Dorothy Lee Burse

Dorothy Lee Burse

Dorothy Lee Burse, 94, former executive director of Citizens Multi-Service Center, died on Sept. 3.

Burse was a longtime community activist and advocate for Indianapolis, especially the King Park and Crosstown neighborhoods.

Burse’s public service career began when she became parent-teacher liaison at IPS School #56. In 1969, she organized a youth center in the Crosstown neighborhood. She later became director of the Crosstown Youth Center in 1970. She was appointed executive director of Citizens Multi-Service Center in 1972, and she organized and became director of Citizens Neighborhood Coalition in 1976. She worked in both roles for more than 20 years, often working late into the evening, early in the morning or on weekends to meet the demands of both jobs.

Burse developed partnerships with not only local government, but also state and federal government as well as major lending institutions. Although Citizens Neighborhood Coalition was never funded for staff, she led the completion of new, multi-million dollar construction projects such as Broadway Heights Affordable Living Community and Fall Creek Proper Housing Development with a dedicated volunteer base. She also spearheaded other projects including purchasing and renovating low-income apartments, development and operation of CHOICE Learning Center and the operation of the Community Activity Center. While she officially retired in 1994, she didn’t stop working for the community. She also served as a receptionist at Methodist Hospital.

For her dedication, Burse received several awards including the Mayor’s Community Service Award; the U.S. Conference on Leadership Award; Community Centers of Indianapolis Inc.’s Service Award; the Indiana Christian Leadership Conference Drum Major Award; King-Kennedy Park Dedications, and she was named Sagamore of the Wabash by then-Gov. Evan Bayh. She also is listed in the National Council of Negro Women’s Outstanding Black Women in the State of Indiana.

Burse was born Dorothy Lee Grimes on Sept. 5, 1923 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Her parents James and Katie Bailey Grimes moved the family to Indianapolis shortly after her birth. 

Burse attended Indianapolis Public Schools, Porter Business College and IUPUI’s School of Continuing Studies. She also received additional training in community leadership development.

Burse gave her life to God at an early age and was a member of 25th Street Baptist Church for more than 50 years, where she served as master of ceremonies, sang in the young adult choir and served on the community housing committee. 

She married James W. “Sam” Burse in 1940. The couple had five children.

In addition to her passion for helping others, Burse also enjoyed several hobbies including roller-skating, sewing and upholstery, and traveling — especially to casinos.

Burse leaves to cherish her memory her daughters Rose Squires, Pearl (Leo) Robinson; grandsons Damon Spight (Karen), Kevin D. Browne and Eddie Robinson; granddaughters Angel Burse, Patricia Browne and Michelle Squires (Terrell) Wiggins; nieces Diane (Chris) Hull and Denise Oakley; special long-time friends Hazel Stewart and Lula Journey, and a host of cousins, church families, relatives, friends, and “adopted” children.

She was preceded in death by her parents, husband, two sons James Edward and Paul Lawrence; one daughter Dorothy Louise; sister Katie Louise; brother James Grimes, Jr.; one grandson, Otha Squires Jr., and son-in-law Otha Squires Sr.

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