Community Leader and First “Ms. Black Gary” Remembered

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A memorial service to celebrate the life and work of the late Eunice “Elaine” Castellanos will be held Saturday, July 2, 2016 at St. Monica & Luke Church, 645 Rhode Island Street, Gary at 11:00 a.m.

Elaine, a pillar of the community and a trailblazer passed away on Saturday, June 4, 2016. She dedicated her life to improving the lives of Gary residents. Elaine was involved in many community organizations, and gave selflessly to each cause and campaign. She was a graduate of Gary, Westside High School in 1971 and was crowned the city’s First “Ms. Black Gary” at age 19.

She received many awards for community service, leadership, and advocacy. Her outstanding service was recognized through awards from: Lake Area United Way, Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, Partners in Prevention “Drug Free,” AIM’s Women and Children Succeeding Initiative and Protection & Advocacy for People with Disabilities, where she received the Lena Myers Award.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson had this to say about Elaine and her commitment to Gary and its rich history. “I was deeply saddened to hear of Elaine’s tragic accident. We were so happy to have her return home. She was such a positive force in advocating for the restoration of Gary. We were working with Spotlight Emerson, the Gary Historical and Cultural Society to preserve Dolly Millender’s legacy and rehabilitate the Gary Land Company building. Now we will join together to make the Spotlight Emerson a part of Elaine’s legacy as well. I will continue to pray for her children and her entire family.”

Elaine served as a member of the Board of Directors for Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as, Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. She founded the Preserve Gary Initiative, because it was her passion to tell the great history of Gary, Indiana. Elaine worked for the City of Gary as Director of Special Events and led the planning for the City of Gary’s “Jackson Homecoming Celebration.” She recently served as the Capital Campaign Manager for the Gary YWCA, fighting to get community support behind the family facility.

One of the people who worked with Elaine over the years, Arlene Colvin, Esq. shared these thoughts. “After having worked with Elaine for many years as a fellow City of Gary employee, I was happy that we were again working together to restore the Emerson neighborhood. News of her death shocked and saddened me. I extend my heartfelt condolences to her children and other family members, particularly, Dave, Jordan and Michael. We’ll let her memory live on, not only in our hearts, but also through her work. May God bless and keep you.”

Elaine was a dedicated member of St. Monica & Luke Church in Gary, Indiana. She had a genuine interest in helping youth. In the church she promoted inclusion, encouraging youth to participate in activities, which would strengthen their faith. She worked with the Faith Community Development Corp. (CDC) as a Community Builder. She gave her time, talents, and network to advance their mission.

The Pastor of Progressive Community Church, Curtis Whitaker, shared his thoughts on Elaine’s ability to unite people. “Elaine was instrumental in helping the “Downtown Emerson Neighborhood Spotlight” connect with individuals we would not have been able to connect with. It was through her work that we were able to convene a meeting of over 120 people regarding the revitalization of downtown Emerson. She had a warm and welcoming smile that is truly missed. Her efforts for revitalization will be completed. We truly miss her.”

Her most recent endeavor was to create a video oral history of the Black Catholics in the Diocese of Gary entitled, “The Black Catholics Experience.” Deacon Martin Brown, who worked closely with her on this effort, remembers his dear friend whose life was ended much too soon in a Porter County car crash.

“The untimely loss of my friend Elaine should serve as a reminder to all “stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour”; (Mt 25:13). From this day forward each one of us must remember not to hesitate and tell everyone that you love them and how beautiful they are. “

She leaves to cherish her memories her mother, Evelyn Scotland-Lake (Merrillville, IN) and late Step Father Willie Lake (Merrillville, IN), Husband David Castellanos (Gary, IN), two beloved sons, Justen Castellanos (Gary, IN) and Jourdan Castellanos (Gary, IN), precious granddaughter Justice Castellanos (Portage, IN), three stepdaughters Teresa Castellanos (Madison, WI), Camille Castellanos (London, UK), and Collette Castellanos (Seattle, WA), one stepson Nick Castellanos (San Diego, CA,), one brother Michael Shell Sr. (Gary, IN), two loving sisters Karen Jenkins (Merrillville, IN), and Renita Shell (Gary, IN), a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.

Elaine is an inspiration to do great things in your communities, and to live a meaningful life. She is a role model to young African American women. And she has cleared a path for anyone who dares to live their dreams. She will be truly missed.

 

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