Inez Loredo arrived in Chicago in the 1950s from a small town in Texas, the daughter of a sharecropper with six kids who all picked cotton to make ends meet. She came to Pilsen to join her husband, who was a migrant worker until he moved north for better-paying railroad, construction and factory jobs.

By the time she retired in the late 1980s from the Chicago’s school system, she’d long been a skilled community organizer. Mrs. Loredo had a soft voice that belied her shrewd strategizing and strong intuition, those who knew her said. She recognized latent talent in the parents she mobilized, some who had been migrant workers with little experience in challenging authority. 

Mrs. Loredo, who became president of Pilsen Neighbors Community Council, walked picket lines and took part in candlelight vigils to get a new high school and library for Pilsen: Benito Juarez Community Academy, which opened in 1977, and the Rudy Lozano library, unveiled in 1989. She helped found the 45-year-old Fiesta del Sol, billed as the largest Latino fest in the Midwest.

Her children, Maria Alicia Rodriguez and Natividad Loredo, grew up to be educators. “I became a teacher because of her,” said her son, who in time was hired to be principal of the high school that she helped to get built.

Mrs. Loredo, 95, died Oct. 7 at the University of Illinois Hospital from complications of old age, he said.

Inez Loredo (right, in blue dress) with parents and community members protesting for the creation of a new high school for Pilsen, what would become Benito Juarez Community Academy. | Facebook

She was born in Harlingen, Texas, where her sharecropper parents Guadalupe and Felipa Alvarez scraped together enough to buy a farm. Her Guanajuato-born father insisted that young Inez be educated.

“His thing was, ‘My daughter has to go to school,’ ” said Natividad Loredo, who said his mother  was the only Mexican-American in her high school graduating class.

Sixty-eight years ago, she married Antonio Loredo, a migrant worker who moved north and then sent to Texas for his wife.

In 1964, she started volunteering at her children’s school. At the time, Pilsen wasn’t the Mexican-American enclave it is today. But the Bohemian and Polish mothers who volunteered at Jungman School welcomed her, according to her children.

“The ladies there, they supported her, they taught her how to run meetings, how to take notes,” her son said. “As the neighborhood changed from Eastern European, she became the leader because she had a knowledge of how to run a meeting.”

Inez Loredo, holding clipboard, with glasses, at a community action meeting. | Provided photo

Mrs. Loredo landed a job as a school-community representative at Jungman, where she helped Spanish-speaking families with enrollment, immunization forms and social services.

“That position served as a starting point,” according to the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council. “She mentored, she encouraged, she led. . . . She walked alongside hundreds of parents and became central to the campaign to win Benito Juarez high school.”

“She knew how to pull out their strengths,” whether it was lettering signs or giving speeches, her daughter said. One woman she mentored, Teresa Fraga, “was just fresh from Texas,” her daughter said. But Mrs. Loredo observed, “ ‘She has a lot of talent, and she’s keeping it at home. We need it.’ ”

“When my child started at Head Start,” said Fraga, now a 75-year-old community organizer, “She never let me go. . . . She was the first Spanish-speaking person to work at the schools in Pilsen.”

Ald. Danny Solis (25th) said that through Mrs. Loredo, “I learned a lot about being an advocate. She was there at every meeting” and protest, he said, in Pilsen or downtown.

One of her biggest supporters was her husband.

Inez Loredo. | Facebook

“The fact he didn’t oppose her work, I think it helped other husbands in the community accept their wives’ activities,” said their granddaughter, Inez Rodriguez.

To Mrs. Loredo, even cooking could be a community-organizing tool. She was known for her tamales, fried chicken and enchiladas and adept at organizing other home cooks to pull together big luncheons.

After interim schools Supt. Angeline Caruso came to the Pilsen council for a Mexican feast, Solis recalled, Mrs. Loredo and others invited Caruso to join them for a walk to a crammed school nearby.

“She couldn’t say, ‘I don’t have time,’ but she had time to eat,” Solis said of Caruso.

So they walked to the school, trailed by TV cameras, and saw the crowded conditions. The Chicago Board of Education later voted in favor of a relief plan for the cramped school, Solis said.

Mrs. Loredo is also survived by seven grandchildren and a sister, Jacinta Alvarez Leal. Services have been held.