Carmen L. Collins dead at 69: Chicago model turned real estate broker, mentor for many
Carmen Collins’ face was visible almost everywhere in Chicago in the 1970s.
Her sleek, polished beauty was the highlight of high fashion magazines for clothing, makeup, and hair care products. She appeared on Mademoiselle and waved to crowds from a float at the 1975 Bud Billiken parade.
Like other often-reserved models, Ms. Collins had the ability to transform. She could tone down her elegance for advertisements for things like groceries or phones.
Ms Collins, 69, of lung cancer, died Oct.21 at Avondale Estates Nursing in Elgin, according to her son Christopher.
She was a student at Harlan High School when she decided that modeling would be her ticket to making money and seeing the world.
“This is what she wanted to do before we even graduated,” her friend Alice Germane said.
Young Carmen was inspired by Beverly Johnson, the first black model on the cover of Vogue, in 1974.
The year before, Ms. Collins had registered with the Shirley Hamilton agency on Michigan Avenue. At the peak of her career, she was making $ 150 an hour, said Lynne Hamilton, co-owner of the agency.
“She was so professional and glamorous,” Hamilton said, “and very sweet.”
Ms Collins knew modeling was a risky long-term career. So she made a career in real estate, becoming a management broker and supervisor at her Schaumburg company, which she named Star Track Enterprise Realty after her favorite TV show, “Star Trek”.
“She specialized in people who were usually told, ‘You won’t have a home,’” her son Jonathan said.
“She would send them to loan bureaus or different city-sponsored programs that would allow them to straighten their credit or accumulate enough money for a down payment,” said Germane, who followed her to real estate. .
“It was mainly to support her children and help other people,” her son Aric said of his move into real estate.
“Where most realtors were interested in getting the biggest commission, she was enthusiastic about helping people get their first home,” said her brother Juan R. Leon, pastor of the Mount Zion Center. de Lansing, who said he had decided to devote his life to service because of his sister’s advice for spreading good in the world.
Her friend Betty Garcia said Ms Collins mentored her and other women in real estate. “If I can do it, you can do it,” she told Garcia, who works for Keller Williams Momentum Real Estate in Palatine.
She was born Carmen Leon, the daughter of Dolores and Raphael Leon. Growing up, she enjoyed roller skating at St. Sabina’s Gymnasium and Art’s Rink in Harvey. Germane said they would revolve around the music of The Temptations, The Four Tops and “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” by James Brown. Before school, they’d get together for a 50-cent tea and toast breakfast at the Hasty Tasty on 95th Street.
She sewed beautiful clothes, including her ball gown.
Ms Collins started out with hand modeling, moving on to ads for Fashion Fair cosmetics, Jewel grocery stores, Greyhound buses, and Illinois Bell. She has appeared in clothing catalogs and on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” relatives said.
Often times, she was styled and photographed by her brother-in-law, famous photographer Ernest Collins.
“When he was done with you,” Mrs. Collins once said, “you looked like the most beautiful person in the world.”
In 1978, Mrs. Collins decided to move her family to the northwestern suburbs. They lived in the Palatine and Hoffman estates.
“She wanted to get out of town,” her brother said, “for the sake of her boys.”
“She thought the schools would be better, the safety, the finances,” said her son Christopher Collins.
“She just wanted us to be happy, to follow our dreams and to be successful,” said her son Jonathan Collins.
“We were the only black kids around,” said Christopher Collins. “We have heard the N word.”
Jonathan Collins remembers the “snowballs, [but] with pieces of ice, thrown at us at the bus stop.
He said, “She made us sit down and talked to us for an hour about defending herself. She told us: “Stand up for yourself and these children will leave you alone”. We left more confident. ”
Later, when they were adults, she would say, “You have to have MAP – a positive mental attitude. Do you know what I mean, Jelly Bean?
In addition to “Star Trek”, Ms. Collins loved science fiction and alien movies like “Galaxy Quest”, “The Fifth Element”, “The Blob” and “Mars Attacks!”
Services have taken place. Besides her mother, sons and brother, Ms. Collins is survived by 13 grandchildren and her stepfather Curtis Smith.
“She would always tell me, ‘I just want you to be happy. I want you to be proud. Do your best, ”said Aric Collins. “She believed in us, and she believed in herself.”