Tracy Winchester, who heads up the Five Points Business District, glanced around at the large and excited crowd gathered outside the old Denver health services building and invoked the image of the iconic Mr. Rogers. “It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood,” she declared simply.
And indeed it was.
On Aug. 15, the proud denizens of one of Denver’s most historic and storied neighborhoods honored Elbra Wedgeworth — “one of their own” is how Winchester described her — by naming the municipal building after the longtime public servant and respected civic leader.
The newly crowned Elbra M. Wedgeworth Municipal Building sits at 2855 Tremont Place in the old Curtis Park section of Denver, where Wedgeworth grew up as a young child.
Over the years, Wedgeworth has served in numerous capacities, always dedicating herself to working for the betterment of others in an array of different positions: Clerk & Recorder for the City of Denver; community affairs director at Denver Health; president of the Denver City Council; president of the 2008 host committee which was responsible for bringing the Democratic National Convention to Denver that year; immediate past president of the Downtown Denver Partnership; and most recently, chair of the Denver Union Station Authority board of directors.
Many of her current and former colleagues were seated on the patio outside the newly named building as the city and state’s most prominent political and community leaders offered glowing tributes about the woman of the hour.
Actually, if you get right down to it, Wedgeworth was the woman of the day. Governor John Hickenlooper had officially declared it so in the proclamation he signed and which was read by his chief of staff since he was out of town. The always upbeat Roxane White summoned the willing guests to join in all the “whereas” sections, and they gleefully obliged, adding in some hoots and cheers at White’s numerous prompts.
A lot of buildings could be named after Elbra, White pointed out, but this particular building had special significance. It represents all of the people for whom Wedgeworth advocates on behalf of — there’s the DMV inside the building; great childcare next door. Need to access info on healthcare? No problem, White noted. “Come here if you need food assistance or help with Medicare,” she reminded. “It’s truly a special place.”
Congressman Ed Perlmutter, Democrat from the neighboring 7th congressional district, also had special words for Wedgeworth, who chairs his campaign for reelection. Perlmutter credited her for heading up the effort to bring the DNC to town in 2008, where, he added parenthetically, his daughter Abby met her betrothed.
Her accomplishments are legend, he continued about the honoree, making it easy for him to fill five pages about Wedgeworth which he said would be entered into the Congressional Record when he returned to Washington, D.C. in September.
Perlmutter rattled off even more accomplishments of his good friend, ending his presentation by lauding Wedgeworth for her countless hours of dedication to the citizens of Colorado. “She is great friend to all of us, [she’s] inspired us and has served all of us,” he added.
Congressman Perlmutter doesn’t represent this district, reminded City Councilman Albus Brooks, who served admirably as the emcee of the event. “But he understands Elbra Wedgeworth’s influence and leadership,” he noted.
For Brooks, who has followed in the footsteps of Wedgeworth on the Denver City Council, this was also a special day. The promising young political leader, along with Will Alston and others, had worked long and hard to make sure all the steps had been completed for the renaming. The Aug. 15 dedication was the culmination of a formal citywide process that required almost 650 signatures and more than 20 letters of recommendation from community leaders and organizations.
Trying to raise the necessary funds to pay for the renaming of the building was not in the budget, Brooks explained, but a series of lucky omens helped the process along. A local real estate professional stepped up and underwrote some of the expenses. There was no grass on the lawns, no beautification efforts made at first, Brooks continued, but somehow things got done. “As soon as we named it,” Brooks said about the building, flowers seemed to pop up and today, the manicured lawn seemed fitting for a prestigious building named after one of the neighborhood’s dearest citizens.
“It doesn’t matter… how you pontificate on policies, it’s about changing lives and influencing lives,” Brooks summed up. He bade the many guests assembled there that day to consider that to be the real test of leadership, and he cited Edgeworth as a perfect example.
Mayor Hancock described Wedgeworth as “a wonderful, lovely human being that I call my big sister. We’ve adopted and brought her into our family,” he said, and now as he stood at the microphone “unscripted,” he guessed that his good friend was likely terrified.
But there was no need for concern on Wedgeworth’s part. Hizzoner was humble and kind.
He talked aout first meeting Wedgeworth years ago when she still donned an African dashiki dress. At the time, Hancock said, she was one of the core leaders in Mayor Webb’s administration.
When Hancock went on to the Denver City Council in 2011, it was Wedgeworth, he said, who stood by him. He had been appointed to one of the largest and most powerful committees on council as a freshman, Hancock recalled, and when he mistakenly uttered something out of bounds policywise, it was Wedgeworth “who hit me over the head” and watched out for him.
On a more serious note, Hancock talked about the economic impact that Wedgeworth has helped create for the city. But her real power, the mayor continued, lies in the numerous protégés “who have flown beneath her wings, hitched their sails to her altitude” and who were comforted in Wedgeworth’s willingness to carry them until they could make it on their own. Many were seated in the audience.
“Elbra Wedgeworth has stood for the powerless and the hopeless,” Hancock stated as he turned to look at her.
“Your name is on this building, but your ultimate legacy is the human legacy… We’ll talk about the lady who made a difference in the life of a child. Congratulations to my sister,” the mayor concluded.
“This is a great Northeast Denver day,” Wedgeworth began after listening to all the tributes.
She said that when Brooks first brought up the idea of naming the building after her, she thought he was kidding. But he wasn’t. “I’m very humbled by it,” she said emotionally.
“The main reason I’m here is because of my family,” Wedgeworth acknowledged as she singled out her father and sister and other family members.
“I grew up as a kid in Curtis Park. Many years later I can look at my life now and think it is one of public service,” Wedgeworth continued.
“This is a journey that shaped me as the woman I am and everything that I’ve experienced. Public service has been the most rewarding experience I have ever had in my life,” she said. “I will continue to strive to dedicate myself to creating a better quality of life” for others.
In closing, Wedgeworth dedicated the building naming to her mother, Castella, who passed away two years ago and who served as an inspiration throughout her life.
“She always encouraged me to do my best, keep my word, be a responsible person and demonstrate thoughtfulness and kindness and to have dignity and grace at whatever I do and how I represent myself,” Wedgeworh said.
“My mother believed in me, that I can accomplish anything, never give up on my goals, and dream big… not let circumstances define me and always define myself so I can have impact on other’s lives.
“I dedicate this building to my Mom,” Wedgeworth graciously concluded.
See the August 22 print edition for full photo coverage.