Retirement from BAPA is Not the Last You’ll Hear from the Ubiquitous Grace Kuikman 

By Tina Jenkins Bell 

My oldest son, Evan, will turn 29 in September, and I’ve known Grace almost as long as he’s been alive. I mention this because as a young mother and new resident of the Beverly/Morgan Park area, I straddled multiple neighborhoods — Chatham from which my family and I had moved and to a minimal extent I was active in Beverly/Morgan Park.  

Back then, there was no real encouragement to change my awareness of or involvement in the neighborhood, no New Neighbor bags, no Welcome Wagon (that I was aware of) with the exception of my neighbor’s teenaged son, Clinton Fields, who rode his bike across the street, one early evening, to say, “Welcome.” Our children continued at schools in Chatham and Auburn Gresham. Our family continued to worship at Third Baptist Church in Washington Heights, or some might say East Beverly but back in the early 1990s it was “for real” Washington Heights.  

Relative to our experience, Audrey Peeples, a former BAPA board member said in a November 2018 Villager profile,“… This can be a hard neighborhood to break into. We need to find ways to welcome newcomers and help them fit into the fabric of the community.”   

Peeples was right. My family floated in anonymity until I met Grace Kuikman. She opened up the world of Beverly/Morgan Park.  

Somewhere between AE and BE — after my son Evan was born but before my youngest Elijah came along — I was searching for a way to get to know the community and as a freelance writer, I sought opportunities to write.  

At the time, Grace was working part time for BAPA as The Villager editor and helped BAPA with its “Breakfast with the Experts” events. The event I attended was a panel of editors from the Chicago Tribune and other publications. I attended because I wanted to connect with editors. There, I met Chicago Tribune’s special sections editor Maureen Hart and I connected with Grace, too… something about our kindred blend of humor and sarcasm punctuated with a tilted smile. Yep, I’m sure I claimed her then, but I digress.  

From that event, I was hired by Hart to write for the Tribune for several years and referred by Hart to other editors for assignments. I also began writing for The Villager when it was a “volunteer opportunity” and continue to write for The Villager as BAPA’s School Liaison, not for free.  

Grace became a community conduit but not just for me for so many other people — gardeners, educators, community leaders, historians, elected officials, and so on. If you had something positive to offer Beverly/Morgan Park, Grace was your branch for connecting with the right people.  

Now before I tell you about the time she saved me from flying to Washington DC to tell anyone who would listen they couldn’t let my youngest join the Navy, I’d better pinch myself to stay the course. This Grace woman is ubiquitous. There’s so much to tell beyond the things you already know from other articles.  

For example, this article is actually an homage to Grace who is retiring from BAPA after 40 years of service. Grace worked for BAPA on both a part time and for a few years, full time basis.  

“In the early 90s, I did not work for BAPA for something like 3 to 3 ½ years. During that time, there were two other Villager editors. One was Maureen Hart,” she said, providing a little personal trivia. When she returned as Villager editor, she began to take on more communications roles for BAPA. In 2015, she became Assistant Executive Director for BAPA while continuing roles with The Villager and communications, working full time until spring 2022 when she reduced her hours to take on an “assignment” babysitting for her grandson. 

“I’ve been a freelancer almost the whole time I worked for BAPA,” she said. She will continue to freelance. 

But, like I said, her deeds and contributions are indelibly imprinted on Beverly/Morgan Park.  

Grace’s name has become synonymous with BAPA. I can even hear a call-out. Now you say BAPA. I’ll say Grace. BAPA! Grace! BAPA! Grace! 

“Grace is like a cold glass of water on a hot summer’s day. She is refreshing. In a storm, she would be the person that calms the sea. She is helpful, understanding, and a joy to be around,” said Brenda Robinson, a fellow writer. “I am glad to call her my friend. 

In addition to her leadership and editorial roles at BAPA, Grace coordinates three iconic BAPA events: the Memorial Day Parade, the Home Tour and the Garden Walk. Her handprints could be seen everywhere – BAPA’s past and current events, various outlets for gardeners, historians, philanthropy, and literary artists. 

Grace, a devoted community preservationist, serves as a Ridge Historical Society (RHS) board member and member of the BAPA/RHS Historic Buildings Committee through which she helped found the Eugene S. Pike House Foundation, a not-for-profit dedicated to saving the historic home, located near the 91st Street Metra Train station in the Dan Ryan Woods.   

In the areas of literary arts, as a published writer whose works appeared in literary publications and newspapers, Grace brought many opportunities for creative writers to share their work.  

While working as a contractor with and volunteer for the Beverly Arts Center (BAC), she began the Longwood Writers Guild, offering area writers including myself the chance to connect, share and receive feedback for their work. I met writers like Robinson, Grazina Smith, Lydia Barnes, and Bill Grady. I’m telling you listening to those folks and Grace read their works was enlightening and entertaining.  

Through BAC, Grace edited and published eight issues of the local literary magazine, BAC Street Journal. In 

the 1980s, Grace served on the editorial board of a local literary magazine called Midway Review.  

A major supporter of diversity, Grace also extended opportunities for diverse groups to access BAPA’s Community Room (at the former location) for programming. For Love of Writing (FLOW), a group I cofounded with a mission of providing space for African American female writers but also with a multi-cultural outreach, often held events in the community room and adopted Grace as an Associate member.  

The space was dynamic with wonderfully interesting events and activities. Turpin Cares used the room for the Free Store, which offers toiletries and basic necessities for people who are struggling financially, now hosting distributions at Morgan Park Presbyterian Church.  

“Grace is one of those rare individuals you can count on no matter what,” said Greg Owen-Boger, Executive Director of Turpin Cares, NFP. “We started working together in the early stages of the pandemic when Turpin Cares partnered with BAPA to open the Free Store for toiletries. It was hot and frenzied work, and we always knew that Grace would be there leading the way. She became so instrumental in our work, that we asked her to join the board of directors. Of course she said yes. We so appreciate her ongoing dedication to our community.”  

I could go on about my friend and advocate, but I will stop here and let you add your own stories when you see Grace.  

Suffice it to say though Grace’s retirement will be sealed with a community kiss on July 31 she won’t disappear from our purviews.  

Grace will continue to support BAPA events, write as a freelancer, and do what she does — connect, respect, and above all show up for this community, which she loves.  

 

 

 

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