BORN IN A BOXCAR
Emily Louise Brooks was born in a boxcar, so began one of her favorite stories from her childhood, where she fondly recounted how her father built the family house with his own two hands. But before the home was quite complete, she came kicking into this world on July 30, 1921, to parents Alonzo Brooks and Henrietta Hodges Brooks. She joined siblings Edward, and Arthur Buddy Brooks. The family would eventually grow by five more children, all girls; Marcella, Ruth, Alice June, Daisy, and Martha.
The family resided at 770 Drexel Avenue in Indianapolis's Irvington neighborhood, where the Brooks were the only Black family. Memories she was fond of sharing included how much she loved spending time in the kitchen watching her mother cook, and in the garden planting flowers. Her early childhood tells the story of a proud, industrious, and close-knit family. And it also shows how history shapes lives. During her 98 years, she survived and thrived as a Black woman throughout a life steeped in history, its challenges, and the personal triumph of a woman who navigated whatever life handed her with grace, a sure wit, infectious positivity, and style.
SURVIVED THE GREAT DEPRESSION
A child during the Great Depression, she lived to tell the tale of how her mother made fried pies
that she would pack into a basket to sell to Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers.
The extra money she helped earn directly contributed to her family surviving one of the most challenging periods of American history. She was a part of that history, and her story is one of survival.
She also lived through some of the most shameful moments of America's past. Once she recalled that the happiest day of her life was the day she graduated from eighth grade. She said she couldn't wait to get away from her white classmates who refused to play with her and her siblings or even hold their hands at circle time. Nearly 80 years later, she described those experiences as "miserable" with a palpable sense of hurt. Because she and her siblings were not allowed into the neighborhood swimming pool, which had been designated as "whites only," she never learned to swim as a child. And she would never forget the indignities suffered during her formative years when racism was visible, tangible, and unapologetic in its cruelty.
Some of the memories she shared were stark reminders of racism's ugly stains. They were also quite uncharacteristic and stood in sharp contrast to her trademark infectious optimism. By and large, the childhood memories she shared were of the happy times she and the rest of the Brooks children spent with their brave, hard-working parents. She recalled waking up many mornings at 5 am to help her father decorate the vegetable truck he owned that served the Irvington neighborhood. But her favorite pastime was sharing time with her mother, often helping with 'putting up' or canning fruits and vegetables for the winter. Sometimes she was rewarded for her assistance with freshly fried fish that she would share with her mother sitting on the steps of their front porch.
The pride and joy she most often shared through her stories were true to the style that defined her life. And if anything, she used early encounters with adversity to fuel a boundless determination to live beyond the confines of what America prescribed for the Black women of her time.
Emily Louise Brooks attended IPS School #82 on English Avenue and the historic Crispus Attucks High School. In 1940, she was joined in matrimony to Alison Leon Warren for a union that lasted 58 years before he preceded her in death in 1998.
HOMEMAKING, HOBBIES, AND SERVICE
Once when asked what she had dreamed of becoming when she was a little girl, she replied, "a nice mother." By all accounts, she succeeded gloriously in that goal and then some as mother to Henrietta, Kipper, Tony, and Larry and as stepmother to Curtis, Esther Marie, Dale, and Ruth Eleanor.
Throughout her life, and true to what she'd envisioned for herself at a young age, she was the consummate mother, homemaker, and hostess. She was also known and widely admired for serving her church, community, and employers with distinction.
She was active in her children's activities and a member of the PTA at IPS School #56. Always on the go and never one to sit still, she enjoyed many hobbies, including golfing, attending sporting events, and the dances, clubs, and activities of the Black social scene of Indianapolis. She often hosted Pokeeno games on weekends for her friends. And along with her husband, she loved to see the world. They traveled extensively throughout the United States. She counted Hawaii and Jamaica as her favorite destinations, especially Jamaica.
She was a member of St. Rita's and St. Bridget's Catholic Churches. Following St. Bridget's closure, she attended St. Phillip's Catholic Church.
On February 17, 1968, she became a member of the St. Catherine of Sienna Court #109 of the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary, an order of the oldest and largest historically Black Catholic lay organization.
Throughout her life, she was proud of her service with "the Ladies Court," as she affectionately called it. The Ladies supported the Black community by organizing food pantries, providing scholarships to young ladies attending college, fundraising, and visiting the sick and shut-in. For 52 years, she was devoted and committed to carrying forth the organization's motto: "to worship, serve, and fellowship with the spreading of faith, hope, and love through friendship, unity and Christian charity." At the time of her passing, she was the oldest living member of the Indianapolis chapter.
