Leaders have emerged from Parkway for generations
140 Willis Lane, York
Elder Ronald Banks lived in Parkway Homes for seven years as a youngster.
He later pastored a church near the northside project.
In that role, he was part of a late June 1998 gathering near Parkway in which accomplished former residents of this early 1950s public housing project were honored. His church, Solid Rock Evangelistic Church of God in Christ, sponsored the “Meet Me at the Rock” event.
He saw past the rust and poverty at Parkway.
“Diamonds are processed under great pressure,” he told the York Sunday News. “[A diamond] has to go through a lot to come to its natural brilliance.”
The accomplished people coming together that day provided proof of the pastor’s comments. WGAL anchor Ron Martin was there. So was then-police Sgt. Gene Fells. And Special Olympian Loretta Claiborne. And 12 others were honored.
Despite hardships suffered by these and many others in public and affordable housing projects in York, generations of achievers have emerged.
Maxine Banks was another honoree that day.
She lived in Parkway her senior year at York High and off and on for about five years after that. She went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She became psychiatric supervisor for social workers at York Hospital.
And in 1998, she was serving on the Housing Authority Board, the panel overseeing Parkway Homes.
Joyce Santiago is another former resident of Parkway and other project life in York, who went on to work for an agency overseeing affordable housing. In fact, she is executive director of Affordable Housing Advocates (formerly York Area Housing Group), whose oversight includes seven rental complexes and the development of housing for sale.
She lived in public housing as a child and as an adult, including one of Affordable Housing Advocate’s holdings.
Several years ago, York’s Community Progress Council profiled Santiago as part of a “Faces of Progress” series:
“For a period of time as a mom, Joyce Santiago only had two chairs at her kitchen table, enough only for her children. There was no seat for her. It was her way of making sure her kids were fed, but not bring attention that there was not enough food for herself.”
“On most occasions, her children had no idea that she wasn’t eating.
“Hunger wasn’t new to Joyce — she had long stretches of her childhood that she struggled to find food, sometimes only scraping enough change together — 50 cents — to buy a pack of cookies which would last, if she was careful, most of the day.
“ ‘Hunger is all you think about,’ Joyce said about her childhood. “ ‘I know what it’s like to when there’s not a lot of food in the house.’ ”
Her story is typical of many honored at the Meet Me at the Rock event in 1998.
She draws on reserves from her experience in public housing to help others. She and others with this experience know the challenge of poverty firsthand.
“As a kid, I was just wondering when I can eat again. As an adult, the stress is about when you can feed your kids,” she told the Community Progress Council. “I didn’t want them to go through what I went through.”
Indeed, diamonds, as Banks said in 1998, are processed and molded under great pressure.
Twenty-two years later, a York Daily Record story explains the long-term impact on the community of accomplished people from Parkway Homes:
In 2020, Martin stood on the sidewalk outside his childhood home in the 600 block of Front Street.
A man exited a work van and approached the recently retired news anchor.
“Are you Ron Martin?” he asks.
The YDR story explained what happened next: “Martin confirms the man’s suspicion and after a short pause, back-to-back wows, and a refusal to ‘choke up,’ the man asks if they can take a picture together.”
The man said: “I thought that was you, I’m happy to see you. I watched you every day.”
Feted in 1998: Here are the 15 achievers honored at the Parkway event: Ron Martin, Maxine Banks, Michael Breeland, Eartha Breeland, Loretta Claiborne, Henry “Hank” Claiborne, Barry Carr, Kimberly Hibner, Gene Fells, Ellie Sweeney, Henrietta Cook, David Orr, Gloria Orr, Sadie Day, Douglas Woodard.
When the odds are stacked against you, the world can feel heavy. Living in poverty means more hurdles, and less support. Despite these challenges, some display tenacity in the face of adversity.
When we look at a bronze sculpture, the mold and the metal create the art. The environment molded people as listed in this story into accomplished people? What character traits impacted they are made from? What character traits can we cultivate that harden a person like a work of art, even in an impoverished setting?
Related links and sources; Samantha Dorm’s Facebook post about June 27, 1998, York Sunday News story, Parkway reunion. Community Progress Council: Joyce Santiago’s Personal Story. Photos courtesy of York Daily Record
— By JAMIE NOERPEL and JIM McCLURE