Mel Wilson, 74, one of the co-founders of the Oak Park Lesbian and Gay Association, has died after a years-long battle with severe pulmonary disease. He was among the most important LGBTQ activists in Oak Park history, having helped make that west suburban village among the most progressive in the state.
Wilson, his partner Nathan Linsk and Bryan Findlay formed OPLGA in 1989. Wilson also wrote for Windy City Times during its early years, in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
"Of course many others were involved in the early years so though we were the co-founders others were also founding members," Linsk said. "OPLGA ( now OPALGAthe second A stands for Area ) really came about because of Mel's efforts to contact candidates for elected office to advocate for GLBT inclusion in the Village's diversity statement. Mel and Rebekah Levin were the initial co-chairs."
Linsk and Wilson became a couple in 1983 and lived together since 1985. "We were both married to women at the time and met at the Chicago Gay and Married Men's Association the same night as our wives met at Straight Partners, which was kind of auxiliary for straight partners," Linsk said. "We became domestic partners in 1998 shortly after Oak Park successfully passed its ordinance after the huge DP controversy that had occurred. We were married on Aug. 23, 2010. We were married in D.C. and came back to Chicago to find that the civil union law was just passed. Our marriage was recognized as a civil union."
"Mel was an incredible leader, husband, father, brother and uncle, activist and an award-winning architect," Linsk said. "His passion and advocacy in the LGBT community has become a local legend. He was in a sense the principal architect in the establishment of the Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association, having instigated a competition between two slates of village trustee candidates about how to include GLBT protections in the local diversity statement and ordinance in 1989 and then went on to help lead campaigns to include GLBT protections at all seven units of government. Mel had a very keen design sense as well as superb writing skills, focusing on international as well as domestic projects. We were on the board of the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force and active in the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Parents Group, he was on the Oak Park Design Commission and Board member of Community Response, the AIDS Service organization for Oak Park and Austin.
"However in spite of all these achievements perhaps he was most distinguished as a mentor, advisor and friend to so many including not only his brothers and most of the family members but to many, many students and colleagues throughout the world. After retirement he became my companion and a volunteer on several social work training programs associated with the Midwest AIDS Training and Education Center at UIC. Our hearts are still partly in Ethiopia and Tanzania, where Mel sought out students and colleagues benefiting from the rich culture, his deep historical knowledge and his valuing of each human being as a treasure. Of course as his husband and partner for 32 years I probably benefited the most from his vision, wisdom and love."
Wilson had a BA in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology, in 1965. He had an internship with Skidmore Owings and Merrill and worked in the office of Mies van der Rohe in the mid-1960s before leaving to join the Peace Corps where he was an architect at Department of Public Works. He worked on all kinds of buildings including new and renovated mosques and public housing.
He then returned to the Mies office, which shifted to the office of Fujikawa Conterato Lohan ( FCL ) Associates, from 1968-1984. He served as the principal architect designer.
Beginning in 1984 he spent a year as an independent writer, then he became a typesetter, proofreader and writer for Windy City Times. He was on staff about three years and then became a freelance writer.
Wilson taught architectural design at IIT and the Art Institute of Chicago.
He served as executive director for OPALGA for one year when there was staff funding.
Wilson also helped develop an advocacy campaign regarding hospice homes with Visiting Nurse Association
In his later years, he worked at a resume service in Forest Park and for several years at Kinko's in Elmwood Park. His last position was with the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust from about 2000-2010.
Wilson was born in Wichita, Kansas, July 9, 1942, and his family moved to California in 1950.
Survivors include Nathan Linsk, husband; Adam Wilson, son ( wife-Renee ); Charna Linsk. daughter ( step daughter ) ( wife, Angel McDonald ); Darrell Wilson and Loren Wilson, brothers. Mel was previously married to Esther Parada.
Wilson asked that no formal funeral be held; however friends gathered April 23-24 at their home in Oak Park. A memorial service is planned for June or July, details will be forthcoming.
Donations in Mel's memory may be made to the Oak Park Lesbian and Gay Association, opalga.org/join-support/ , P.O. Box 1460 Oak Park, Illinois 60304 or LGBT Voice ( Tanzania ), org2.salsalabs.com/o/7315/donate_page/lgbtvoice or send a check to LGBT Voice c/o Alliance for Global Justice, 225 E 26th Street Suite 1, Tucson, Arizona 85713.