The founder and editor of “I Am East St. Louis,” Charmaine (Bell) Savage, died Sunday, Jan. 13, after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 51.
Savage, a retired U.S. Naval Commander, and her husband Lorenzo D. Savage, Sr. moved back to East St. Louis in 2014. Not long after, she founded I Am East St. Louis, The Magazine, a free community publication that covered positive news out of East St. Louis, where she was born and raised.
“Charmaine exemplified excellence and much care in the City of East St. Louis, Illinois,” a statement from East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks. “We will greatly miss her presence and dedication.”
“I Am East St. Louis,” The Magazine focused on highlighting the positive aspects of East St. Louis and the people who live there.
“We are not those images that come up when you Google East St. Louis. We are more than that,” she said of the magazine in 2015. “I want people to be proud of where they are from. We have kind of lost that. I want to change some hearts and minds about East St. Louis. We are almost there.”
Savage attended Lincoln Sr. High School in 1985. She earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from McKendree College in 1989 and a Master of Arts in Management from Webster University in 2000.
During her time in the military, she served on active duty as a human resources officer for 21 years. During that time she deployed to Baghdad, Iraq for 11 months in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
During her military service, she earned many military awards and decorations including the Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Iraqi Campaign Medal, and numerous Navy Service Medals, awards and unit commendations.
After retiring from the Navy in 2010, Savage accepted a Navy civil service assignment at Naval Special Warfare Command, the headquarters for the U.S. Navy SEALs.
In her position as the Military Personnel Officer, she developed innovative products and metrics leading to significant cost-savings, greater transparency, and improved responsiveness in military human resources programs.
During her tenure, she also earned the Navy Superior Civilian Service Award, the second highest honorary award under the Department of Navy Civilian Awards Program.
Savage was the founder and executive director of I Am East St. Louis, The Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation committed to improving the brand and image of East St. Louis. She also served a Director of the Board of Directors of Memorial Hospital.
Last April, Savage served as a panelist for the Belleville News-Democrat’s screening of Then I Knew, a documentary about race and identity in the Metro East.
She is survived by her husband, Lorenzo, son, Lorenzo Savage, Jr., daughter Charay Savage, and mother Barbara Brown.
Creating a legacy
Dr. Karla Scott, the co-chair of the I Am East St. Louis foundation, said Savage’s vision of East St. Louis has played a major part in “re-energizing” the community. She said through the magazine, she allowed the community to see itself in a new way.
“I think in many ways because it allowed us to see ourselves with fresh eyes it has re-energized a generation. I think there is optimism about what the future of East St. Louis can look like. And certainly, she gave us that motivation. She showed us that in that beautiful magazine.”
She said she and the foundation’s board are committed to continuing Savage’s vision of East St. Louis through the magazine and other work.
“It was an honor to work with her and to be part of an incredible vision that she had,” Scott said. “I ‘m looking forward to continuing her legacy.”
“I Am East St. Louis” will continue to be published, said Tim Fox, a regular contributor and editor of the publication who worked with Savage since 2015.
Fox said he and Savage met in 2015 after an article about “I Am East St. Louis’” debut issue ran in the Belleville News-Democrat. He said it was clear Savage’s the publication was more than just a magazine.
“It was more than that. It was a movement,” Fox said. “She wanted to highlight people in the community who had grown up in East St. Louis and had succeeded in any number of ways.”
Savage financed the first run of the magazine herself, Fox said. He said it was clear she was serious about the publication.
“It was amazing to sit and talk to her and I immediately realized she was the real deal. At the time she was financing the magazine completely on her own.”
Fox served as the editor of the most recent publication of “I Am East St. Louis” with the help of Savage. He said he currently is working with Savage’s husband in preparation for the next issue.
He said the magazine will be a part of Savage’s legacy.
“She put everything she had into the magazine,” Fox said. “Everybody who I’ve talked to who has seen the magazine either from East. St. Louis or outside of East St. Louis are blown away by it. It’s done so much to help the community see itself in a new way and believe in themselves and realize the amazing potential here.”
A legacy, he said, that will continue.
“We’ll definitely keep it going,” Fox said. I told her that what she started was going to continue.”
A funeral service for Savage will be held at 4 p.m. Jan. 20 at New Life Community Church, 1919 State St. in East St. Louis.