Editor’s note: This is one article in a series celebrating the history and achievements of Black Americans in Champaign County.
By Paule Simone Brown
As part of Black History Month, we honor Champaign County’s cultural heritage, our successes, and our challenges. President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month during our country’s 1976 Bicentennial. Ford called upon Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
February was chosen primarily because the second week of the month coincides with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. W. Marvin Dulaney says Carter G. Woodson, the “Father of Black History,” was the first to advocate and promote black history and culture in 1926. Dulaney is a historian and a member of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
As part of this 4-article series this year, we honor Black Americans in Champaign County who have contributed to our county, culture, and whose achievements have improved our communities.
The first story in our series is about Stephanie Truelove, Urbana City Councilwoman from the Fourth Ward, and the first black woman elected to city council in the last 50 years.
Born and raised in this area, she came from a family in which her father worked for Wright- Patterson Air Force Base before retiring and becoming a bus driver for the Urbana City Schools. Stephanie’s mother is from Beaver Falls, Pa, the same town the football legend Joe Namath was born and she met Stephanie’s father while working at Wright-Patt.
Her father was well known in Urbana. He was always a jokester.
She said, “He was always a lot of fun and people got to know him in town very, very well.” Because the community liked her dad, that allowed her to become who she is, and motivated her to succeed in everything she did including her current role in the city.
She explained, “My greatest accomplishment has been becoming a councilwoman and I would like to do whatever I can to help the community now.”
Truelove started her career as an honor roll student at Urbana High School. In her eyes, achieving that was an honor because she stood out and it paved the way for her future success. When she was in high school, she dreamed of being an artist. Eventually she became a nurse for over 30 years. She was a nurse supervisor at Community Hospital in Springfield for over 10 years and then she became the Director of Nursing of Heartland Nursing Facility in Urbana for over 15 years.
According to Truelove, a few times she could have given up when there were patients that refused her care because she was black.
She stated, “Those are kind of low points when you are rejected because of who you are. It was hurtful because my intention was to give them the best care that I could give them, but then it just hurts.” She added, “Those patients were of a different mindset so I had to have broad shoulders, grin, and bear it.” She also said, “Although I was fortunate enough not to experience racism a lot, if I had, I probably would have given up as many other black people have and still do.”
During her childhood, she also recalls a case of prejudice, where the white father of a white friend refused to let her in his house because she was black. She says, “I think that was my first lesson that it is not going to be easy. Anybody who would go through that experience would be hurt in the same way.”
Truelove attends Jerusalem Second Baptist Church in Urbana and has been a member there for over 50 years. She said the strength she found in her walk with God helped her throughout her life and helped her accomplish her life goals.
She entered politics after retiring as the Director of Nursing, fulfilling a long-held dream. She joined the Champaign County Democratic Committee and filled the role of Secretary of the Committee for 10 years until she was recruited to be the Clerk of the Champaign County Board of Elections. She says, “Because of this opportunity, I gained a better understanding of voting and felt better equipped to help the public and answer their questions.”
As a result of her inspiration, she began thinking about running for city council back then. In 2022, Urbana City Council President Marty Hess, the Champaign County Democratic Committee, and Lynn Mintchell encouraged her to run in the May election last year and she won. The fact that Truelove is on the council says a lot about her. It reminds us of the old adage that “the apple does not fall far from the tree” applies to her well-liked father as to how well-liked she is in Urbana.
She has accomplished many things and contributed greatly. According to her, being a councilwoman is what she really wanted to do in life. She is certainly accomplishing that.