WORKED 9 to 5, and THEN SOME
Emily Louise Brooks Warren spent her early days as a homemaker and mother to eight children while her husband worked on the railroad and in the family business, Warren's Ideal Market at 16th and Columbia. When her youngest child was seven years old, she formally entered the workforce, first joining the staff at Warren's Ideal Market, then working as the supervisor at the Rosalyn Bakery Surplus Store at 29th and Keystone. It was her next position at St. Rita's Nursery at 19th and Martindale that marked the beginning of an illustrious career in early childhood education. Eventually, she was tapped to serve as the Director of St. Bridget's Nursery and Kindergarten. For the next 24 years, she guided and shaped the lives of hundreds of students with dedication and love before retiring at the youthful age of 73.
Her contributions at both St. Rita's and St. Bridget's are an indelible part of the history of Indianapolis and the legacy of two historic educational and spiritual institutions that shaped the growth of its Black community. Indeed, both institutions provided access to a quality education and loving environment for Black children. Her impact as an educator is perhaps best told by St. Bridget's alum, Tiffany Terrell.
"I attended preschool and kindergarten at St. Bridget's, where I was blessed to be in the presence of an amazing and strong woman who I have never forgotten. I loved going to school every day. In fact, seeing her smiling and caring face was the best part of my day. When it was time for me to graduate from kindergarten and move on to first grade, I was devastated to learn that I would have to attend a new school. Although I was unhappy, I was encouraged by this lady who assured me I would be okay. She told me to continue to be a great student and to be kind to others. That amazing woman is Emily L. Warren. Since I first met her back in preschool, I've never forgotten her. Mrs. Warren, thank you for having such an impact on my life and on the community. Your former students have been blessed to have had such a caring educator in our lives."
POST RETIREMENT ADVENTURES
Now one might think that after raising eight children and serving hundreds more for 24 years as an educator, she would have been ready to slow down and maybe, perhaps, rest?
Not Emily Louise Brooks Warren. In retirement, she set about tackling a few items on her bucket list. One of her first orders of business was learning to swim, the opportunity she'd been denied as a child.
Ever brave and always bold, as a septuagenarian, she signed up for lessons at the YMCA and finally conquered a goal she'd held in her heart for years. But she didn't consider her mission complete until she'd not only mastered the basics and conquered the backstroke, the freestyle, and the breaststroke. No, she didn't stop until she jumped off the high dive at age 76. She would describe this as one of her life's proudest moments.
With age, she seemed to become even more intrepid. To celebrate her 80th birthday, she ventured high into the skies on a hot air balloon ride. And at her 90th birthday bash, she remarked that she was "far from finished and just might decide to climb Mt. Everest!" Her family didn't know quite how to take this, and it took a few years before they finally decided it indeed a joke. For one thing, they knew is that throughout her life, Emily Louise Brooks Warren did what she set her mind to do, all while being good-hearted and loving to those who crossed her path.
She brightened many, many days with her melodic laugh and sure wit until she was called home on March 18, 2020.
Preceding her in death are her parents; Alonzo Brooks and mother Henrietta Hodges Brooks, husband, Alison Leon Warren; children; Henrietta, Dale, and Ester Marie, and siblings; Edward, Arthur Buddy, Marcella, Alice June, Daisy, and Martha.
She is survived by her sister Ruth Tutt, and 255 descendants including children Curtis Warren (Jean), Ruth Eleanor Woods (Henry Cookie), Kipper Warren (Virginia), Tony Warren (Edna), Larry Warren (Connease) 39 grandchildren, 101 great-grandchildren, 86 great-great-grandchildren, 21 great-great-great, grandchildren and a host of other relatives, friends, and all those whose lives were touched through her 98 years of kindness, service, devotion, and love.
Before she left us, she shared that her wish for all her descendants was to "get a good education and be kind to people" and to always remember, like the lyrics of one of her favorite songs, that "we are family."
Emily Louise Brooks Warren will be missed and always, always cherished and celebrated for her infectious laughter, positive spirit, and sassy comebacks. Her family is filled with a blessed assurance that she is, right now, kicking higher than ever from her well-deserved place in heaven, where we hope she has been assigned a porch on which to hold court and flowers to tend to.
I will truly miss her . I am grateful I was able to visit with her a few weeks before her passing . Now you are in heaven with my dad ( Buddy) your baby brother . The memories we shared and the two of us going out for breakfast . Love you always Aunt Sissy .
I enjoyed her story every word. I know that she will live on it each of you in one way or another. God Bless.
Oh what a beautiful Lady! Oh what an amazing life. May God comfort each one of you as only HE can. May the precious memories of Mrs Warren replace your tears with laughter and your hearts with joy.
Family we did the best that was allowed under such crazy circumstances. Please lets all prepare to come together on August 1st to properly memorialize our dear Big Em..
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