Award for Woodstock Painted Lady is bittersweet for homeowner

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Already immersed in history, an old Victorian home in Woodstock provides the backdrop for another story.

A plaque on the house at 457 W. Jackson St. declares it as the Josiah Hyde House, built in 1895. Inside lies a folder of handwritten journals and letters passed on to generations of homeowners.

They tell the tale of a home restored both inside and out through the years, but kept as close as possible to its original style to retain its character.

"People definitely loved this house, and we would have too," the home's latest owner, Sue McDonald, said as she browsed through the folder in the kitchen.

She and her late husband, Kevin, bought the home last October. 

In the midst of renovating it, he died.

And now the home has won an award, a bittersweet honor.

"He'd be really happy," Sue said of her husband. 

The home will be honored later this month by the Chicago Paint and Coating Association as a 2013 winner of Chicago's Finest Painted Ladies & Her Court Competition. The group recognizes homes based on the beauty, craftsmanship and color combinations of their paint.

After buying the Woodstock home, Kevin McDonald actually referred to the home as a "painted lady," based partly on it winning a similar award when it was last painted in 2001.

Former police officers in Chicago and the parents of two girls now in college, Sue and Kevin had planned to retire there. 

"This was a dream house for us," Sue said.

They were remodeling a downstairs bathroom and kitchen when Kevin unexpectedly died at age 57. A blood clot had reached his lungs.

It was unexpected, unfair.

"You give up a lot to be on the police force ... so many years. To retire, and he dies ..." Sue said, her words trailing off. "We were very excited about having this beautiful home."

She remembered an afternoon spent picking the home's 13 paint colors, along with the painter the couple hired, Maury Garvey of Villa Park, known as The Painting Craftsman. 

The trio stood outside, with Kevin turning down a few colors Sue had liked.

They'd gone at it for nearly an hour, asking the painter Garvey to mix different colors, when she looked at her husband and realized he was wearing sunglasses.

"I punched him in the arm," she remembered with a laugh. 

"You can't pick colors when you're wearing sunglasses," she told him.

They never did find the original color Sue liked, but were able to settle on others. Garvey singlehandedly did the work in 45 days.

Sue since has put the house up for sale, returning to the 1928 brick bungalow in Chicago where she and Kevin raised their children. The two met when both joined the police force and were married in 1986.

She became a sergeant, Kevin a detective.

"He was a really good guy," Sue said as she showed a picture of him smiling with his beloved daughters.

She's tried to detach herself from the home the two had picked together, to do what has to be done.

"It makes more sense to stay in Chicago now that it's just me," she said.

"They say you're not up to making life decisions after someone dies. You're supposed to wait a year. I can't wait a year."

Still, she'd love to see the home go to a family as enamored by it as all of its previous owners.

As she flipped through the folder, she pointed out handwritten letters about the bricks in the home's front hallway, bricks taken from an old train depot once standing in downtown Woodstock.

She picked up a copy of a newspaper from 1917 with a printed letter from Laurence Hyde, the son of the original owner of the house. His was among those letters printed from soldiers serving overseas during World War I.

With so much history within the home's walls, Sue said, "I would just love to see somebody who loves this kind of house."

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