It’s the paint that has drawn attention to an old Victorian farmhouse on Coral Road in Marengo.
But few know the story behind the home, painstakingly restored inside and out for more than 10 years.
It’s a story about a husband and wife who bought an old, faded white farmhouse 27 years ago to raise a daughter, along with some chickens, goats, ducks and maybe a cow.
“This is what she wanted,” said Dick Croll of his wife, Susan. “When we moved out here, we didn’t really care what the house looked like.”
Slowly through the years, the family renovated the home together. A carpenter, Dick worked on the home in between jobs. When Susan suggested a gazebo room, he built it. An extra galley kitchen?
“You can have what you want,” Dick would say.
They brought back the original flooring and trim, added additions and, finally, painted.
And just as they finished, Susan, who’d been battling a form of dementia for at least five years, died.
She’d have been so proud of an award the house recently earned from the Chicago Paint and Coatings Association, her family says.
The home was selected as the grand prize winner for “Non-Professionally Painted Best Use of Color Combination” in the Chicago’s Finest Painted Ladies and Her Court competition.
It was Susan’s at-home caregivers who urged Dick to enter the contest. They took pictures of the home for him.
The win, in a way, is kind of a validation of all the hard work and love that have gone into the home, said the couple’s daughter, Andrea, who helped with some of the renovations, including picking the paint colors.
With a goal to match the home’s traditional Victorian roots dating back to 1911, the family chose more neutral colors with reddish burgundy accents to compliment the environment and the color they thought the barn should be painted.
“When we first moved to the house, everybody thought we were a little bit crazy,” Andrea said. “It needed a bit of work when we moved in.”
She believes her mother would be saying now, “See, we did it.”
The couple was married 38 years when Susan died at the age of 65 in September.
It was around 2006 when the dementia really began to take its toll, Dick said. Susan, a former librarian at schools in Elgin and Wheaton, suffered from frontotemporal dementia, what Dick calls “the nastiest disease there is.”
Known as FTD, the disease often occurs in younger people in their 40s or 50s and has a median survival of seven years. It’s basically a degeneration of the frontal lobe of the brain that, along with dementia, can cause lethargy as well as other personality changes.
Once the disease worsened, Dick put a hospital bed in their home and stayed there to take care of Susan with the help of caregivers.
“I told her I’d never put her in a home,” he said. “For better or worse and in sickness and in health. We lived by it.”
The two had their ups and downs through the years, he said, but “had a good time.” They tried not to be critical of one another and others and spent time together, he said.
“Sunday afternoons were the best,” he said. “We’d go to church, have a big brunch and spend the day together, gardening, taking a hike. ... I think that’s what kept us together. It never changed. Every Sunday was, ‘We’re not thinking about it. We’re just going to be together.’ ”
He picked up a basket of medals Susan earned for the countless marathons she ran, often finishing among the top runners in her age category. She ran her best time – 3 hours, 15 minutes – at age 54.
Dick ran a dozen or so with her, but said she always outran him.
He looks around his home now and sees only memories like these. He looks at a pie pan and thinks of all the cheesecakes Susan liked to make, or scans the hand-pained China she loved.
And so he recently sold the home to a young couple that just happen to stop by because they loved it so much. They offered a price, and Dick accepted, even though the home wasn’t even on the market at the time.
“Now I have to go,” Dick said. “It gets depressing, too many memories. It eats at somebody, eats at me.”
He bought a fixer-upper in Florida and is heading there in December.
He already has the tools, he said, and will renovate it slowly.
“What am I going to do? Play golf the rest of my life?” he said.
“You can’t dwell. Anybody that dwells in past accomplishments will not accomplish anything the rest of their lives. It’s time to move on.”
As for Andrea, she said she always knew the family wouldn’t keep the home forever.
“It doesn’t mean that 10 years from now I’m not going to drive by the house and see what it looks like,” she said.By JAMI KUNZER - firstname.lastname@example.org