It will be easy to fulfill one of Jim Wright’s last wishes. Homewood Mayor Rich Hofeld, who was a close friend, recounted one of his last conversations before Jim died.
“I said to him, ‘Jim, you were a village trustee, you were the village historian, you’ve authored books, you were the chair of our Appearance Commission. What do you want to be remembered as?’ He said, ‘Just a good guy.’”
Everybody who knew him will certainly remember him that way. Wish fulfilled.
Jim died March 10.
Hofeld’s list of Jim’s roles was partial. In addition, he served for years as a Homewood firefighter, and after leaving the department, he continued to be a strong supporter. He wrote a history of the department and updated it last year.
Retired firefighter John Elashik remembered introducing Jim to firefighting as part of a cadet program for high school students.
“He was an awesome, kind man even then,” Elashik said.
Before serving on the Appearance Commission, he was a member of the village Rail Committee.
“At the time, he didn’t know the caboose from an engine,” Hofeld said. “But he was with all these rail buffs, and they came to love him, too. He recognized their needs and what they wanted to do, and he helped facilitate them. The rail park, the rail watching platform, that was done while he was on the Rail Committee.”
The rail park on Park Avenue is just west of the Metra boarding platform and north of the Amtrak station building. It includes an old Illinois Central engine and caboose. The viewing platform is on Harwood Avenue just south of the Pace bus stop. It includes covered benches and a speaker that broadcasts railroad radio traffic.
Hofeld described Jim as a man who was devoted to his family and to his faith. He was active in St. John Neumann parish (former St. Joseph’s).
Advocate for trees, architecture
He was an advocate for maintaining Homewood’s quiet charm. He was concerned about the loss of original looks to key downtown buildings, especially what is now La Banque Hotel and 2066 Ridge Road, both of which were significantly changed during 1960s and ‘70s.
He was the sole dissenting vote when the Appearance Commission approved the exterior design of the Hartford Building, currently under construction on the southwest corner of Ridge and Martin Avenue. He was concerned not only about the appearance but about the size, fearing the four-story building would loom over the rest of the buildings along the street and would seem out of place.
He also lamented the loss of trees in recent years to pests and stress possibly caused by climate change. And he did something about it.
“For the past five years we’ve had an anonymous donor donating $5,000 a year for more trees in the village. It was Jim,” Hofeld said. “Typical Jim, he didn’t want the notoriety, but I think he should be acknowledged for it.”
I first met Jim not long after I started the Chronicle back in 2014. I had lived in Homewood for only a year and knew I had a lot to learn about the community, so I asked Hofeld who could tell me about village history. He directed me to Jim.
Jim was a walking encyclopedia of Homewood history. His dedication started early. According to his obituary, he got involved in the Homewood Historical Society in 1983, just six years out of high school.
He wrote several books about Homewood history. His “Homewood Through the Years,” published in 2004, remains the most thorough, authoritative source.
He also completed a new book about the Egyptian Trail, precursor to Dixie Highway, just weeks before he died.
Jim was always generous with his time when it came to sharing what he knew about local history. As I heard more and more stories, I thought it would be a good idea to publish some of them in the Chronicle. We have a page with links to the stories he contributed.
He not only contributed stories but was a key source for our State of Golf web documentary, produced by Bionic Content and published in November 2021. Visit hfchronicle.com/stateofgolf/ to learn what he knew about the history of golf in H-F.
Karen Smith, a longtime member of HHS, summed up Jim’s contributions well: “The Homewood Historical Society and the Village of Homewood have lost Jim Wright, a shining light and enthusiastic cheerleader for all things Homewood. He knew everything about our village and was everyone’s ‘go to’ person for information. As a long-time leader in HHS, Jim could always be counted on to listen patiently, give thoughtful advice, smooth things over, and help solve problems — a true diplomat. We are all devastated, and no one can replace him.”
I hope someone eventually fills his shoes as the local history scribe, but replace him? Not a chance.