Nimocks once helped provide security at the meeting place, the Gary Comer Youth Center in Grand Crossing, when the Comer Foundation first broke ground on the building. Now he is a leader in the University’s efforts to help grassroots groups revitalize neighboring communities.
The transition to neighborhood ambassador seems natural for Nimocks, who says outreach was always part of his police jobs, first with the Chicago Police Department, where he retired as a deputy superintendent, and then as chief of the University of Chicago Police Department.
“Part of being a police chief means you can hardly separate yourself from the community you serve,” Nimocks says. “You have to be innovative and try to discover ways you can be helpful and increase the public safety.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is Nimocks’ restless energy. The Grand Crossing meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. By lunch, he will have met with the director of the Woodlawn New Communities Program and the organizers of two on-campus summer programs for high school students, and helped coordinate Mayor Richard Daley’s visit to Woodlawn for an anti-violence rally.
But a slower pace wouldn’t suit Nimocks, who sets his watch 35 minutes fast and “relaxes” by driving a motorcycle every summerto Fairbanks, Alaska, playing Louis Armstrong or Antonin Dvorak on the bike’s radio.
“I’ve been getting by on five, six hours of sleep for a long time,” Nimocks says. “When I was a homicide detective [with the CPD], I’d just climb up on a table and sleep for a little while, then get up and get back to work. And that was for three or four days at a time.”
Unique Perspective on Local Development
A resident of the nearby Woodlawn neighborhood for more than a half-century, Nimocks seems to know a story for every building he passes on his frequent drives through the community. One new apartment building summons memories of his days with the CPD, when he worked with local residents to drive drug dealers from that spot. Driving down 63rd Street, he describes how the area has changed for the better since the city tore down the El tracks that used to hang over the strip.
Such street-by-street knowledge of local neighborhoods gives Nimocks a unique perspective, says Ann Marie Lipinski, Vice President for Civic Engagement.
“Rudy is both a community and University treasure,” Lipinski says. “He has an enthusiasm for his work that is contagious, and he is tireless in looking for ways to connect the University with its neighbors. I've learned a lot from Rudy and feel very fortunate to have him working in this new role.”
His background also helps Nimocks understand how South Side communities view the University—an interaction that has been difficult at times. Nimocks says the relationship has changed for the better since his days as a homicide detective in the CPD, when Woodlawn, Grand Crossing, and Washington Park faced worsening local economies and rising crime rates.
A key lesson of that time is that a lack of engagement hurts both the University and nearby communities, Nimocks says.
“In the ’50s and ’60s, these were very desirable, stable neighborhoods,” Nimocks says. “But with riots going on all over the city, violence and drugs were able to degrade them,” and the University withdrew more from its neighbors.
Part of Nimocks’ current job is rebuilding the trust that was damaged in those previous decades. He says there’s a special value in programs that take College students into the community or bring local students to the campus for learning opportunities.
“I think the greatest asset the University has is worldwide expertise—bright students and programs that can reach into neighborhood communities,” Nimocks says. He cites the University’s Collegiate Scholars program, which offers summer enrichment classes to Chicago Public School students, as one example of how the University is extending its resources to local youth.
A Community Ambassador
The role of ambassador suits Nimocks well as he greets familiar faces at the Gary Comer Youth Center in Grand Crossing, southwest of campus. He and close to 50 community members have assembled to hear the findings of 12 researchers from the Urban Land Institute, who spent the week in Grand Crossing observing the neighborhood and writing recommendations for a community revitalization proposal.
The team of urban planners and academics recommended that Grand Crossing redevelop local parklands into a vibrant community center, and find other ways to increase community spirit in the small neighborhood through community gardening and educational youth programs.
After the researchers finished their presentation, Nimocks stood up and offered the group a word of advice:
“Based on my experience as Chief of Police for UCPD, I can tell you that when you see a neighborhood start to redevelop along the lines that you have outlined here, you will see public safety increase dramatically. The two go hand in hand.”
Arvin K. Strange, director of WNCP, noted Nimocks’ dedication in their late-morning meeting. “Rudy is really an unsung hero here in Woodlawn … and I’m very sure Washington Park and Kenwood feel that way as well.”
Soon Nimocks was off to Grove Park Plaza, a housing development where he is working to bring children to campus for another summer program. In the long run, he believes, such efforts can help local kids view the University not only with trust, but with hope.
“That’s what a university can do in a neighborhood—get its kids to think differently about their future.”By Rachel Cromidas