Slain Bridgeport Handyman Left Behind A Legacy Of Giving

CHICAGO – A stray ball crashed through the window of a 1985 Lincoln Continental near the 31st and Halsted on Tuesday night, killing the life of a humble Bridgeport craftsman who loved helping out neighborhood people.

Alva Besst found plywood to mend a broken church window. Twisted wrench used to repair a friend’s clothes dryer. And more often than anyone could count, Besst was delivering food to hungry neighbors in the brown Lincoln he’d inherited from his late sister.

But mostly he gave his time whenever someone needed it.

Sometimes they didn’t even have to ask.

“Al was always trying to find people to help them. He was looking for the homeless who lived under the viaduct on Loomis Street,” said Besst’s friend Andrew Mack. “He didn’t have a lot of money, but he had a really good heart. He loved to work and had real compassion for low-income people.”

After all, Besst, 68, was one of them. Bridgeport was born and raised.

Since the 1980s Besst lived on Hillock Avenue in the Bridgeport area, which locals call “The Landing,” which is between the southern branch of the Chicago River and Archer Avenue near the homeless camp.

Besst, the youngest son of a truck driver and a home mother, graduated from Holy Name Cathedral High School. He learned how to fix things at Washburne Trade School, and for the rest of his life he made a living – and an impact on the people he met – just that.

“Uncle could fix it all,” said Besst’s niece Linda O’Dette. “And he always fixed something for someone. He was a fixer, a handyman, whatever you want to put it. He tried to help everyone as he could. He was a damn good guy who left too early . “

Like many people in the neighborhood, Mack Besst met when he volunteered at God’s Closet, a thrift and kitchen of the First Lutheran Church of the Trinity that became something of an extended family.

Besst did not have an easy life. He was hit by a bus and seriously injured as a young man. He helped care for his late sister. He made ends meet clearing rundown houses and making moonlight, as a scrap hawk in the alley said, friends and family said.

“He’s had a lot of setbacks and struggles in life, but he was an optimistic person I think,” said Mack. “He was always looking for ways to help the community. People who needed clothes. People who needed food. He worried about these people all the time and did everything to make the world a better place for people who don’t get dressed. ” I don’t have all of the advantages that many of us have. “

Best to find a collection of kindred spirits in God’s closet.

“In our church, we feed you no matter how hungry you are. Imagine the kind of community we grew up in – the mentally ill, homeless, and working poor. All of these misfits who don’t fit fit in there . And Al was there, “said Besst’s friend Erika Hobbs. “He believed in ethics and ethos and gave something back, probably because someone gave him something. We believe in it and that’s how he lived.”

Besst also had strong opinions on many things. And he wasn’t shy about sharing his thoughts on your face. Outwardly, Besst exuded a rugged nature that is known to be native to Bridgeport for some of his contemporaries. But when you first met him, those traits didn’t define him, his friends said.

“He was one of those crazy old men who was actually really nice and empathetic. He had a strange relationship with his girlfriend Irene where you could never be sure whether they liked each other,” said Besst’s pal, Renee Paquin. “When she died, you could see how much he loved her. I had never seen anyone with a broken heart.”

Besst was an integral part of God’s closet for years. For the longest, however, he resisted joining the Lutheran congregation. After all, he was raised Catholic.

“After his girlfriend Irene died, Al kind of dug himself into the community. He didn’t have many other people in his life,” Paquin said. “He decided we were his people and became part of the whole scene.”

Besst joined the Church, served on the board, and volunteered as a usher on Sundays, helping with communion, ministries, and responsibilities he enjoyed.

Pastor Nic Peñaranda told me about the first meeting with Besst. He introduced himself as “the pastor’s assistant”.

“It was very charming. He was very eager to learn and always wanted to do everything right,” she said. “He said to me, ‘I don’t have a lot, but I’m practical. I can drive.’ He always wanted to give us his time. “

Family and friends said they weren’t sure where Besst was going on Tuesday night. But it’s a sure thing, said Paquin, he was about to do someone a favor. “He was the type of guy who was always doing things for people,” she said.

After it became known that Besst was shot driving near a bag of low-income housing, his friends noticed that some people were launching a social media call to “get rid of the projects” on his behalf.

Pastor Penaranda said she did not believe this was not a call to action that Besst would leave behind.

“What happened is unfortunate. It’s disgusting. It’s outraged what happened to Al. He doesn’t deserve this. But that’s not a reflection of that particular part of our community. I really believe that crime and violence are all symptoms of the.” Lack of resources are what we get. And I don’t think Al would say close the projects for that reason, “she said.

“Al would say, ‘Someone should make sense of who ever did this.’ He would be angry and frustrated … but they are our parishioners regardless … people who live there attend our church and benefit from our services. On election day, Al came with us and brought boxes of groceries to people there Life. “

The tragedy of Besst’s death shouldn’t overshadow the legacy of showing love to people, Mack said.

“Al was a peaceful guy who loathed all the violence we see in Chicago and he wanted to find ways to stop it, just like the rest of us, by being an active member of the community,” he said.

“Getting to know people is one of the ways to fight violence, not by pushing people away, but by bringing them in.”

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