “father” of the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign. There is no way we could still be going with this 13+ year campaign if it were not for Mr. Pelmore’s leadership and dedication, along with that of Ebbie and Maggie Cook, and our other resident leaders – Eileen, Sandra, JB, and Jessie.

Mr. Pelmore was the kind of leader who only spoke when he had something to say. And when he spoke, everyone listened – such was his gravitas. He never needed to be “center-stage”. He was not loud or brash. But he never shied away from doing the work – any of the work, from the smallest task to the largest. And he was always – always – effective and powerful.  

I know that I am not alone in saying that my heart is broken. It feels impossible for me to conceive of this work with the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign without Mr. Pelmore. But of course we will continue. We must. And Mr. Pelmore would expect nothing less.

But even as my heart is broken, it is also full and grateful. It is full of love for Mr. Pelmore, and for all of you who also love Mr. Pelmore. My heart is full of gratitude – gratitude that my life has been graced by Mr. Pelmore, and the rest of our 5th & Hill family.

I’ve said before that what we have with the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign is special, and what we have been doing and will continue to do is special. And we walk among giants – people who are just truly some of the finest and kindest and fiercest and most protective people one could hope to ever know. Mr. Pelmore is one of the best people I have ever known. He was a giant among us, embodying the best that a person can be, and a social justice warrior. Mr. Pelmore, like Ebbie Cook, loved CCHCC and 5th & Hill. And I know – I know with every fiber of my being – that if you have ever helped or supported the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign or CCHCC, Mr. Pelmore would want me to thank you and tell you he appreciated you.

He so much appreciated that you all would care about his neighborhood and the people there, and that you would care enough to give your time, talents, and energy, and financial contributions. You were part of Mr. M.D. Pelmore’s 5th & Hill Family. And that, my friends, is a sacred and beautiful gift.

Memorial Service for Mr. M.D. Pelmore:
Below are the details for the memorial service for M. D. Pelmore.
WHEN:  Friday, July 2, 2021
TIME:  1 p.m. to 2 p.m. is visitation; service begins at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Stone Creek Church, 2502 S. Race St., Urbana, IL 61801.
DETAILS:  If you cannot attend in person, the service will be live-streamed via zoom. Here is the information for that:

Below is the link for the zoom funeral viewing of MD Pelmore. The link will open at 1:30 PM until 3:30 PM. It will only be of the funeral – not the burial. We will have your mics muted but you should be able to hear and view the service.
Meeting ID: 209 703 7785
Passcode: 7RRaVe

M. D. Pelmore’s Obituary in the News-Gazette.

As I reflect on Mr. Pelmore’s life and work with CCHCC and 5th & Hill, I am filled with wonder and gratitude for him and for his family – Danis Pelmore and all the Pelmores who shared their father and grandfather with us – along with all the people who make up the 5th & Hill Campaign, and CCHCC. We are a collection of people who work to improve the health and lives of our fellow community members, and I can’t help but be filled with gratitude for the grace of people like Mr. M.D. Pelmore, and all who work for the greater good.

Rest in grace and in power, Mr. Pelmore. You will never be forgotten.

With deepest sympathies, and with profound gratitude,

Claudia Lennhoff
Executive Director
Champaign County Health Care Consumers