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Cop Fights to Keep Izola's Owner Out of Nursing Home

By Wendell Hutson | October 16, 2012 9:13am
 Entrepreneur Izola White, who founded the legendary soul food restaurant Izola's, is headed to a nursing home after several fundraisers failed to generate enough cash to help her.
Entrepreneur Izola White, who founded the legendary soul food restaurant Izola's, is headed to a nursing home after several fundraisers failed to generate enough cash to help her.
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DNAinfo/DeWayne Mason

CHATHAM — Police officers are trained to protect and serve the community but one Chicago cop has taken that slogan to a whole new level.

For nearly two years DeWayne Mason, an 18-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, said he did his best to keep Izola White, founder of the legendary Izola's soul food restaurant at 522 E. 79th St., from losing her home and moving to a nursing home.

But after several fundraisers, Mason, who is White's legal guardian, said he had exhausted all options and White must now move to a nursing home.

"I had hoped it would not come to this, but unfortunately this is where we are at this point. The last two fundraisers I held in September raised $5,000, which was good, but not good enough," Mason told DNAinfo.com. "The goal for that fundraiser was $20,000."

Mason got to know White 30 years ago when he was a beat officer in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood, not far from her restaurant.

"I would stop by for lunch almost every day — me and every other officer assigned to that beat," Mason recalled. "Soon it became a meeting place for police officers and business owners."

A September 2011 fundraiser generated $12,000 but the goal was $35,000. The restaurant closed in March 2011 after White fell ill and left the operation in the hands of new management, who Mason said "ran the business to the ground."

White opened the restaurant in 1940. Izola's was the fourth black-owned business to open along 79th Street, according to Timuel Black, a Chicago historian.

Mason must now secure a court date to have a Cook County public guardian assigned to White take over her legal affairs — and place her in a nursing home.

"It breaks my heart to see her end up like this when she has helped so many people," Mason said. "It really makes me upset to know that black business owners did not step up when she needed them, even though many of them ate for free at her restaurant when business was good."

One black entrepreneur did come to her aid.

Spencer Leak Sr., founder of Leak and Sons Funeral Home, also located in Greater Grand Crossing, stepped up promptly.

"I couldn't just sit back and watch her fade away. She is a legend in the Chatham community and as much as I tried, I was not able to convince more black businesses to help out," Leak said. "I did my part and provided what help I could, but so much more was needed."

Mason acknowledged that Leak approached him and asked how he could help, and Leak paid for the food that was served at the final fundraiser.

Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown attended two fundraisers, including the last one, and made what she said were "hefty donations."

"If I could have given more, I would, but the sad reality is that more should have been done for someone who gave so much to the community," Brown said.

Now White must deal with not having her own place.

"I do not want to go to a nursing home. I will not make it there. I'd rather be dead than to go to a nursing home," White said. "I am just praying to God that he sends a blessing my way to prevent all this from happening."

Early on, Mason was personally funding White's expenses. She currently receives $1,150 a month from Social Security, but her monthly expenses average about $4,000, according to Mason.

"I have spent well over $5,000 of my own money to try and help her. I did so because I love her and because I am a Christian. And when someone is in trouble, Christians are supposed to help," said Mason, who is married with children and is a deacon at Sheldon Heights Church of Christ on the South Side.

He even convinced a woman from his church to move in with White and serve as a part-time caregiver.

"Izola is a sweet person and I wish her the best. I enjoyed living with her and being there in her times of need," said Kelly Louden, White's former caregiver who moved out last month.

The closing of Izola's is the second soul food restaurant in Chatham to recently falter. In February 2011, Army & Lou's at 422 E. 75th St. also closed. It opened in 1973.