Leading the Way

Since its inception in 1870, Erie Neighborhood House has benefited from leadership defined by perseverance, vision and dedication, and embodied by several truly outstanding individuals.

Missionary Leaders

When Erie House was founded as Holland Presbyterian Church, it relied on the leadership of founder Rev. Emanuel Van Orden and subsequent ministers. Volunteers from the congregation and surrounding neighborhoods led programs at the chapel, including the kindergarten and Sunday school. The Third Presbyterian Church adopted this small church as its mission in 1882, providing financial support and ministers to serve the congregation. When the Presbytery of Chicago took over Third Presbyterian Church in 1911, community members took on a more active role in steering the activities of Holland Presbyterian Church, then known as Erie Chapel. In 1915, the organization was incorporated as Erie Chapel Institute, which formalized its operating structure.

Reverend George Searles was hired as Erie's full-time minister and director in 1915, and served until 1925, leading the organization through its incorporation and the development of new programs.

Angel of the Alleys

Florence Towne during the holidays with gifts for Erie children.

Florence Towne served as Erie Chapel Institute's kindergarten and girls' group leader from 1914 until 1926, when she became the head resident. She served in this position, living upstairs in what then served as Erie's staff residence, until her death in 1951.

Recognized by Reader's Digest as an "Angel of the Alleys", Towne earned a special place in the hearts of many for her wise counsel, generous nature, vigilance against crime, and deep religious faith.

Many Erie programs began under Towne's leadership, including the Keep Our Neighborhood Clean campaign, child care, the dental clinic, and the hygienist training program. Her activism is eloquently recalled in her memoirs Neighbors and Sheep of the Outer Fold, which detail the struggles of West Town residents and Erie's response to these problems.

Progressivism at Erie

Reverend Doug Cedarleaf, 1943-1948

Though he only served as Erie's minister for a short time, Reverend Doug Cedarleaf made a profound impact on the neighborhood during a depressed economy, war and racial integration.

In 1946, Rev. Cedarleaf led the community in an important event after a local African-American family's house was torched. One of the few African-American families in West Town, the Strongs regularly attended Erie House programming and church services. In response to the attack on this family, Rev. Cedarleaf led Erie participants through the streets, to the Strongs' front yard, where he presented them with a Bible and declared that any future harassers would have to answer to the entire community.


See Our Timeline

Past Leadership

Erie House has a history of passionate, committed leadership

Rev. George J. Searles


Rev. Douglas Cedarleaf


Rev. Ross Lyman


Merri Ex


Rafael Ravelo


Esther Nieves


Ricardo Estrada


Celena Roldán


Kirstin Chernawsky


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