MILWAUKEE — On any given day, you can hear one of Milwaukee's most joyous neighbors yelling "yoohoo!" up and down her street. Her voice is unmistakable.
"I'm always terrorizing the neighborhood. I'm always howling up and down the neighborhood."
But it's all in a loving way. Her voice is joyous, warm, and inviting. She is the type of neighbor you want in your community. She is the glue that keeps the neighborhood together. The matriarch that watches over the streets. Ms. Mavis McCallum is the queen of Thurston Woods.
Thurston Woods is a Milwaukee neighborhood on the Milwaukee-Glendale Border. It has unique characteristics that few places have. Thurston Woods, get its namesake from all the trees around the neighborhood. Plus, it's right next to Havenwoods State Park. On two blocks, there are no street lights and no sidewalks. It has the feel of the suburbs, and neighbors love that. In fact, this area used to be an actual suburb. It was called the Town of Granville. However, it was eventually split up and incorporated into Brown Deer, River Hills, Glendale, and Milwaukee in 1962.
"People think that you're in Whitefish Bay, Shorewood. 'This is the city of Milwaukee?' And we say yup this is the City of Milwaukee," Ms. Mavis said.
And most importantly, it's an incredibly tight-knit community where neighbors are more like family.
In this edition of the My Block series, I met with Ms. Mavis McCallum, so she could show me her Milwaukee neighborhood through her eyes and experiences. Where we went, who we talked to, and what we talked about was all up to her. There was no script to follow. Welcome to Ms. Mavis' neighborhood at Thurston Avenue and N. 34th Street in Milwaukee.
"This world, this neighborhood gives me the opportunity to do the work god wants me to do," Ms. Mavis said.
Part of that work is being the ambassador of her community and knowing the people who live around her. The first neighbor we met lives directly behind her, Kevin Sloan.
"Hey Kevin!" Ms. Mavis yelled through Kevin's fence.
"Hey there. I'll see you guys out front," Kevin responded.
Kevin's house is eye catching. It's an old log cabin style house made of timber and stone. In fact, it has been used as the symbol of Thurston Woods as shown on a neighborhood poster created by the artist Jan Kotowicz.
"I adopted him. He’s my son," Ms. Mavis said about her relationship with Kevin.
"She came and gave us the biggest bear hugs I've gotten since my parents passed 5 or 6 years ago," Kevin said about the first time that he met Ms. Mavis.
As we began walking down 34th Street, Kevin talked about how the reputation of Thurston Woods matches up against the rest of Milwaukee.
"Milwaukee kind of drags around this badge of highly segregated, you know, which it is. But I feel like this neighborhood is a really nice mix of cultures, and people, and I like that. It feels good," he said.
Owning such an iconic home means the pressure of keeping it maintained. But that's a job Kevin enjoys.
"I just enjoy being a part of this city and a positive part of this city," Kevin said.
Ms. Mavis said she is happy someone who would really care for it now owns the property.
After a quick stroll up and down the block talking about this, that, and the other we made our way back to Kevin's house where we said our goodbyes.
Next it was on to Gail Flowers' home.
As we approached Gail Flower's home, Ms. Mavis let our her iconic call to let Gail know we were walking up to her front door.
"Yoohoo! Hello! It's Ms. Mavis. We have a guest," Ms. Mavis called out. "And this is the lovely Gail flowers. My dear friend how you doing girlfriend?" Ms Mavis said as she gave her a big hug.
We began to walk through the front yard away from Gail's home and towards the street. Gail took Ms. Mavis' arm as the two walked down three steps and onto the road.
"This is our youth in the neighborhood," Ms. Mavis said.
Gail moved into the neighborhood in 1995. She has been an integral part of the community ever since.
"Thurston Woods is a neighborhood of uniqueness and versatility," Gail said. "First off we're hidden. You can’t get to us from main thoroughfares. You don’t know about us unless you happen to get lost over here."
One of the things that Gail, and many of the neighbors like the best, is the lack of sidewalks and street lights on their stretch of 34th Street.
"We don’t want sidewalks," Gail said.
It gives the people in the neighborhood the feeling they are in the suburbs even though they are still in a major city. It offers a home-y vibe. One in which cars and walkers share the street.
Given that Thurston Woods is one of the lesser known neighborhoods and close to the Milwaukee-Glendale border, Gail said that it avoids much of the crime that you hear happening in the city.
"A lot of the things or all of the bad, the negative that you hear about this city - we don’t deal with a lot of that. We hear about it, but we're fortunate enough that we don’t have to experience it."
