|Comer with his Revere Elementary friends in 2000|
If only our schools had some type of generous benefactor as it appears that Paul Revere Elementary had. An alum came in and immediately started cutting checks especially since he definitely made good after not only leaving this school, but the neighborhood around the school where he grew up.
On a mild September day in 1999, Gary Comer drove from his Gold Coast apartment to a neighborhood on Chicago’s Far South Side. Known as Pocket Town, it’s a small triangular “pocket” of Greater Grand Crossing bordered by Oakwood Cemetery to the north, the Norfolk Southern tracks to the west, and the Metra tracks to the east.Aside from money this is what Comer did for Revere:
Like many parts of the South Side, Pocket Town had become overrun with drug dealers and gang violence in the 1970s. Block after block was blighted. The local school was failing. Fifteen percent of residents lived below the poverty line, and unemployment topped 25 percent.
Comer, a diminutive 70-year-old in khakis and a crewneck sweater, got out of his car and walked into the two-story red brick Paul Revere Elementary School. “This little guy, who barely reached my shoulder, came up to me and tapped me,” recalls Shelby Taylor, the principal at the time, a tall man with a deep voice. “He asked to take a tour of the school.”
Days later, Comer wrote a check for $68,000 to fix an electrical problem in the aging building that prevented computers from being used in the computer lab. A grateful Taylor asked Comer what he could do for him in return. Comer responded, “Well, Shelby, I would like a good soul food lunch.” Over greens, grits, and cornbread, Comer told him: “I will use all of my resources to help turn Revere around.”
Dumbstruck, Taylor learned that the unassuming senior citizen was the billionaire founder of the mail-order clothing empire Lands’ End. Comer had graduated from Revere more than half a century before. And it turned out that helping the school was only the beginning. Comer soon resolved to do no less than transform the lives of the families and young people of Pocket Town.