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Dekker: Tinley Park benches a true family tradition

Father-and-daughter bench artists Jennifer Lilly Nick Schulien stby Lilly’s Christmas Toylbench. | Supplied Photo

Father-and-daughter bench artists Jennifer Lilly and Nick Schulien stand by Lilly’s Christmas Toyland bench. | Supplied Photo

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Updated: January 24, 2013 6:09AM



More than any other holiday, Christmas is about tradition — family traditions, religious traditions, and even community traditions. Each has its own meaning and level of importance to us.

Maybe it’s the special dishes that come out only at Christmas, or cutting a fresh tree. Your family might have a special day to decorate the tree, or cook a goose instead of a turkey or ham. These once-a-year occurrences are different for each of us.

Tinley Park has created traditions that have become part of many lives. I met many people at this year’s Christmas tree lighting who said they never miss it. There also are our downtown parades and our park district’s Fourth of July festivities that families have attended for years.

Another Tinley Park tradition is the Benches on the Avenue. Next summer will mark the 10th year of the public art project, which brings hundreds of people to Oak Park Avenue from May through October to view these unique works of art.

The benches have become a real tradition for one creative Tinley Park family. For lifetime resident Nick Schulien and his daughter, Jennifer Lilly, it is not about looking at the benches; it’s about creating them. This will be Nick’s ninth year creating benches for the avenue. He has created 25 in all — so far.

Schulien is retired after teaching art for 33 years at Bolingbrook High School. Yet, he is busier than ever, creating his own artwork.

I asked Schulien what he liked about the benches.

“It is a real artistic challenge,” he said. “There are so many materials you can use to get the effects you want.”

Schulien has created some show-stoppers. Among them are the giant Tyrannosaurus rex from a few years back, the incredibly realistic buffalo whose fur you just had to touch, and the very special 9/11 tribute bench.

The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree with Lilly, whose benches are as memorable as her father’s. This will be Lilly’s eighth year in the bench program. She has created 17.

Lilly has been creating artwork her whole life and said she looks forward to the challenge each year. Lilly’s favorite part is planning how to execute her ideas.

The unfinished benches arrive March 1 and must be done by May 1. Schulien and Lilly admitted life gets a little hectic around the house during those working months. Amazingly, they don’t just make one bench; each creates two or three, a daunting task by any standards.

Lilly’s house will be busier than usual this year, as her 11-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter team up to create a bench. That makes three generations who are making a tradition of creating these giant works of art. We are fortunate to have them, and all of the bench artists who make this summer exhibit a tradition for the rest of us.

Tinley Park is looking for artists to create benches for the 2013 season. The theme is “Fairy Tale Festival,” and the deadline is Feb. 1.

Pick up an application at the Tinley Park Village Hall, and online at www.tinleypark.org or www.downtowntinley.com. For more information, call (708) 444-5046.

How fun will it be to see Oak Park Avenue filled with giants, elves, witches, princesses, ogres and talking animals? I can’t wait.

Whether you are celebrating familiar traditions or creating new ones, I wish you all a joyous and fulfilling holiday season.



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