A pioneer of Evanston's Haitian-immigrant community, Pierre Jean-Paul Sr., was honored by the City of Evanston today when it installed an honorary street sign at the 1300 block of Pitner Avenue (Pitner and Greenwood), "Pierre Jean-Paul Way."
Born on Christmas eve 1929 on the Southern coast of Haiti in a town called Bainet, Pierre Jean-Paul Sr., known by his friends as JP, is now in hospice at home.
"We are down to our last days with him," says his grand-daughter Gabrielle Walker-Aguilar (GahBee Gabi).
But today JP made it out to participate in the celebration of his life and watched as a large crowd braved the chilly weather and listened to Alderman Peter Braithwaite (2), who announced the street-naming.
JP and his late wife Carmelita were two of the first Haitians to arrive in Evanston in 1955, and on his shoulders a large community evolved. So much so, says Gabi, that their little three-bedroom home at 1341 Pitner Ave. became the transfer station for more than 150 Haitian immigrants who came through and found support from the couple.
"They didn't only get support financially," says Gabi, "But a place to stay, a place to eat, a place to get married, a place to baptize their children, a place to find assistance as they sought out what they needed to survive in the community. No-one has made the kind of contribution to the Haitian-immigrant community that he did."
As a young man, Pierre worked as a chauffeur at the Hotel El Rancho in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, when he met Joseph Corbis, president of STS soil-testing company, and then moved with his wife and his first-born daughter to the United States to work as a soil tester. The couple went on to have six more children.
After 25 years with STS, Pierre left the company to start his own business, JP Limousine Service, which he established in the late 1980s.
Over the years, the company (often Pierre himself) has chauffeured many elected officials, dignitaries, University of Chicago and Northwestern University staff, and countless business professionals as the appointed driver for Evanston’s Omni Orrington Hotel.
Mayor Steve Hagerty and his wife Lisa, were two of JP's clients.
"I wanted to get this to you quickly, because I want you to know how much you meant to Evanston, and in particular to our Haitian community," Mayor Hagerty said in a recent letter to Pierre.
“The richness of Evanston exists in part because of the big heart and leadership you and your wife showed over the course of your entire life. I'm so glad our lives intersected many years ago when Lisa and I first moved to Evanston."
For Gabi, a favorite memory of her grandfather, or Papa, were the times she sat with him in his STS truck.
"We'd play on the CB radio. He'd call out, 'breaker 1-9, breaker 1-9, I have a special guest with me today, the one and only Super Woman is in this truck.' And a few of his buddies would radio back to say hello to me," she remembers.
"Once Papa started JP Limo, I saw how much time and detail he put into the care he took with his town cars and stretch limo. He always wore a well pressed black suit, crisp white shirt, black tie, and hat. He was a sight to behold. My papa was a stallion, tall, dark, and extremely handsome."
JP's daughter Marie Jean-Paul Fair says that one of his greatest qualities is his compassion for people.
"No matter the person, rich or poor, famous or not, he prides himself on customer satisfaction," says Marie. "His kindness, respect, care and love for his family, friends, customers and people in general is a constant that keeps him grounded. He hasn’t changed his ways for no one!"
JP's nephew, Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste, agrees. "Papa Jean-Paul walked the talk of humanitarianism," he says. "With the support of his wife, in his small home there was always room for one more person, one more family. It was just love."
Evanston Township High School board member Jude Laude says that JP emerged as the patriarch of the Haitian community.
"He and his wife Carmelita sponsored countless others who left their homeland of Haiti for a better life," says Jude. "Nurturing and supporting his seven children, he and his wife Carmelita embraced a growing Haitian community as family. This is his greatest legacy: the bonding thread which kept us all connected. The naming of 'Pierre Jean- Paul Way' is a well deserved honor."
JP's son David says the family would like to thank the City of Evanston for this acknowledgement.
“This honor is not just ours, it is long-due recognition of the powerful and important contribution countless immigrant families have made to our community.”
Video creds: Rick Marsh