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Homewood resident uses pandemic to craft Haas murals book for historical society fundraiser

 

Kris Condon

Before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the United States, Homewood Historical Society members were brainstorming fundraising opportunities. And Kristine Condon, who has lived in Homewood since 1988 and has been involved with the society’s board for three decades, started thinking about a mural on the south side of Melody Mart.

“I said: Wouldn’t it be interesting if we have a book of Richard Haas murals?” Condon recalled. “And it kind of didn’t go anywhere.”

But as Condon retired from a career in public higher education and her service to the Supreme Court of Illinois in 2020, she added research of the murals to her bucket list. She also “out of the blue” reached out to Richard Haas and Thomas Melvin, who helped paint and maintain the murals based on Haas’ designs, which can be found in 15 spots around the village.

“They were both incredibly gracious,” Condon said. “Thanks to them, I got some terrific backstory.”

When pandemic lockdowns took hold, Condon found herself with even more time to focus on the book. She ended up turning out 178 pages featuring 253 photographs of the murals, most of which she took. The book, “Richard Haas Murals in Homewood,” was completed in one year from start to finish.

“It really shifted into gear once the stay-at-home orders started,” Condon said. “Over the summer, I took a panoramic of each, then up-close specifics discussed.”

Condon said as much as people in the area have likely seen at least some of the murals while driving or walking through the town, the interviews help to highlight the level of detail in them.

“There’s an interesting history,” she said. “It was just a fun project to do.”

For instance, that mural on the south of the Melody Mart is a tribute to the former Homewood Theatre. Old cars featured “were very personal to Mr. Haas.” And the mural on Mama & Me Pizza features people from actual photographs of old Fourth of July celebrations.

“Those are faces of Homewood residents,” Condon said.

The “Service Station” mural at 18678 Dixie Highway that is featured on the cover of Condon’s book was chosen for a specific reason, too. Her maternal grandfather, Herbert Braham, was an auto mechanic who worked at Square Garage in Harvey before he owned Herb & Smitty’s Texaco Station with Seymour Rietveld at the corner of 159th Street and Cottage Grove.

“It was his industriousness that resulted in his building a home in Homewood where I live today, having bought it back two owners and 23 years after it left our family,” Condon said.

Cover art for Kris Condon’s book about Homewood’s murals features the service station mural at Dixie Highway and 187th Street. (Provided photo)

The book ultimately became a fundraiser for the historical society and the museum it maintains. While the building that houses the Dorband-Howe House Museum is owned by the Village of Homewood, the society leases it for next to nothing. But the society itself must handle insurance, maintenance and other operational costs, Condon explained.

“We do that on a frugal budget,” Condon said.

More so over the last 15 months, as the pandemic inhibited fundraising efforts. But Condon published the book in time for holiday giving last year. If people purchase it for $35 through the historical society, it serves as a donation to the organization. It is also available through Barnes & Noble, though the society does not see the same proceeds from those sales.

Condon said her parents were integral to her interests in local history. Her father, Dick Condon, was a longtime resident of Flossmoor and still works with the Homewood Historical Society. And her mother, Maridell, taught at Western Avenue Elementary School and later in Frankfort. And though local history often winds up on the back burner, Maridell in her retirement years co-founded the Frankfort Time Machine program, a local history curriculum. That all added up to instill in Condon a strong connection to the area’s history.

“It’s just really important to have that appreciation of where you come from, your roots and how that informs you,” she said.

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