On a chilly fall afternoon with a touch of fall in the air, the winners of the Daily Herald's "Get Your Summer On" contest threw a party for dozens of friends and family as they showed off the new custom firepit, patio, pond and landscaping that came with their backyard makeover prize package.
"They did a wonderful job," Sharon Zeeck gushed Saturday about the quality of the work while her husband, Harry, started a fire.
The Zeecks entered the contest this spring after a fire gutted their home in Prospect Heights and turned their backyard into a muddy disaster area.
"It was miserable," remembered next-door neighbor Sargon Josep. "Now it's beautiful. It's added value to our house, too."
Longtime family friend Kathie Nee of Algonquin said, "It's got an organic, friendly appeal."
That was a goal for RYCO Landscaping in Lake in the Hills, which worked with a host of suppliers to give the Zeecks a free backyard makeover that probably would have cost more than $30,000, said Colin Taheny, vice president of sales at RYCO.
"We transform living spaces into people's enjoyment," Taheny said as he lingered near the warmth of the firepit. "It's all connections."
The house connects to the patio with its beautiful new furniture, which leads to the firepit, which leads to a pond with a series of small waterfalls, which leads to a grassy area still large enough for outdoor games for the kids.
"Most importantly, it gathers people," Taheny said.
The Zeecks grown sons, Michael and John, daughter Michelle, and her sons, Vincent, 4, and 2-month-old Dominic all live in the house and invited friends over to enjoy the first party in their new backyard.
"With the combination firepit and the water feature, it's very relaxing to sit out here," Harry Zeeck said, adding that he and his wife plan to enjoy more gatherings in their backyard. "We just got back in the house at the end of May, the beginning of June. It's been all running around shopping."
While guests oohed and aahed over each new area, the pond was the magnet for young Vincent and his little buddies.
"They live by that pond," Sharon Zeeck said. "They throw in rocks and make wishes. I guess we need pennies."