Gary Frontiers nominate Marchers
By Lisa DeNeal Post-Tribune correspondent January 10, 2013 2:58PM
Rozelle Hammonds has owned the Esquire Men's Store for 35 years in Gary, Ind. He is one of six Marchers for the Gary Frontiers Service Club's 34th annual breakfast to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 12, 2013 2:06PM
Rozelle Hammonds, 81, is excited about being one of six Marchers for the 34th annual Gary Frontiers Service Club breakfast Jan. 19 honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I think it is an honor,” she said. “I’ve seen the city come and go over the years, but I am still here, and so is Esquire,” he said.
Esquire Men’s Store, 1536 Broadway, has been a part of Hammonds’ life since he began working there at age 15. Hammonds came here from Alabama when he was 9.
“A man came to Roosevelt and he was seeking a couple of students for a job. I said I was interested and went for an interview and got the job,” he said.
Jack Zemel and Leroy Gensburgh were owners of Esquire and trained Hammonds on sales, professionalism and the quality of brand-name clothing. Years later when Hammonds got a bachelor’s degree in business from Indiana University Northwest, the gentlemen made Hammonds a junior partner.
Hammonds became the sole owner of Esquire Men’s Store 35 years ago after the deaths of Gensburgh and Zemel.
“I bought the store from their widows,” he said. “At one time, I had a staff of seven working here. Now, one of my five sons work twice a week while I take those two days
off and I still have a young lady who has worked here for 25 years.”
Hammonds said Esquire is the only men’s clothing store in Gary still standing, selling brand-name suits, ties, hats and more.
“I’ve outlasted them all, even Tom Olesker in the Village. My customers beg me to stay open. I have first, second and third generations of customers come inside and shop,” he said.
His popularity increased in 1996 when he and his store appeared in Gary native and football and film star Fred “The Hammer” Williamson’s “Original Gangstas.”
Hammonds is also a pastor. He serves as elder at Saints Home Church of God in Christ while his son, the Rev. Marcus Hammonds, officiates.
“When I did that movie, I told the congregation I was playing the good guy in the movie,” he said with a laugh.
Rev. Marion J. Johnson Jr. said he was stunned and shocked to hear he was one of six Marchers for this year’s breakfast honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The breakfast is hosted by the Gary Frontiers Service Club.
“I never thought anything about being nominated; everything I’ve done as a pastor has been about the community. I am very surprised that they even considered it,” he said.
Johnson has been a preacher for 27 years, and 17 years ago became pastor of Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, 735 E. 20th Ave.
Born in Canton, Miss., but raised in Gary, Johnson said that he received the calling to preach while a student at Roosevelt High School, but he was unsure of the calling
and focused on being a teenager who ran track and cross country.
Johnson chose the path to spiritual leadership; he attended Bishop College in Dallas for two years and graduated from American Baptist College in Nashville, Tenn.
Johnson began preaching and was licensed in 1987, and was ordained the following year. He was at the New Tabernacle Baptist Church under the leadership of pastor James Montgomery.
“Pastor Montgomery was a father figure to me and when I became ordained and installed, he announced that he was going to join my church. That meant a lot to me to hear that he wanted me to be his pastor,” Johnson said.
Johnson has many accomplishments and titles under his belt.
Currently the vice president, he is the former president of the Gary/Chicago International Airport Board of Authority, a former member of the board of directors for the Urban League of Northwest Indiana, former president of the Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Gary and Vicinity, founder of the Baptist Ministers’ Conference Scholarship Fund, former president of the Congress of Christian Education of the Original General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Indiana and much more.