Lovell health care center mural a symbol of hope and healing for veterans

An unexpected but welcome symbol of hope and healing for veterans stretches along a concrete block wall in the covered walkway system linking buildings at the expansive Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center.

The attention grabber and conversation piece is a large mural featuring a 6-foot-tall portrait the retired Navy captain and Apollo astronaut.

Over several months, bare concrete walls in a covered connecting walkway at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago have been transformed into a large mural. Courtesy of Jayna Legg/Lovell FHCC

“It makes me feel good,” said Jairo Andrade, a Waukegan resident and one of 15 veterans who worked on the special project. “Instead of seeing just a gray wall, they see something else.”

The portrait with other images including the moon, a bald eagle and a veteran being cared for by a provider honors Lovell's service and also his namesake - the only medical facility integrated between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Department of Defense.

Unveiled virtually Oct. 29 to help celebrate the North Chicago center's 10-year anniversary, the mural also is source of pride for the veterans who helped plan and paint it.

“It was just cool to be a part of. It definitely was therapeutic for me,” said Andrade, a Navy veteran who served on active duty from 2001 to 2011 and 2013 to 2015.

Michelle Franklin paints the portrait of Captain James A. Lovell at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago. Courtesy of Michael Kardas

Andrade said painting the mural aligned with what he learned as a student at Lovell's “Pain University” - part of a whole health initiative offering options to manage chronic pain beyond medication.

The veterans worked with muralist David Motley, large format painter Everett Reynolds and the Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods Forest Preserve to design and paint the mural.

“There were lots of anxieties and lots of challenges, but the end result is an amazing accomplishment for a lot of reasons. It's a visionary project as far as I'm concerned,” Motley said.

Brushwood, in cooperation with Lovell, also offers whole health services through art and nature programs to military veterans and their families.

“Everyone came together. You could feel how the project was impacting everyone,” said Catherine Game, Brushwood's executive director.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony of the new mural at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago was recently held with, from left, Capt. James A. Lovell, facility director Dr. Robert Buckley, Master Chief Petty Officer Nick Noviello, Michelle Franklin, Sean Gartland and Gail Sturm. Courtesy of Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center

The project had been cemented to include support from the McCormick Foundation and Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs when COVID-19 struck.

The collaboration proceeded via Zoom, social distancing and other measures to determine the content and design, transfer the outlines to the wall of what is known as the tramway at Lovell, and fill it with color.

“The process of creating during this crisis is part of what makes the story of this project so beautiful,” Game said.

Elizabeth LaCombe, a creative arts therapist at Lovell and one of the project leaders, said the mural process meant even more for participants because of the pandemic.

“This mural project is one small way to say, 'You're support system is still here and our sense of community is still very strong,'” LaCombe said.

Elizabeth LaCombe, recreational therapist at Lovell FHCC, Leticia Knight and Lukan Ewing help paint the new mural at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago. Courtesy of Michael Kardas

“These kind of projects are really important for our veterans,” she said. “It's a different way of expressing themselves.”

Game said challenges facing veterans, such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse and the impacts of isolation and other issues, have intensified as a result of the pandemic.

Since then, Lovell and Brushwood have increased their online offerings. Brushwood created and filled the new position of director of music and wellness. Virtual piano and guitar lessons, concerts and other programs are in the works, Game said.

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