April 23, 1930 – Oct. 29, 2018
Ora Lee Delgado, who helped found Muhammad Mosque 23 in Buffalo and played a leading role for many years in the Langston Hughes Center, died Monday under hospice care in her Buffalo home. She was 88.
Born in Port Huron, Mich., one of 13 children, the former Ora Lee McQuiller came to Lackawanna with her family as a child and earned a business diploma from Lackawanna High School. She later received an associate’s degree in small business and management administration from Erie Community College and studied at the University at Buffalo.
In 1953, one of her older brothers, Bobby McQuiller, a champion boxer and boxing trainer, introduced the family to Islam and the teachings of Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad appointed her as a secretary in 1955.
She and her family organized a Muslim study group and hosted Minister Malcolm X on his visits here to establish a mosque, which opened in 1957. She took part in many activities at Buffalo mosque and other affiliated mosques in the area.
After raising seven children with her first husband, Cornelius W. Lewis, whom she married in 1950, she took a position as administrative assistant at Westminster Community House in 1967, working with youth who attended after-school activities. She also worked as a health care aide and a counselor with the New York State Division for Youth.
When her 15-year-old son, Lawrence, was shot and killed as he played baseball outside their home in 1971, she convinced gang members not to seek revenge after they came to assist her family.
That same year she joined the Langston Hughes Institute as an administrative assistant and continued as a volunteer after it lost its Model Cities funding in 1973.
In 1975, she was appointed executive director and helped transform it into a facility that offered numerous programs to help people in the African-American community.
She and her second husband, Anthony J. Delgado, who was chairman of the institute’s board of directors, also led a drive to acquire the Langston Hughes Center’s building on High Street.
“We were founded as a creative arts center, and we’ve tied that in with education and the technical arts,” she told an interviewer just before she stepped down as president and chief operating officer in 1996.
“She was a trailblazer,” her daughter, Andrea King, said. “She affected the lives of so many people.”
In retirement, she served on the AARP Congressional District Team, was treasurer of the International League of Muslim Women, volunteered for the American Cancer Society and was part-time manager of Hope Lodge, a home for cancer patients and their families in Buffalo. She also volunteered with the Grandmothers Program, tutoring students at St. John Christian Academy.
Recognized as an Uncrowned Community Builder, she received numerous honors and awards, including the Citizenship Award from the Empire State Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Service Award from the Phyllis Wheatley Club of Colored Women and the Meritorious Service Award from the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs.
The New York International African Institute presented her with its highest honor, the African Ancestors Award. She also received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Faith Grant College in Birmingham, Ala.
An avid reader, she enjoyed music and dancing. In recent years, she spent winters with her daughters and their families in Georgia and Florida.
Mr. Delgado died in 1997.
Survivors include three other daughters, Dawn Bryant, Tamra Lewis and Caroline Lewis-Gursky; a son, Craig Lewis; two stepdaughters, Maria Tully and Madelaine Delgado; and 11 grandchildren.
Janazah prayers will be offered at 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, in McCoy Convention Center, 653 Clinton St.