Obituaries

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Philip Hickman: 'One of those who made Oak Park come alive'
After leaving a legacy of significant contributions to the Oak Park community, Philip A. Hickman died on Saturday, Oct. 8, at the age of 61. The former executive director of the Oak Park Residence Corporation/Oak Park Housing Authority, Hickman played a central role in the early 1970s in preserving Oak Park multi-family housing stock, fostering racial integration, and adding high quality housing for seniors.

Hickman was born Aug. 11, 1944, in Chestertown, Maryland. He went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison for a Master's in Education Administration. It was while he was at the University of Wisconsin that he met his wife, Nancy Lunde of Oak Park. They were married on June 15, 1968.

Mr. Hickman taught economics and social sciences at Wright Junior College until 1974. In 1972, he had opened a property management firm, Renaissance Management, and became ombudsman for the Village of Oak Park. He organized the Austin Boulevard Owners and Managers Association, and instituted many projects to support Oak Park's goals of integration and to stabilize and better the neighborhood. As friend and collaborator Bobbie Raymond Larson said, "It was like we had a think tank" that was generating endless ideas to make Oak Park work.

He became interested in Victoria Manor, an aging apartment house at Austin and South Blvds., and felt that this building needed to exemplify the standards of Oak Park. By 1978, he had directed its conversion into condominiums. Mary and Paul Binder were employed by Phil to be janitors at the building, and to help restore the caliber of both the building and the tenants. "He told us to rent the apartments out to whoever we wanted. He showed a lot of trust in us, and a commitment to having a quality person live there," said Mary Binder. "He and his partners bought it to save it from being turned into a gas station. I've always thought that a gas station on that corner would have really changed Oak Park. I've always been glad he did that," said Paul Binder.

In 1975, Phil was hired to be the first full-time executive director of the Oak Park Housing Authority and the Oak Park Residence Corporation. Jim McClure, Oak Park's village president in those years, recalls him as "one of the most brilliant men Oak Park ever had" and a "source of strength during the 1970s." During his tenure, the Oaks, a former run-down hotel on Austin Blvd. known as the Chateau, was converted to a safe clean rental building, and an assisted living facility for the elderly in the area had been developed. "His creativity and energy sometimes left the board feeling as if they had a tiger by the tail, but his leadership was invaluable," said Marjorie Greenwald, OPRC board member. In 1980, he left the OPHA/RC to work for Burnham Development Corporation. Paul Binder said, "His work as executive director will have a lasting impact on the Oak Park community."

Mr. Hickman later worked for The Habitat Company as a court-appointed director, where he directed the "scattered site" program to construct low income housing for the CHA. He successfully built and got tenants for hundreds of housing units, including the re-developed Henry Horner Homes.

Edward Solan, current executive director of the Oak Park Housing Authority and Residence Corporation, describes Mr. Hickman's passing as "a tremendous loss to Oak Park, to housing, to everyone." When asked about the legacy that he left, Solan said, "Those of us in the housing field, the buildings we leave behind are monuments to the people who worked on them. The Oaks is a lasting monument to Phil, as he was a driving force behind that building. The Victoria Manor is another. The administrative stuff that people do gets forgotten, but the bricks and walls remain."

Mr. Hickman is survived by his wife Nancy, son Geoffrey (Jennifer), and daughter Katie McCalla (Kevin). Nancy Hickman calls her husband a wonderful and supportive family man, saying, "While I was busy with my CPA, he took our daughter to the schools she needed to visit [for college], saying, 'No problem!'" She also recalled how "he was a big fan of our son [now a member of the Air Force], and we've become air show junkies following our son around."

A memorial service will be held Saturday, Oct. 15, at 11 a.m. at the Union League Club of Chicago, 65 W. Jackson. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to: St Paul's School, P.O. Box 8100, Brooklandville, MD, 21022-8100; Horizon Hospice, 833 W. Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60622; or Fox Valley Hospice, 200 Whitfield Drive, Geneva, IL, 60134.

