Austin resident Gerald Dupee won a prestigious Community Gardens Award from the City of Chicago in 2004 for his work on the neighborhood garden located on 923 N. Massasoit Ave. Austin Weekly News talked to him about the win and about gardening in general.
AWN: Did you enter the City’s Community Gardens Contest or did someone enter your name?
Dupee: Well, every year there is a garden contest in Chicago sponsored by Mayor Daley, who is really big on gardens. I had just worked on the garden at 923 N. Massasoit, which is right down the street from my house. It was originally an abandoned building that had burned out several months earlier. I obtained permission to work on the garden from the landowner and began working on it in May. I was quite pleased with the results and applied to the contest. I needed just a picture and a statement about making the garden. I was pleasantly surprised by the first-place win.
AWN: Was there a ceremony?
Dupee: Yes, on Nov. 6 at the Garfield Park Conservatory. They were actually honoring a dozen different contest winners, but they were going through them quickly, so I almost missed hearing my name. The speaker said, ‘Gerald Dupee? Dupee? Well, he’s not here …’ and as he was about to lift the next name, Alderman Carothers (29th Ward), who was in attendance noticed me heading toward the stage and gestured to the speaker to wait. It was a nice ceremony though.
AWN: When did you first become interested in gardening?
Dupee: Well, I used to cut grass as a kid, not the choice chore for most pre-teens, but it ignited in me a deep interest in gardening. My parents also helped spark my interest. They both had several plants and an extensive backyard garden; however, my brother and sister didn’t really catch the fever like we did. Then in 1971, I answered an ad for a gardener at St. Angela’s Church (1332 N Massasoit Ave.). I worked there for 12 years.
AWN: What is your profession?
Dupee: I am a nurse at Michael Reese Hospital.
AWN: So, would you say that gardening is now your escape from that stressful, albeit rewarding, environment?
Dupee: Yeah, for the most part. I work in the ER, and it can be very demanding, especially because of the changes it has incurred in the last several years. For example, the charge nurse used to just be in charge of floor operation. Now she has patients, too. There used to be a separate EKG person; now nurses are responsible for doing EKGs. Used to be a more set timeline for how long patients have to wait to be seen; now they can end up waiting for hours. I hate to see sick people having to wait for care.
AWN: How did you become interested in painting?
Dupee: I was inspired to paint by Patrick Gill, or “Patty” as I call him, who painted my house once and encouraged me to work a summer with him painting houses and churches on the West Side. We painted St. Angela grammar school windows a few years back.
AWN: You won an award for painting as well, correct?
Dupee: Correct. When I painted the home I’m currently in now, I based the design on the colors and designs of the churches I’ve attended in my life. I painted the windows to mimic the kaleidoscope of colors seen on the windows of St. Angela’s church. I won first prize at the 1995 Chicago Paint and Coating Association contest. That award ceremony was at Harry Caray’s, which ironically enough, the daughter of the person who used to live at the house where I currently reside once dated the man who founded Miller’s Steak House which later became the same Harry Caray’s. The art community is filled with little coincidences like that.
AWN: What made you decide to live in the Austin community, whose number of white residents is admittedly scarce?
Dupee: Well, my grandfather moved here in 1895 and actually owned a bank on Parkside and Chicago that currently houses a church but once was the Austin Bank of Chicago, and many of my relatives that followed moved to various parts of the West Side as well, so my parents and I have deep ties to the West Side. I really like the Austin community. I have no more problems than I would face in any other part of Chicago. I try to maintain a friendly relationship with my neighbors and mostly everyone is really nice to me. I have friends who help me garden and those whom I paint with. I feel at home here.
AWN: Have you had any problems maintaining your gardens because of pillagers?
Dupee: From time to time, but it’s a simple matter of fencing the area which usually dissuades most garden-pickers.