Growing up in Brookfield, sisters Barbara and Margi Sirovatka have many memories of the friendliness of their neighbors and many events at St. Barbara Parish.
However, one of the Sirovatkas’ most treasured Brookfield memories revolves around the annual Easter and Thanksgiving visits that their father’s cousin made to the family’s home.
While extended family members often visit one another’s homes for the holidays, what makes the Sirovatkas’ memory so special is the fact that their cousin, Ralph Haremski, was a charming man who just happened to have a developmental disability.
As a gesture to honor their cousin, last month the sisters sold the family home on Windemere Avenue to United Cerebral Palsy Seguin of Greater Chicago, a nonprofit organization that provides housing and employment for more than 1,000 local children and adults with developmental disabilities.
“We have a soft spot in our hearts for the developmentally disabled because of Ralph,” Barbara Sirovatka said. “The thought that UCP Seguin provides small group homes was definitely something that interested us.”
Haremski, born in 1912, suffered from developmental disabilities as a result of contracting scarlet fever as a child. From the time he was a teenager, Haremski lived at the Dixon Developmental Center, located almost 100 miles west of Chicago. When his parents died, Haremski became a ward of the state and rarely left the facility unless visiting his family in Brookfield. Haremski died in 1977.
The Brookfield home had been in the Sirovatka family since 1952, when the sisters’ father, Norbert, first moved in with his wife Helen. Eventually, Barbara lived in one half of the house while her parents lived in the other half until their death.
Last year, Margi, who had lived in Riverside for a number of years, moved back to the house until the two decided to retire and fulfill their dream of moving to Montana.
After putting the house up for sale in June and having trouble finding a buyer, a friend of Margi’s who works for a similar service organization suggested they reach out to UCP Seguin.
“We made one call to UCP Seguin and their housing person sounded interested, so we just immediately put her in contact with our realtor,” Barbara Sirovatka said.
What makes the home unique and perfect for community living for the developmentally disabled is that the elongated one-story ranch features a common entranceway, two living rooms, two dining rooms, two kitchens and four bedrooms.
Dawneen Suriano, annual fund director for UCP Seguin, says the Brookfield home will be a valuable addition towards fulfilling the organization’s goal of enhancing their small residence program.
“The idea is that individuals with developmental disabilities should live in the community to the degree of independence that they’re able and interact with the general public like anyone else,” Suriano said. “They should be able to live in a home, determine where they would like to work and determine their extracurricular activities.”
By early 2015, the home will serve as the new residence for four adults affiliated with UCP Seguin. Professionally trained staff from UCP Seguin will provide 24-hour assistance to fulfill what the organization calls their “community integrated living arrangement.”
UCP Seguin has 70 homes in the metropolitan Chicagoland area, with other local homes in Riverside, North Riverside and Berwyn.
“Even those that are physically disabled should have the freedom that you and I enjoy,” Suriano said, adding that this newest housing addition will further UCP Seguin’s mission of providing a quality life to their program participants.
In the future, Barbara Sirovatka hopes that the home will provide just as many lasting memories and happiness for its new residents as it brought to her and her family.
“The Brookfield community is a close-knit community, people are friendly and we always had great neighbors,” she said. “I think the fact that it is a near west suburb gives you that small town atmosphere, but yet the convenience of access to the city and that’s what we’re hoping UCP Seguin will be able to take advantage of.”