Good neighbors are a blessing. And on rare occasions, the next-door neighbor becomes an integral part of your life. Mike and Sue Quinn and Jim and Joan Sanye have been next-door neighbors and friends for 25 years — basically raising their families together. So when the Quinns moved this spring from their large Victorian home in north Oak Park to a smaller home in south Oak Park, the Sanyes followed, buying the house next door this summer.
“We had been talking for a couple years about moving to smaller homes, now that our kids are adults,” said Joan. “We even considered buying a two-flat together. But the conversations always came to a dead-end. Sue was really reluctant to even consider leaving Oak Park because of her lifelong roots here.”
But one day in December, shortly after the Sanyes returned from a two-week vacation in California, Sue called Joan to share some news.
“She said, ‘I have something to tell you. … We bought a house and our house is going on the market.’ I was speechless and told her I had to hang up — because I needed to compose myself,” Joan said.
“In my defense, they had been on vacation when this all happened so quickly,” Sue recalled, laughing. “I told Mike I was finally ready to move on a Thursday, we talked to a Realtor on Saturday, looked at houses on Monday and bought our new house on Wednesday.”
Joan admits she was depressed when the Quinns left — especially when she stepped out her back door and looked left at the Quinns’ backyard. She told Jim she was finally ready to move. They started looking for homes in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park.
The day after the Quinns moved into their new home, Joan got a text from Sue — in all caps — asking her to call ASAP. The Quinns had met their new next-door neighbor, who told them he was putting his house on the market.
The Sanyes looked at the house and knew it was going to need a lot of work. But that was something they already had experience with, since their current home had also needed a major renovation.
“It’s kind of like having a baby — I had erased all the memories of that first exhaustive rehab,” Joan laughed.
The Sanyes bought the home and are now in the midst of a major renovation, just as when they were new next-door neighbors to the Quinns 25 years ago.
In fact, Joan’s first memory of the Quinns was Mike and Sue walking into her house — in mid-chaos as the Sanyes were in the process of stripping woodwork, tearing up carpeting and paneling, with everything draped in plastic and the water cut off.
“I was feeding my son in his highchair in the foyer, with the front door wide open, because the rest of the first floor was a disaster. I’m sure they thought we were nuts tackling this with young kids,” Joan said.
Over the years, the Quinn children, Annie, Maggie and Michelle, and the Sanye children, Emma and Ben, grew up as quasi-cousins. Emma and Maggie have been very close, despite their age difference, and Michelle and Ben were best buddies, hunting bugs together and playing pirates. They enjoyed treasure hunts facilitated by Jim; backyard theatrical productions, particularly “Annie,” in which Ben, as the only boy, played all the male parts; and Olympic competitions. Even the families’ dogs became great pals.
Sue stayed with Joan’s kids in the middle of the night during a medical emergency and volunteered members of her extended Oak Park family for babysitting stints, and Joan, a veterinarian, provided the Quinns with emergency dog care.
When asked about the reason for their long-term friendship, Sue, who recently retired as director of the River Forest Public Library, and Joan say they are both good, non-judgmental sounding boards, with the same senses of humor and tastes in music, who have talked each other back from the ledge many times. Their husbands also are good friends who enjoy beer and working on projects together, although their conversations probably don’t feature the same intimacy as their wives’.
The couples have traveled together extensively — to Spain where the Sanyes accompanied the Quinns on their 20th anniversary celebration, Tuscany, and Munich for Oktoberfest. They also were fan favorites in the annual Ghosts of Rock Stars Past parties held at FitzGerald’s for many years, performing as KISS, Devo, ABBA, and the Village People.
“We have been part of the fabric of each others’ lives,” said Sue. They’re looking forward to creating many more memories as next-door neighbors — again.