The Timbergrove community lost a beloved member when Lorraine Cherry died last week, after a two and a half year battle with cancer. Cherry is remembered for a host of accomplishments, but neighbors know her best as a force behind the creation of the 11th Street Park.
Described as a “neighborhood champion,” Timbergrove residents went online to communicate what Cherry had meant to them.
“Lorraine contributed so much to our little community,” said Cindy Keenan. “When we visit 11th Street Park we always think of Lorraine and all she did to preserve this precious place in Timbergrove for all of us to enjoy for years to come.”
“Lorraine is an inspiration to me, demonstrating what one person’s spirit of service can achieve. She made a difference,” said Catherine McCreight.
Husband Dave Dyer remembers going with Cherry to a Timbergrove Manor Civic Club meeting back in 1998 where HISD’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts did a presentation of their plans to build a new campus on the land. HISD had owned the parcel since 1949 when it purchased it from the University of Texas, which in turn had been left the property by William C. Hogg, the brother of Miss Ima Hogg.
“We lived right across the street,” said Dyer. “The school talked about stacked buildings and an outdoor concert hall. They presented it as a done deal. That made her angry.”
Dyer explains that they weren’t just against the school – they were for the preservation of their park.
“We organized a neighborhood petition drive that got signatures from 90 percent of the 1,245 homes in Timbergrove,” said Dyer.
The petition was an important factor in changing the position of the Timbergrove Manor Civic board and securing support from City Council and HISD. In 2005, HISD decided to sell the property at auction to the highest bidder.
Dyer says local developers were ready to bid, and one plan called for 500 town homes on the site. That’s when Cherry and Dyer organized another letter writing campaign to put a temporary stop to the auction. At the same time, Friends of the West 11th Street Park approached the Houston Parks Board with a request for them to purchase the property from HISD for the City of Houston.
The Houston Parks Board negotiated a $9 million sale price for the property, to be used as a park. Houston Mayor Bill White agreed to provide $4 million in public funds, but the reminder would be raised by the private sector.
This time Cherry got busy writing again, both grant proposals and fundraising appeals.
“She was a very good writer,” said Dyer.
The money was raised through the creative financing efforts of community members and city government officials, as well as State Senator John Whitmire, who secured a $3.75 million matching grant in the Texas Legislature to fund the remaining 5-acres of West 11th Street Park. After a long road, the park was officially dedicated on February 21, 2008.
“It was a long struggle and there were a number of park heroes,” said Dyer, “All of them were instrumental.” Dyer named former Council member Toni Lawrence, former HISD board member Harvin Moore, former executive director of the Houston Parks Board Roksan Okan-Vick, and former Houston Parks Director Joe Turner as crucial helpers.
Cherry’s involvement in the park did not end with the dedication. She was a part of the building of over one mile of trails there, and the planting of a demonstration butterfly garden that achieved certification as an official Monarch Waystation. She also wrote additional grants and published a quarterly newsletter, now in its 10th edition, among many other endeavors.
Dyer is especially proud of their ‘Wireless Wilderness’ cell phone tour of the park, similar to an audio tour of a museum.
“We’ve had more than 3,000 calls to it,” said Dyer.
While political involvement was a later interest for Cherry, she had many other passions. In high school she was a practice pianist for the San Diego Ballet. She got her PhD in genetics from UC Berkley and was on the faculty of the UT Health Sciences Center before starting her own research and consulting service for biomedical professionals.
She was also an excellent chef who went to cooking school in Tuscany.
“Every night was a feast,” said Dyer. “She could do Italian, or Spanish. She made a great Bolognese sauce. Her Paella was killer.”
Cherry was an avid traveler as well, who once went on a photo safari to Africa.
“She was so good at the park work because everybody always liked her,” said Dyer.
A memorial of Cherry’s life will be held in the coming weeks, perhaps after the holidays. There is also a movement underway to rename the 11th Street Park in her honor, as the Lorraine Cherry Nature Preserve.
“It would be an awesome tribute and well deserved,” said Timbergrove resident Carolyn Bryant.