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Villager Faith Patterson will be honored later this month as an inductee into the Greene County Women’s Hall of Fame. Patterson, who was nominated by Jewel Graham, was chosen for her service in building community and tolerance for diversity.

Patterson honor: celebrating others

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You could call Faith Patterson a woman with a passion for bringing people together. As a leader of the African-American Cultural Works, or ACCW, she’s been pursuing that passion for more than a decade, spearheading such community-building events as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the recent Roots brunch, and the upcoming annual AACW Blues/Jazz Fest.

“I want to do things that celebrate cultural diversity, activities that help us understand each other,” Patterson said in a recent interview. “The more you learn about others, the more you learn that we’re not so different.”

This month, Patterson is being honored for her efforts as a 2009 inductee to the Greene County Women’s Hall of Fame. A luncheon to honor the inductees will take place at noon on Saturday, Sept. 26, at the Walnut Grove Country Club. Tickets are $15 for the lunch, and the public is invited. To make reservations, call 429-1805 by Sept. 19, or mail a check to P.O Box 703, Fairborn, 45324.

Nominated for the award by villager Jewel Graham, Patterson was cited for her community activism.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge the contributions of women who get out and do things in the community, because they provide role models and inspiration to others,” Graham said in a recent interview.

And the Hall of Fame award is only one out of several recent honors. Patterson also received a 2008 Ohio Heritage Fellowship in Community Leadership, from the Ohio Arts Council, and at a different September luncheon she’ll be feted as one of the top 10 area African-American women, chosen by the African-American CEO group of Dayton.

While she’s grateful that her efforts are recognized, the awards aren’t the point, Patterson said.

“My reward is in doing these things,” she said.

And doing them, she said, is simply an extension of the values she was taught by her mother and her paternal grandparents, with whom she lived while growing up.

“I was taught that you give back to the community and that you celebrate each other,” she said. “I’ve never known any other way.”

Having been raised with a focus on tolerance doesn’t mean that life was easy for Patterson and her family in the segregated south of her childhood. In her hometown of Petersburg, Va., African-Americans were barred from sitting at the counter at restaurants, restricted to the balcony of the local theater and not allowed in the public swimming pool. But while Patterson grew up surrounded by racism, she felt protected by her family.

“I never felt the brunt of it,” she said.

Patterson felt insulated by her grandparents’ efforts to keep her from experiencing segregation’s demeaning effects, she said. For instance, when the family went downtown, her grandmother made sure to cook up a big breakfast so no one would be hungry during the trip.

“She said, ‘You don’t need to buy food and stand up to eat it,’” Patterson said.

As a child, Patterson also felt protected by the warmth of her immediate neighborhood, in which African-Americans had their own stores and services, and people took care of each other.

“If a neighbor down the street was hungry, you fed them,” she said.

But as an adult, Patterson didn’t have her own close-knit community until she moved to Yellow Springs. Married to “Pat” Patterson, a career Air Force officer, she traveled the world, living in Japan and Germany as the couple raised their three children, Eric, Karen and Roth. While she loved being married to her husband, she missed having deep roots in one spot.

However, Faith found that spot when her husband was transferred to Wright Patterson and the family moved to Yellow Springs. Many aspects of village life appealed to her, Patterson said, including its informality. Before moving to the village, she said, she always “dressed to the nines,” as an officer’s wife, including hat, hosiery and gloves. But soon after moving to Yellow Springs, Patterson attended an honorary luncheon for community leader Louise Odiorne, who showed up in jeans and Birkenstocks.

“I put away my stockings and hat and gloves,” Patterson said. “She freed me.”

Trained in early childhood education, Patterson taught kindergarten at the Antioch School for several years, and later opened her own day care center, Faith’s Place.

Life also brought to Patterson her fair share of heartbreak. She had breast cancer in 1977, and she’s grateful the cancer has not recurred. Her greatest heartbreak has been the loss of her husband, whom she cared for before his death in 1998.

Having been married for 44 years to Pat Patterson is “my greatest accomplishment,” Patterson said, describing her husband as a kind man who always had interesting projects and interesting conversation to make. Her eyes mist over when she speaks of him.

“I never wanted anyone else,” she said.

She still misses Pat keenly, she said, although she takes great pride in her children and grandchildren. Carrying on the family tradition, her home is multi-generational, with her son, Roth, a musician, and his son, Nerak Jr., living with her. Karen, a cellist, is currently teaching in Nigeria and Eric is a regional director of manufacturing in central Kentucky.

Each year at this time the Patterson home is awhirl with activity, as Faith scurries to complete last minute details for the AACW blues fest, where both Roth and Karen will perform. Patterson began her involvement with the AACW 18 years ago after an Antioch College student, John Simms, organized a week of activities to honor African-American culture. After Simms graduated, he asked several local residents, including Patterson and Bill Chappelle, to take over the effort, which has grown to a variety of events that celebrate diversity, including the annual September blues fest and the Kwanzaa celebration in December.

This year Patterson turns 80, although she looks much younger. Her enthusiasm for living still burns, she said, and she loves “music, working with young people and life.” She feels herself slowing down a bit, and when she’s weary, she thinks of one of her husband’s favorite sayings.

“He said, ‘If you put one foot in front of the other, pretty soon you’re walking,’” Patterson said.

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