July 2016 e-edition

The crowd gathers for a Starry Nights concert earlier
this summer. The Irwin Community Center not only
hosts numerous activities and programs for
people of all ages, its band shell and adjacent
park also provide the setting for summer concerts. 

(Photo by Quincy Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Residents of the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District are invited to a 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. celebration on Thursday, Sept. 15, marking the 30th anniversary of the Marie Irwin Community Center, 18120 Highland Ave. in Homewood.

The building and its surrounding park land were a gift from Richard D. Irwin, who moved his Irwin Publishing Co. from Chicago to 1818 Ridge Road in 1951.

In 1985, near the end of his career, Irwin learned District 153 was going to sell Central School, at the corner of Ridge and Highland. The 1923 building was rented to the park district for senior programs and other activities.

From his office window, Irwin loved watching children on the school playground. Irwin decided to make a gift to the park district so that it could keep the property open space. He thought it should include a ball field, skating rink and lots more, but it was a small space – the original site was only about half of what Irwin Park is today.


“The park district needed a community center desperately,” recalls Greg Meyer, then the executive director of the H-F Park District. “We just never had the money” until Irwin gave a $1 million gift.

Meyer had a month to get an architectural drawings together. He presented Irwin a plan for a 26,000 square-foot center. Irwin liked the proposal and agreed to help purchase the Central School land and fund the community center project. It is dedicated to Irwin’s wife.

It took about a year to complete the construction. “We kept him in the loop the whole time,” Meyer said. “He was quite a guy.”

The building was designed with an outdoor bandshell. It has first floor and lower level meeting rooms, an art room, preschool rooms, a game room, dance room and more. The park district made certain to meet Irwin’s wishes by including a playground just outside the preschool room.

Hundreds of people went through the center when it officially opened Sept. 24, 1986. Today staff estimates about 1,000 people a week use the center. Lots of park district activities meet there, but space is also available for private parties, civic organization meetings and senior citizen activities.

When the Irwin Center opened, the 55-plus senior group moved its activities to the new center. Members help organize the “Let’s Do Lunch” program, bingo, seasonal parties and more.

“It’s a place to gather, meet new friends, share a meal, converse about daily happenings in the community and world. All this is still a part of the 55-plus part of the Irwin Center. I encourage folks to stop by and give it a try,” said program volunteer Judi Sinclair-Polo.

Carol Boyajian, who has been a park district art instructor for 36 years, said having a dedicated art room in the Irwin Center has been “wonderful. And, it’s a great venue.” Artwork by her class decorates the walls of the first floor hallway.

“These adults really enjoy coming to the Irwin Center because there are a variety of activities that make it a multigenerational building. It’s a true community center,” Boyajian added.

Kristen Izenbart works with babies, toddlers and preschoolers in her Music for Minors class that has been at the Irwin Center for years. She has a big open space on the first floor, there is plenty of parking and the front desk staff handles registrations.

The maintenance staff has been so accommodating that they built a cabinet for Izenbart to store her 42-inch-circumference gathering drum. Jeff Liedtke, head of maintenance, will wheel the drum out for each session.

Irwin Park was enlarged in 1987 when District 153 sold Ridge School, Gottschalk and Ridge, to the park district. With the purchase, the park extended west. Commissioners designed the additional space for a gazebo, fountain, statuary, walking path and playground equipment.

The final piece for Irwin Park was the demolition of a building along Ridge Road that was built by Illinois Bell Telephone and later sold to Heakin Marketing Research. The park district purchased the site in 1999, giving the park additional green space along Ridge Road.


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