Clara Mattox was a pioneer in the field of nursing, but few members of today’s generation know of the barriers she broke, or the mountains she climbed to get to the top of her game.
Born in Cataula, Georgia, Mattox’s family moved to Milwaukee when she was five years old. After attending public schools in Milwaukee she began working as a nurse’s aide at a Southside nursing home to gain more experience in nursing before attending Wayne School of Nursing in Chicago. When she returned to Milwaukee she worked at a Jewish nursing home and Belleview Nursing Home. It was during that time that she noticed that none of the patients she cared for in the nursing homes were Black and she began exploring the notion of starting a nursing home to care for this population.
She and three other friends who were nurses put up their savings to purchase a $15,000 house on Milwaukee’s north side, which they turned into an 18-bed nursing home to fill this specific niche in the Black community. The facility was originally called the Community Home for the Aged. The nursing home did so well that in 1970, at only 39 years of age Mattox built a new 176-bed facility at a cost of $1.5 million. The expansive, state-of-the art nursing home occupied a full block on 6th and 7th Street, bounded by Galena and Walnut Streets. At its peak, this new facility employed more than 132 people. Mattox named the facility Steven Bryant after the first names of her two oldest grandsons.
Throughout her career Mattox has received a number of honors and awards for her business and community service, including an honorary doctorate degree from St. Martin’s College and Seminary in Milwaukee. Recognized as one of Milwaukee’s ‘firsts,’ for opening the first Black nursing home in Milwaukee, Mattox is also the recipient of a Congressional Certificate of Achievement from 5th District Senator Herb Kohl. She also received awards as Echo Magazine’s “Mother of the Year,” the Milwaukee Commission on Community Relations, and she was honored by former Mayor Henry Maier. Mattox also received recognition from the Inaugural Committee of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Mattox stepped in and filled a void during a time, when no one else had the vision, expertise, heart and confidence to do so. Though the facility is now closed, in its heyday it served as a symbol of quality and affordable care to an otherwise neglected population. Mattox deserves recognition as a legend for her entrepreneurial spirit and pioneering vision of meeting the healthcare needs of the Milwaukee community when no one else was doing so.
Ardie and Wilbur Halyard were significant players in Milwaukee ‘back in the day.’ With a housing subdivision named in their honor, many younger Milwaukeeans don’t recognize that they were visionaries and respected community leaders who paved the way for many African Americans in the community.
The Halyards moved to Milwaukee from Atlanta, GA in 1923 as newlyweds and immediately set about to make a difference in the lives of African Americans in the community. In 1925 they established Columbia Savings and Loan, which they believed would be a viable solution to serve the long-term housing needs of the Black community, particularly because many mainstream lending institutions were unwilling to work with minorities. For a while, Columbia Savings and Loan was the only bank that many of today’s larger churches were able to get loans to build new churches.
Establishing a savings and loan was no easy feat. The Halyards underwent two years of technical training and preparation, and went door to door soliciting $50,000 in subscriptions in order to qualify for a state charter to start Columbia Savings and Loan. Though they could not sit on the board of directors, Ardie voluntarily did all of the bookkeeping and clerical work for the savings and loan for 18 years in the evenings, after leaving her job as personnel director for Goodwill Industries.
Astounded by the deplorable housing conditions, unemployment and numerous racial incidents in Milwaukee, the Halyards also reorganized Milwaukee’s NAACP, which was inactive at the time and served as board members for many years. Besides her work in Milwaukee and in Racine, Ardie while serving as president of the NAACP in Milwaukee, Ardie also guided the organization of the Kenosha N.A.A.C.P. Longtime members of Calvary Baptist Church, the Halyards also committed their time and service to the church and were instrument in building and running the housing projects that were affiliated with the church.
For more than eight years Ardie served on the Wisconsin State Board of Vocational, Technical and Adult Education. She was also a former member of the Wisconsin Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women. In 1991 the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Business School’s Minority Entrepreneurship Program started an annual award in her memory to recognize excellence among minority business firms in Southeast Wisconsin.
Wilbur died in 1963 and Ardie served as board chairperson of Columbia Savings and Loan after his death. Mrs. Halyard died in 1989. Today Halyard Park and Subdivision are symbolic tributes to the legacy, tireless work, service and commitment of the Halyards to the community.
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