As a teacher, Irene Mallory was all business. No-nonsense. Get-it-done. When she taught, her students learned and listened.
The retired educator used similar tactics in pulling groups together to repair her community. She was rewarded yesterday when a block in her neighborhood was named in her honor.
The consensus of pastors, neighbors, organizers and city officials gathered under a tent in the 2800 block of Walbrook Ave. yesterday was that the 80-year-old teacher-turned-neighborhood activist used her schoolroom talents -- tenacity and leadership -- to make one block bloom again.
"The lesson we learned was that it's not about the program," said Rob English, an associate community organizer. "It's about finding someone like Mrs. Mallory in a neighborhood. She helps people speak for themselves."
"Mrs. Mallory kept us in order and made a vision come to reality," City Council President Sheila Dixon told attendees at the grand opening of the $1.1 million Nehemiah Homes in Walbrook in Northwest Baltimore.
The results of reclaiming the community were reflected in panoramic views: a pretty, leafy urban patch with eight semidetached rowhouses, some set on slopes, newly built or rehabilitated by the church-based Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) and Enterprise Homes Inc.
That block was named "Irene Mallory Way" yesterday, much to the surprise of the widowed mother of two daughters, whom the Rev. Donald A. Sterling of All Saints Catholic Church called "the Sojourner Truth of Walbrook" in his remarks. "Her community is also family," he said.
When it was her turn to speak, Mallory recalled her neighborhood when she moved in 1951 with her then-husband, T. Fenton Mallory: "Neat, well-kept and crime-free." Then she described the deterioration, a slide that started slowly, imperceptibly: "Then, there were vacancies, drug deals ... an open-air market on a schedule. They started at 8 in the morning."
In effect, she meant, she and other neighbors were virtual prisoners in their homes because of crime. "I was part of the corruption when I was younger," said Larry A. Hynson, 24, who sang during yesterday's ceremony with a choir, "I Can't, We Can."
Religious overtones colored the event, which featured such gospel songs as "Oh Happy Day." The Enterprise Homes president, Chickey Grayson, said that usually the developer takes on larger projects, involving swaths of city neighborhoods like Sandtown-Winchester. They made an exception, she said, because of the force of a person everyone called "Mrs. Mallory" yesterday.
"This was a labor of love," Grayson said.
Seven of the new or renovated single-family homes have been sold, and the last one, a three-story rowhouse with a porch, is listed at $69,000, BUILD organizers said. Some were built on lots where homes were crumbling and city inspectors once feared to tread. The Neighborhood Design Center helped draft a plan to preserve the character of the original block.
After the honors, new neighborhood resident, city housing official JoAnn McGowen, said: "I love my porch in the evening, with the breeze blowing, watching children play."
Her 10-year-old daughter, Aurelle James, dressed in pink, expressed her sense of good fortune: "Now, we have our own house to ourselves."