While Ms. Mavis might not be the one deterring the crime or any of the "bad" from happening, Gail acknowledged that Ms. Mavis is the one to bring the community together.
"And its been told to me, (neighbors) liked (Ms. Mavis). It's a sense of belonging. They know someone is going to look out for them."
We made our way back to Gail's front door, said our goodbyes, and it was on to the next neighbor that Ms. Mavis had waiting for us.
As expected, Ms. Mavis called out to Dana Rhinehart when we walked up to her front door.
"Yoohoo! Yoohoo! Hey Ms. Dana! How you doing?"
Ms. Mavis and Ms. Dana have been friends with each other since junior high school. They played on opposing softball teams when they were kids. They engage in a friendly rivalry the way only long time friends can do.
"We beat her team quite a lot," Ms. Mavis joked.
"Get out of here. No she didn’t," Ms. Dana quickly responded.
Ms. Dana has lived in the neighborhood since 2005. We all stood by her front door talking about the community.
"I love my neighborhood. I really do," Ms. Dana said.
Like many people have said, Ms. Dana loves the fact that there are no sidewalks and street lights. Like Gail Flowers, she feels as though her neighborhood avoids much of the trouble that affects the city.
"It's quiet," she said in a loud yet whispered tone.
Aside from its location, it takes a communal effort to the keep the neighborhood so "quiet". Ms. Dana said that it all comes down to the neighbors keeping each other accountable to maintain the status quo. It's especially true when someone moves in.
"Hi welcome to the neighborhood; however, you know, that loud music that you're doing we don’t do that here."
After chatting for a bit more, we left Ms. Dana's front yard and walked to another unique home in the neighborhood.
Jacqueline and Gregory Ware
"Yoohoo! Yoohoo! It's Ms. Mavis. We have company. We coming to your oasis," Ms. Mavis said.
Jacqueline and Gregory Ware have the only house in the neighborhood that people can walk 360 degrees around. It's kind of like their house is surrounded by a moat, except instead of water, Gregory has planed an extensive and lush garden around his house.
"There's about 28 flower beds that I literally put in," Gregory said.
He said that people will often stop by their house just to take photos and admire the garden. For those that know the Ware's well enough, like Ms. Mavis, people are allowed to walk through the garden a bit. It wasn't always the plan to plant this massive garden, though.
"You know, we had said we would be here for four or five years, and we said it would be a nice little starter home. And then we would move somewhere else. And we just fell in love with it. And then we met the mayor of Thurston Woods, and we couldn’t leave," Gregory said.
The Ware's and Ms. Mavis really bonded with each other. During the pandemic, the Ware's would check in on Ms. Mavis often. In fact, Gregory often calls Ms. Mavis 'auntie'.
"When the pandemic - it was like every other day they ring the doorbell. They just say are you okay do you need anything," Ms. Mavis said.
As many have said already, Jacqueline echoed the statements about the safety and quietness of the neighborhood.
"People come over, and we give my address, and it's their first time here, and they’re like, 'oh my gosh we didn’t even know this area exists.' So that's what I really like, and it's safe," Jacqueline said.
Once we finished the tour of the Ware's garden, we said our goodbyes to Gregory and Jacqueline. Ms. Mavis had one last neighbor for us to visit.
For the final time of the day, we got the iconic Ms. Mavis greeting. This one was extra long and loud.
"Ey! Yohoo! Yohoooooo! It’s Ms. Mavis.”
Robin has lived in the neighborhood for 37 years.
“I’m one that likes to protect my neighbors. I’m not a gossiper, but I’m one to give information that’s needed," she said.
If Ms. Mavis is the matriarch, Robin is sort of like the enforcer. She has worked for the Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office.
“I just think that’s my job to keep everybody safe.”
But Ms. Mavis said that sometimes Robin needs to take a break from helping people out so much.
“So I have to fuss at her a lot of times because she go beyond. Always caring for people and sometimes she needs that mental break," Ms. Mavis.
Our meeting with Robin was a short one. We had to get back to Ms. Mavis' house because she was throwing a cocktail party for the neighborhood. Kevin, Gail, Gail, Robin, Gregory and Jackie, and even others we didn't meet all came to the party.
After a long and successful day of meeting the neighbors of Thurston Woods, I had one last questions for Ms. Mavis.
"Is there anything else you'd like to say about your neighborhood?"
“I’m so grateful to be part of Thurston Woods. I’m so proud of what we have accomplished here with the change of times," Ms. Mavis said.
If you want your neighborhood to be featured or know someone who would be a good ambassador for their community reach out to James Groh at firstname.lastname@example.org.