January 27, 2022
Local News

‘One of the strongest women I’ve ever met’

Joliet Unity Movement to give away 2 scholarships in member’s name

Two Joliet youths soon will be a little closer to making their college dreams come true, thanks to the insistence of a Joliet woman who felt education was the key to success.

Applications now are open for the Loretta Westbrooks $1,000 Scholarship. Westbrooks, who was 65 when she died Jan. 18, 2019, was a board member of the Joliet Unity Movement.

So Joliet Unity Movement wanted to continue her vision with an annual scholarship. Two students each will receive $1,000, according to a news release from the Joliet Unity Movement.

Amy Sanchez, board development specialist with Joliet Unity Movement, said Loretta was “an amazing woman” who wanted solid resources in place to help students as much as possible.

“I’ve never met anyone as empowered as she,” Amy said.

Many of the people involved with Joliet Unity, including Amy and Loretta, had either been the victim of violence or had a loved one who was the victim of violence, Amy said.

So Loretta understood the experience, the power of prayer and forgiveness and the importance of making a real difference in the lives of the youth Joliet Unity serves, Amy said.

“She said, ‘We cannot give people the message to stop violence without giving them alternatives – and education has to be that alternative,’ ” Amy said. “She wanted to do colleges to get them out of the neighborhoods so they could see what college campuses looked and felt like.”

Loretta became involved with the Joliet Unity Movement several years ago as a citizen concerned for the children of Joliet and initially declined an invitation to join the organization’s board because she was busy with various ministries at her church, said her son, Lonnell Westbrooks Sr.

A driving force

Born in Chicago, Loretta attended Chicago Vocational High School and came to Joliet with her husband, Larry, in her late teens because Larry had a job at the former Illinois Youth Center on McDonough Street in Joliet, Lonnell said.

That led to the entire family on both sides moving to Joliet, where they all became very close, Lonnell said. He said his parents also owned three rental properties, four ice cream trucks and a mobile restaurant,

The couple had three children, the late LaTosha and the late Larry Jr., and Lonnell, who is amazed at the amount of tragedy in her immediate family Loretta was able to withstand.

“She was one of the strongest women I’ve ever met,” Lonnell said.

Lonnell said Loretta was “supportive and nurturing as a mom.”

“She was always driving us and pushing us to being who we were physically, emotionally and spiritually,” Lonnell said. “She was just an example of virtue and character.”

Lonnell recalled a significant lesson.

“One of the things she used to tell me when I was young was that, ‘You need to be more tactful. You have to be concerned with people’s feelings,’ ” he said.

His response at the time was, ‘You always told me not to lie.’”

“She said, ‘I know. But you have to say something without hurting somebody and still being truthful,’ ” he said.

The Rev. Steven Moffett, pastor at Rehoboth International Ministries in Joliet, said Loretta was a blessing and “total asset” to the church and worked with youth of all ages.

“Not only was she passionate, but she had compassion, Steven said. “A lot of people have passions. But not everyone has compassion for people.”

An example for many

Lonnell said his mother became the first black supervisor at the Joliet Post Office. When he was a senior in high school, Loretta was invited to be part of a team that would travel around the U.S. and help improve other post offices.

It was a good career opportunity, but Loretta declined it.

“She said, ‘I refuse to go on the road and leave my husband and child. They need me,’” Lonnell said.

After Loretta retired from the post office in 1995, she went to nursing school and worked as a licensed practical nurse for most of the rest of her life. She worked in schools, nursing homes and cared for hospice patients, Lonnell said.

As a grandmother, Loretta was especially nurturing, Lonnell said. She loved to shower her grandchildren with gifts and not just during the holidays and not just with material gifts.

“She loves them and wanted to be impactful in their lives,” he said.

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or dunland@shawmedia.com.