[Hpn] Cincinnati, OH - Mr. T was gentlman of the street - The Cincinnati Post - July 25, 2002

H. C. Covington H. C. Covington" <icanamerica@bellsouth.net
Sat, 27 Jul 2002 22:05:11 -0500

Mr. T was gentlman of the street
Theardis Ishmon; born April 10, 1940, died July 12, 2002.
More than 100 people showed up for the funeral, mostly people
who are trying to fight their way back from homelessness
Column by David Wecker - The Cincinnati Post - July 25, 2002

A few dozen men and women who don't have much spring in their step are waiting
their turns at the showers at the Mary Magdalen House in Over-the-Rhine.

Most of them have heard by now about Theardis. Mr. T, they called him.

The ones who haven't pause to take in the memorial displayed in one of Mary
Magdalen's storefront windows  the votive candle, the squeegee, the yellow
rubber gloves, the sweatband, the poems.

Theardis Ishmon; born April 10, 1940, died July 12, 2002.

Inside, Jerry Sedgwick is behind the counter taking names, distributing towels
and bars of soap, making sure the morning proceeds in an orderly fashion.

Jerry has been at Mary Magdalen House since 1988, when a handful of parishioners
at nearby Old St. Mary's Church opened a place where homeless folks could shower
down, brush their teeth, get a clean set of duds.

Theardis showed up and took his place in line one morning in 1990. He was in his
early 50s, 6-foot-2, skinnier even than Jerry. He'd had some problems with
drugs, some problems with alcohol, and he'd been staying at the Drop-Inn Center.

He made a point of letting the staff and the volunteers at Mary Magdalen House
know he appreciated what they were doing for him and how much it meant to be
able to wash away the smell of the streets.

He hadn't been coming long when he offered to volunteer. Giancarlo Bonutti, the
Marianist brother who is director of Mary Magdalen House, remembers Theardis
saying he needed to separate himself from the booze and the dope on the streets.
So Brother G put him to work sweeping up, washing windows.

That next year, Brother G put him on the part-time payroll. By that time, they
were calling him Mr. T, the mayor of Main Street. He was known for having a
weakness for the ladies, but in a helpful, giving way.

For example, at the Mary Magdalen House, the guests aren't allowed to sort
through the clothing; a staff member or volunteer finds something in the right
size and brings it out.

When a woman would come in looking for fresh clothes, Theardis would leap into
the breach. He'd take special pains to find clothing that a woman could feel
good about wearing, something that wouldn't necessarily look like she'd gotten
it for free.

The day before he died, he selected a pair of white sneakers, a clean white top
and teal shorts for Rita Stevenson, who is 37 and has been living at the
Drop-Inn Center.

"He always got me something that looked nice," she said.

"It's probably hard for you to understand how it can be depressing when you're
homeless. It was like he was particular about what he'd pick for me, like he was
making a fuss over me.

"You probably don't know how much that kind of thing can cheer a person up."

Mostly, that's what Theardis did: cheer people up. He had a way of drawing
people out; of sensing if someone had a problem, showing he cared and getting
them to talk about it.

Most everyone who came through the door at Mary Magdalen House felt comfortable
around him. They knew he'd been there, too.

Jim is a regular. When he heard Mr. T had died, he sat down and wrote him a

"You always brightened my day. Sometimes with bits of conversation, other times
just observing you with others.

" I'll never miss you as some other mights, for I'll always carry a part of you
with me wherever I go."

By 1995, he was a full-time employee, living in the apartment upstairs, keeping
the joint tidy. Three years ago, he developed an intestinal disorder that took
probably more time than it should have to diagnose. In the process, Theardis
nearly died. And in the process of nearly dying, he got serious about his
spiritual side.

These last few years, says Brother G, Theardis considered it his personal
ministry to serve the homeless. That's what he was doing the day he took sick
again two weeks ago. Jerry was at his bedside at the hospital, holding Theardis'
hand when he died.

More than 100 people showed up for the funeral, mostly people who are trying to
fight their way back from homelessness; people for whom Theardis was a good

You can contact David Wecker at 352-2791 or via e-mail at sambets@choice.net
source page:  http://www.cincypost.com/2002/jul/25/wecker072502.html

H. C. [Sonny] Covington, Editor
Homeless and Housing News