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Lovell Center mural honors vets, pride of services

Richard Simmons Trevor who was Navy for 21 years as an aviatielectronictechnician served three tours Vietnam works panel. | Michael

Richard Simmons of Trevor who was in the Navy for 21 years as an aviation and electronica technician and served three tours in Vietnam works on a panel. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media

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Wall painters

Contributors include mostly veterans, but some non-veterans, and include Howard Jacobs, Dave Watling, Richard Simmons, Michelle Franklin, Erica Jeffers, Roberto Alcozer, Leticia Knight, Ken Lutgen, Thomas Trausch, Rick Beauvais, Adam Martinez, Diana Hoppe, Kim Wasilewski, Ron Marimoto, Calvin Fontaine, Leroy Holland, Robert Smith, Chris Wolf, Walter Finley, Charles Buckhanan, James E. Smith, Mary Claire Collins and George Lutz.

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Updated: April 3, 2013 2:00AM

NORTH CHICAGO — Howard Jacobs was a combat medic in World War II and later became an architect. He painted just for his own enjoyment, but on Friday, he was painting to give back to fellow veterans.

“It’s a means of kind of trying to pay back the hospital,” said Jacobs, 87, of Highland Park as he worked on one of six panels at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago that will make up a three-section mural measuring 32 feet by 7 feet.

The giant wall painting that will be permanently displayed at the entry of the center’s mental health clinic is being created by volunteers.

The panels depict veterans from the Revolutionary War through World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. One simply shows a young man being welcomed home with a hug by a young girl. They depict the sacrifices of veterans and their families. Jacobs was using green and yellow to add flora to one of the paintings.

“I had a lot of art in college and I painted in my spare time. (The hospital) has been very nice to me helping me out and taking care of me physically,” said Jacobs, who heard about the project last spring and submitted a sketch to show his artistic skills.

Richard Simmons, 68, of Trevor, Wis., spent 21 years in the Navy and served three tours in Vietnam. He started painting again two years ago and met Dave Watling, 62, of Pleasant Prairie, Wis., another artist involved in the project, at an art contest held at the veteran’s hospital “and that started the ball rolling,” he said.

“A lot of time you don’t get to express yourself as a veteran. This is another avenue for me to be creative and talk about these things,” he said of his experiences. “I get a little better each week and I get a little happier.”

Watling flew reconnaissance missions in Vietnam and was shot at every day. “That was the object of course, find out where they were and how many there were,” he said. When he left the service, he went to University of Colorado for fine arts and advertising, and worked at a small newspaper in Virginia.

“I hope this gives (veterans) a sense of pride and helps them deal with some of the stress they can be having,” he said, adding that the painters tried to represent all the areas of armed service.

“We wanted to build pride in the different military units and what went on in each conflict and build camaraderie between the services,” he said.

“Just pride of service,” said Watling, who concentrated on the Vietnam panel with the Missing In Action symbol. That panel caught Fred Steffens’ eye enough that he stopped on his way to get an X-ray. The 32-year-old serves at Station Kenosha Coast Guard and his father was a Vietnam War veteran.

“The one that grabbed me the most was the Vietnam one,” he said, because of his father and a number of other veterans he knows from that conflict. He has the MIA symbol tattooed on his forearm.

“It’s a way for people to see I have respect for those veterans,” he said. “I get a lot of younger generation that don’t know what it is.” He also related to the panel that it has a large sailor in it representing World War II and Korea.

Christine Krumsee, 31, of Chicago is the mural project director who is partially paid by the Koziol Family Foundation, which is funding the project. She is also assigned to the Lovell Center through Help Hospital Veterans of California that places people at VA hospitals to manage their art programs.

“It’s more than therapeutic art,” she said. “It’s a healing way to recreate, fend off depression and move away from drugs and alcohol.”

Krumsee said about 80 veterans and staff members have been working on the project since last year brainstorming ideas with about 25 helping with the actual sketching and painting. So far, the project has totaled almost 150 hours.

“The mural is both a respectful tribute and bold statement of the healing power of expressive art,” she said. “The mural also raises public awareness of the cost of America’s peace and freedom.

“I’m really proud of the work our veteran artists have contributed,” Krumsee said, “and I am very excited for everyone to see it.”

The general public and patients will be able to see it this spring with a target unveiling date of April.

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