RACINE — To say that Jacob Lott loved kids would be an understatement.
The longtime Racine resident raised 13 of his own children, but anybody who knew him will tell you that the co-founder of what is today the George Bray Neighborhood Center had a place in his heart for every child he met.
Lott died on Feb. 27 after a long illness. He was 88.
A funeral service for the beloved leader will be held at 11 a.m. today at Midtown Church of Christ, 704 13th St.
Speaking about her father on Wednesday, Renee Lee recalled her family home as one that was almost always teeming with children — not just with her brothers and sisters, but with kids from across the neighborhood. And there was always a place for them at the supper table.
“(My parents) always made room for whoever was there. If we were going to eat, they were going to eat,” Lee remembers. “We didn’t have much, but we had.”
Founding the Bray Center
In 1961, working with fellow community leaders George Bray, Thelma Orr and Bernice Moore, Lott co-founded the Franklin Neighborhood Association at 816 10th St.
It wasn’t much in the beginning — just a little spot for kids to go after school, a place for arts and crafts.
Eight years later, through the fundraising efforts and sheer willpower of Lott and others, the association settled into its new home at 924 Center St.
Today, more than 50 years later, the George Bray Neighborhood Center is a fixture of the community it serves.
For those whom Lott touched in his life, it stands testament to his service and generosity of spirit.
Bernice Moore, 81, remembers the strength and tenacity Lott showed when they were working to raise the money to buy the former church where the Bray Center now sits.
“He was crazy about his city, he was crazy about his community and, when you called on him, he was right there,” she said.
A dedicated heart
Jameel Ghuari, who has served as the executive director for the Bray Center for the past 20 years, remembers spending time over at the Lott house when he was a little boy.
Lott was his “community father,” Ghuari, 60, said Wednesday — a man who taught him how to serve.
“Mr. Lott was so respected that when we went over there we would act like we were around our own fathers,” Ghuari said. “He was always known as a very strong family man, very strong role model, but not somebody to play with, even though he had a great sense of humor.”
That sense of humor is something that was part of Lott’s personality until the very end, said Ghuari.
“The last days of his life he was singing gospel songs, laughing with the kids and smiling at people,” he said. “He had such a beautiful sense of humor and spirit about him.”
Although Lott struggled with health problems during the past few years, Ghuari recalls that Lott’s interest in the center never faded.
At the 50th anniversary celebration of the center, held in February 2012, Lott’s love for the center was evident.
“I have the respect that each of you have given me down through the years,” he said, struggling to hold back tears. “I strived to earn that respect by respecting you. So let’s keep on keeping on. Let’s keep the faith. Let’s keep the unity. God bless you, all of you.”