'Old stomping ground' draws residents


They've moved to the suburbs, relocated to different states, bought their own houses or have been placed in nursing homes. Others have stayed put.

But yesterday about 300 current and former residents returned to the 50-year-old Gilmor Homes housing complex in the city's Sandtown area for their third annual reunion.

There was Bertina Phipps, who talked about how the complex has changed during her 50 years there. "Fat Donald" Black came, having lost a few pounds, others said. And Frances Broom, a Gilmor Elementary School teacher who once lived in the complex and taught many of the residents, was present, too.

Some residents had not set foot on the concrete walks for as many as 30 years before the reunions in the 1500 block of Presser Court.

"This is wonderful," said Margaret Henson, 59, a 37-year resident who planned the gathering. "It's good to meet up with people and see them again."

She had the idea a few years ago at a cookout her son, Andre McCreaty, had. She was delighted, she said, at seeing so many of the younger adults she baby-sat when they were children.

With encouragement from other residents, Ms. Henson organized her first reunion in 1992. The turnout was good, so she continued and plans to conduct one each year.

No fliers, invitations or long-distance calls are necessary, she said. "Once I spread the word, that was it. Everybody comes and brings something."

Mr. McCreaty brought the "cool jams" yesterday, hooking up the music speakers that blasted Tevin Campbell and Heavy D to platforms above his doorway.

Whoever brought the potato salad must have been a master chef, said resident Sherita Harris, 13.

"It's like a holiday to me," said Nikia Corbett, 12. She and Sherita were planning to have a dance contest later in the afternoon, but not before they got seconds on the barbecued chicken.

"Don't burn the hot dogs," Ms. Henson could be heard yelling to an amateur griller.

"This is the old stomping ground," said former resident Martha Goode, 37, who was born and has lived 30 years in Gilmor Homes.

"This is the only place we know as home," said Ms. Goode. "We cried here. We laughed here. We buried the old and brought in the new."

Charles Cook strolled through the crowd with good news -- a new family member, since last year's gathering, baby daughter, 45-day-old Cydney.

Older Gilmor residents say the transition from Gilmor Homes is often inevitable, as some residents get better jobs and want to rear their families in safer neighborhoods.

Now, outside of the block-cleaning effort and the neighborhood anti-drug marches, the reunion is the community highlight of the year, Ms. Henson said.

The expectation surrounding this year's reunion was exciting enough to attract Timmy Fowlkes from his Lochearn home.

Mr. Fowlkes, a manager at the city Recreation and Parks Department, lives in Lochearn, but 28 years of his life are rooted in his former West Baltimore home.

"This is in my calendar book. You don't schedule a vacation this week," Mr. Fowlkes said.

Childhood friend Donald Black, 30, said he, too, has many fond memories of his 25 years in the neighborhood, some of which he now laughs about.

"Remember we got chased by a group of boys at TV Hill?" he elbows Mr. Fowlkes. "We could have taken them."

Gloria Plummer, 51, who helped organize the reunion, said she'll never give up on Gilmor Homes.

"All neighborhoods have problems," she said. "But if you want it to be good, it'll be good. You can't just dream about it; you've got to make it happen."

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