Herese Bowman, 94, Church woman, choir leader
Herese Bowman, born in Carthage, Texas, on Sept. 28, 1911, died Oct. 5, 2005 of natural causes in Oak Park. Ms. Bowman grew up in Texas, graduated from Christian College Texas with a degree in music. After teaching for 14 years in Texas schools, she moved to Illinois and served as a substitute teacher for the Chicago Board of Education and taught elementary school. Ms. Bowman received her graduate degree from DePaul University of Chicago.

Ms. Bowman began working for the Cook County Department of Public Welfare in 1952, and remained with the agency for 20 years. She worked as supervisor of applications and oversaw the work of 25 intake interviewers. After she left that organization, she worked as a community outreach worker with the Christian Action Ministry from its inception in 1972 until its dissolution in 1977, supervising 12 daycare centers and overseeing all aspects of the organization. She then became a parish worker at Bethel Lutheran Church in Chicago, from 1978 to 1987, during which time she organized the congregation's Gospel Choir and Senior Choir. At the same time, she became a staff member of Bethel New Life, a widely hailed example of a church-based community development organization. In 1977, she toured 11 nations of Africa and Asia as a representative of Youth for Christ International, presenting the musical witness of an African-American woman. In 1979, Ms. Bowman led Bethel's Gospel Choir on a singing tour of 21 churches and 10 U.S. Army bases in Germany.

Moving to Oak Park in 1987, Ms. Bowman organized the first Gospel Choir at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, while also singing in the church's senior choir. Additionally, she kept volunteer office hours as a counselor. She sang regularly and frequently with "Beaux and Belles," a vocal ensemble of senior citizens that gives charity concerts. On her own, she visited nursing homes and senior citizen's centers, giving presentations of music and personal witness. In the last six months of 2004 alone, she made more than 20 such visits. After recovering from a stroke at age 90, she returned to Rush Oak Park Hospital to provide music therapy and conversation for stroke rehab patients there. In March 2005, Ms. Bowman was profiled as "Someone You Should Know" by WlS-TV's Harry Porterfield. The segment was taped at the Oak Park Arms.

Ms. Bowman is survived by her sister Vater Fite and brother Leon (Odie) Conner, two nephews LeRoy Lilly and Ralph W. Conner, four nieces Joy Conner Bell, Cheryl Conner Boykin, Marilyn J. Conner, Melody Conner, and nine grand-nieces/nephews and 14 great-grand-nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her husband, Brady Bowman.

A memorial service will be held at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 14 at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Oak Park. Memorial donations in her honor to aid survivors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans may be made to Lutheran Disaster Response, P.O. Box 71764, Chicago, IL 60694-1764.

Michael Varga, St. Catherine custodian, WWII vet Michael A. Varga died Sunday, Oct. 2, 2005 in his home in Downers Grove. Michael was a member of St. Catherine of Siena-St. Lucy Church in Oak Park for 65 years, where he served as the custodian. He was a lifetime member of the Knights of Columbus. Mr. Varga served in the Army during World War II. He was stationed at Pearl Harbor, and was present there during the bombings by Japan on Dec. 7, 1941.

He is survived by his wife Annette Varga (Blockley), his son Andrew (Kathleen), his grandchildren Michael and Eric Varga, and his sisters, Dorothy Rentfro, Margaret Varga, Pauline Regis, and Clara Varga.

Visitation was held on Wednesday, Oct. 5, from 3 to 9 p.m., at Dreschler, Brown, and Williams Funeral Home in Oak Park. The funeral mass was celebrated at St. Catherine of Siena-St. Lucy Church. Interment was held privately at Queen of Heaven Cemetery, Hillside. In lieu of flowers, memorials are appreciated to Loyola Hospice, 2160 S. First Avenue, Building 54, Maywood, IL, 60153.

Memorial Service, Life of Lora Aborn remembered
A celebration of the life and the music of Lora Aborn will be held Sunday, Oct. 16 at 3 p.m. at the Arts Center of Oak Park, 200 N. Oak Park Ave. Ms. Aborn, a composer, will have several of her compositions performed by both local and world renowned artists including Jennifer Larmore, mezzo; William Powers, bass; Hannah Voight, piano; Anne Reisig, soprano; Judith Compton and Elizabeth Davis.

The public is invited and there is no charge. For additional information call 366-1722.

-  KATHERINE GALO

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