Jeanette Fields

Jeanette Shames Fields, 94, a long time resident of River Forest died on Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014, ending a life dedicated to community service and preserving Chicago’s architecture.

A contagious enthusiasm, a can-do spirit and a genuine curiosity about others were among the traits that characterized Fields’ approach to life. Said one of her daughters, “My mother’s motto was ‘If you see that something needs to be done, do it.'”

Fields applied this maxim to her range of service-oriented pursuits. After receiving a baccalaureate from the University of Chicago in psychology and graduate programs at Northwestern University, she took writing courses at Northwestern and Triton.

With her husband Ellis, a distinguished research chemist, she moved to South Shore in 1960, where she co-founded the South Shore Commission, an organization founded on the belief that racial integration of Chicago’s South Side was both desirable and achievable. This visionary urban planning effort challenged discriminatory practices by real estate agents and landlords.

In 1964, the American Chemical Society held its national meeting in Chicago; as chairman of the Women’s Program Committee, she was surprised there were no tours planned to show off Chicago’s many famous buildings, so she decided to create her own tour. Out of this came the thriving tour programs that exist today to show off Chicago’s architectural heritage.

Pursuing her interest in architecture, Fields went on to become the first executive director of the Chicago Architectural Foundation in 1970 and the director of the historic Glessner House on Prairie Avenue, where she established a tour and docent training program to ensure others would continue educating visitors on Chicago’s architecture.

In 1970, she and her husband purchased a Frank Lloyd Wright home in River Forest (the Davenport House, 1901); this began an over 30-year period of work dedicated to promoting and preserving architecture in the Oak Park/River Forest area. Among her contributions to the Oak Park and River Forest communities were the co-founding of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, which worked with restoration architects to preserve and promote cultural and architectural buildings in the area. Wright Plus, the annual event where Frank Lloyd Wright homeowners open their homes to walking tours, continues to build on this success.

As the regular architectural writer for Wednesday Journal for several decades, she drew the public’s attention to endangered buildings and continued to promote the community’s cultural heritage.

Thanks to her work in Chicago and environs, she has been honored many times over the years for her tireless dedication and contagious enthusiasm. Among her many awards:

– Distinguished Alumni Award for Public Service, University of Chicago

1974 – Distinguished Service Award, Chicago Chapter, American Institute of Architects. The award reads: “As executive director of the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation, she has demonstrated most admirably the qualities of excellence which command the respect of all. She has worked tirelessly to acquaint the public and the profession with the splendor of Chicago’s architecture, old and new.

“Surely, this city has had no greater champion, nor a more dedicated servant.”

Jeanette Fields is survived by three daughters, Jennifer Grunschlag of San Francisco, Diana Carroll of San Jose, and Wendy Abondolo of Letchworth, England.

The Wright Trust’s “Concerts in Context: American Originals” performance by the Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players, at 7 p.m. Thursday night in Unity Temple, Lake Street and Kenilworth Avenue, will be dedicated to Jeanette.

A memorial service for Jeanette is scheduled for 7 p.m. this Sunday, Nov. 9, also in Unity Temple.

Friends remember Jeanette

   Jeanette served on the Oak Park Tour Center Steering Committee during the late ’70s and early ’80s. One night stands out in my memory. Our chairman John Tilton asked for ideas for future initiatives. Without a moment’s hesitation, Jeanette said, “We have to have a place where visitors can get oriented, even if it is nothing more than a kiosk at Forest and Lake. Anything!”

   The steering committee jumped on the idea, a group of volunteers coalesced who pulled together everything that was needed. Out of that simple but emphatic declaration came the Visitors Center in the parking garage, with an AV orientation, recorded walking tours in three languages, maps of Oak Park and Chicago-area architectural sights, exhibits about local history, and the hospitality of a dedicated crew of volunteers who kept it open seven days a week. The parking garage served visitors well for many years.

Cathy Barker

   I was very fortunate to know Jeanette these past four years I have been with the Trust. She attended many of our events and was always so friendly in a very personal way, taking an interest in everything we were doing. I knew well her lifetime devotion to her community, to Frank Lloyd Wright, and to historic preservation, and I admired her dynamic spirit and good-sense approach to issues.

   Jeanette was a bright and lovely person who touched many lives and championed many causes. Her unique and passionate spirit lives on through her many good works.

Celeste Adams

President & CEO, Frank Lloyd Wright Trust

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