"Bricks That Touch The Heart"

Posted on May 04, 2017

It began very simply. Someone called the construction office and asked for a brick from the old Children's Memorial Hospital building that was being demolished to make way for a new development. The request was honored. That simple act began a unique way for the project development manager, Hines/McCaffery Interests and W.E. O'Neil Construction, which handled the demolition, to pay homage to the many lives touched by the old hospital.

"We never set out to distribute bricks," said Mark Bussey, senior superintendent for W.E. O'Neil. "But once the work started, we saw an outpouring of emotion from people," he said. "We saw families standing together on the day the demolition began--just watching." Mark remembers a father of two sons, one who passed away at Children's and the other who drove the father to say goodbye to the building where the first son had been cared for before passing away. With tears in his eyes, the father took a brick with him when he left.

In all, hundreds of bricks were distributed. "Once we realized that the physical bricks helped connect people to the hospital and their memories, we carefully preserved bricks to make available to families. We were even able to accommodate specific requests, like for bricks that held some of the iconic blue paint," said Mark.

Martha Onkka, whose daughter has spina bifida, received one. "Children's was such an important part of our life," she said. "Our daughter was flown there by helicopter the day she was born by and landed in Oz Park.

Onkka also remembers a day when, with her tenuously ill daughter in the back seat, she tried to navigate Fullerton Avenue during a film shoot. "I wondered if we would make it on time. "But when I saw the tower's blue and white bricks, I felt safe. It's where our children 'grew up.' It was a refuge."

"My husband says that suffering is a great equalizer," she said. "It was true at the old hospital. It was small and cramped, but there was a sense of community. Such joys, such sorrows happened there. It was palpable."

"My husband says that suffering is a great equalizer," she said. "It was true at the old hospital. It was small and cramped, but there was a sense of community. Such joys, such sorrows happened there. It was palpable."

Kathleen McMahon Manning, whose son was treated for brain cancer at Children's Memorial from December 2009 to July 2010, when he passed away, also received a brick. "We didn't have a traditional course of care," she said. "We arrived on December 20, 2009, and didn't leave until St. Patrick's Day. It was our home, where we lived. I could tell you where the best shower was, the best cup of coffee--we were live-ins.

"Having a brick was like taking a plant from an old house to a new one," said Kathleen, who, with her family started a foundation in honor of her son to support brain cancer research. "All of the money goes to help the doctors at Lurie's. They are professional heroes."

Another recipient, Kelly Schultz said, "Children's Memorial was such a big part of my life. My first surgery there was when I was less than 24 hours old. I saw doctors my whole life until I was 23 or 24," said Kelly, who has spina bifida. "I have many good memories," she said, "more good than not. I was 16 or 17 during most of the bad periods, and while there, the nurses became my family. They looked at me as a person. I'd been a patient since I was little, when parents do all the talking. The nurses and social workers helped me learn how to speak for myself."

"It can be very emotional for families who spend time at our hospital. We understand and share the deep sense of connection. In fact, we cherish our own brick and our roots in Lincoln Park that are the foundation for work we continue and the families we still serve," said Mary Kate Daly, Executive Director, Lurie Children's Healthy Communities.

"The hospital was there for 104 years. An area resident referred to the property as 'sacred ground' which was 'home to the souls of a thousand angels,' said Denice Bocek, Project Manager with McCaffery Interests Inc., for the new development, The Lincoln Common. "So many people have a strong emotional connection to the property. It meant a lot to us to be able to preserve the bricks for families. They seemed to provide comfort and a way of remembering," she added.

"The quick recognition by Denice and Mark of how meaningful these bricks were to families and the compassion they exhibited by salvaging and preserving the bricks illustrates the thoughtful and respectful way Hines/McCaffery and W.E. O'Neil are approaching this project," said Kenneth Dotson, President of Lincoln Central Association. He added. "It doesn't always happen that way."

By Kathy Jordan, Lincoln Central Association