After the death of Tim Griffin earlier this year, a project he completed several years ago on a corner near his home has taken on added beauty and significance, thanks to nearby neighbors.
Griffin, a Chicago Fire Department firefighter from Morgan Park, built a small bench about four years ago in the parkway at the corner of 115th Street and Bell Avenue.
The bench is constructed of two large pieces of tree trunk and a concrete slab. It is now surrounded by a small garden, with decorations in the grass and in trees.
Neighbors young and old enjoy the bench as a place to meet or enjoy a moment of reflection, and the garden continues to provide beauty and a positive message for the neighborhood.
Griffin’s widow, Jan, is grateful the spot has become so popular.
“It’s just so touching,” she said. “I look out of the sunroom—it’s just something to have for people. It’s such a beautiful, touching feeling, and it just brings back Tim completely. I think he’s looking down on this like, ‘Oh, my God.’”
Tim Griffin died on Jan. 30 at age 54, after dealing with several health issues in recent years. He loved his job with the Chicago Fire Department, his wife said, and every day, he tended to the bench and surrounding garden.
According to a neighbor, Wendi Franklin, maintaining the space was “Tim’s labor of love.”
Jan Griffin said the materials for the bench came “out of nowhere,” and she never learned where her husband had retrieved the wood and concrete.
Tim Griffin crafted the bench meticulously and cleaned out the greenspace on the corner.
Griffin loved doing yard work, his wife said, and slowly but surely, the sitting garden came to be.
“That’s just how he did things,” she said.
On May 9—Tim’s 55th birthday—family and neighbors gathered around the bench. Young neighbors Edward and Emily Lyon and Colin and Carter Harris, who love meeting up at the garden, said Griffin was “an artist,” and his creation “catches your eye.”
Alan Barski said that when he takes his daily walk, he stops for a rest at his neighbor’s bench, where he ponders whether to trek down the hill on Lothair Avenue to Longwood Drive or head back home.
Barski recently sprinkled wildflower seeds in the space, hoping they will grow and add to the new decorations that greet visitors.
A small bicycle that Jan said serves as “a reflection of Tim” sits near the bench, and she’s placed small steppingstones throughout the garden. Two cardinal ornaments she found in her home are displayed in the trees. American flags and butterflies also hang in the trees alongside a wind chime.
One day, a large rock painted with a smiley face and shamrock mysterious appeared in the garden, Jan said, and only recently did her friend, Ivy Fron, who grew up at 116th Street and Bell Avenue and now lives in Blue Island, reveal that she made it at the request of Jan Griffin’s cousin, Donna Bruno.
Last year, a neighbor brought over some ferns that Griffin planted in the space, Jan said, but they appeared to have died not long after. However, about a month ago, the ferns appeared to be growing again.
“That’s another nice extension of it,” Jan said.
As has been common on sidewalks during the COVID-19 crisis, friendly messages written in chalk recently appeared on the bench. A simple “Hello Everybody” was written across the side, and on top, the Lyon and Harris children wrote, “Tim.”
Jan Griffin said Tim’s bench is open to neighborhood youngsters to visit whenever they want.
“Whatever you want to do,” Jan Griffin said. “This is your area to have fun.”