How My Aunt Became My Grandmother
My aunt, Geneva “Ginny” Nailing, was a woman with a plan. She wanted more out of life. She wanted people’s voices to be heard and their rights to be respected. She was determined to make a change.
Miss Ginny, as everyone called her, was born in Cairo, Ill., in 1941. She graduated from Woodruff High School in Peoria and went to work for Caterpillar Inc. She was a proud union member. U.A.W. Local 974 became our second family.
It’s my understanding she was the first black woman without a husband who was able to buy a house in Peoria despite bank regulations against that.
She saw the power of work and union membership. She wanted me to be a union member. She was so proud when I started working at the Mitsubishi plant in Normal and joined U.A.W. 2488. She knew, and I learned to understand, that union membership helps people take care of their families. Union membership gives people pride in their work.
Miss Ginny became my grandmother when my brother and I were young. We were going to school on “Grandparents’ Day,” and we didn’t have a grandparent. She understood what we were feeling. Without telling us, she took the day off from work and showed up at our school. What a surprise. In that instant she went from our Auntie to Grandma.
Miss Ginny was always positive, always urging us to have a voice, watch the news, listen to political debates, read the newspaper. She insisted we register to vote at age 18.
When she retired from Caterpillar after 35 years, she kicked into double time working for Clean Air, Democratic Women, Church Women United, National Organization for Women, Retired Veterans, homeless, Planned Parenthood, Red Cross, Night Out Against Crime, her beloved U.A.W. 974 and Red Hot Flutterbyes.
Miss Ginny was my role model. She died Nov. 1 at age 74 . . . still pushing her causes, always with a smile on her face. She encouraged us to know lots of different people, and her funeral service on Nov. 11 proved that she lived by her words. Grace Apostolic Assembly Church on Laramie Street was full. There were hundreds of people of all races and religions, politicians, business people, educators and friends. I spoke briefly and tried to explain Miss Ginny has my heart. I am her grandson.
I can still hear her voice: “Chaz, everything is gonna be OK. Stay involved. Continue to speak up. Your vote matters.”