Lisa Woodruff-Hedin of Munster said, “There’s an incredibly vital arts community in Northwest Indiana.” | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 17, 2013 6:07AM
“The man who dies rich dies disgraced.”
— Andrew Carnegie
Lisa Woodruff-Hedin is executive director of the Carnegie Arts Center at the Roberto Clemente Center in East Chicago.
She has been married to Frederick Hedin for 23 years, and they’ve lived in Munster for 22 years. Lisa grew up on the North Side of Chicago.
Because of extenuating circumstances, I was 15 minutes late for my interview with Woodruff-Hedin. Then, something came up, and I had to wait another 15 minutes before she could welcome me into her office.
Knowing she had another appointment at 1 p.m., I realized that would leave me with just 30 minutes for our interview; they usually take an hour. I was a bit flustered and, as I sat down, I knocked over a 5-foot-tall fan.
One of those days.
But, I found Lisa to be a very easygoing person and willing to answer my questions — kinda.
“None of your business,” she said.
But the readers want to know.
“I don’t tell anybody; don’t feel bad.”
I’m tryin’ to make a livin’ here.
“I have three adult children.”
Are you a Cubs fan?
That’s too bad.
“My husband is from the South Side; he’s a Sox fan. It’s a mixed marriage.
“My parents would let me skip school as early as sixth-grade for every opening day at Wrigley Field. We lived in Wilmette by then; I’d get on the ‘L’ with a $5 bill, a sleeping bag, buy a hot dog and sit in the grandstands. All for $5! What do you think about that?”
I think you must be about 50 years of age.
“I love the city of Chicago.”
Who was your favorite Cub?
“Billy Williams. Later, Derrek Lee.”
High school and college?
“New Trier and the University of Illinois. I majored in voice performance.”
How did you get this gig at the Carnegie Arts Center?
“Well, I’ve always been involved with music and the performing arts. When we moved to Indiana, I sort of retired from the stage for two or three years.
“Then, I started performing again. But that wasn’t enough; I needed to have more creative artistic expression in my work, not just in my hobby. I set a goal and I made a plan to get a job in the arts.”
“About 31/2 years ago, I got a call from a colleague who told me this organization was looking for an executive director. I started here three years ago in September.”
“Everything from board development to strategic planning. When I came on board, we had no logo, website, mission, bylaws or strategic plan. So, a lot of very basic things to organizational structure were my first responsibilities.
“Beyond that, I’ve been very fortunate. We’ve been able to grow our programs from one in the summer of 2010 to something like 23 in the next calendar year.”
Very good. You’ll be moving soon.
“Our plan is to occupy the old Grand Boulevard Library at 136th (Street) and Grand (Boulevard). The exterior is finished.”
Wasn’t that a Carnegie Library?
“Yes; its centennial is next year.”
Lisa, for me, the jury’s out as far as Andrew Carnegie. Some unionists didn’t like him, but the guy did a lot of great things.
“The good news about Carnegie was that he was incredibly philanthropic with the money he did make. All a town had to do was write him a letter with a plan, and he’d help them build a library. East Chicago is the only city or town in Indiana that has two Carnegie Libraries.”
Why is that?
“Because the Harbor and East Chicago were separate cities then. The one on Chicago Avenue is still in use. The one on Grand Boulevard has been closed since the ’70s. By the way, Indiana has more Carnegie Libraries than any other state.
I remember librarian Gloria Dosen telling me that when I interviewed her four or five years ago. What a nice lady she is.
“Gloria was one of the people who really got this project going. (Former) Mayor (Robert) Pastrick wanted to knock down the building about 10 years ago. Gloria told Pastrick: ‘You can’t knock that building down; that’s a Carnegie Library!’
“Gloria is still on my board and is still waiting for the day the Grand Boulevard Carnegie Library reopens.”
What does Grand Boulevard Carnegie Library look like on the inside?
“We’re going to keep part of it authentic. There are plaster escutcheons on the walls, and there is a beautiful ceiling on the first floor of what will be the theater.”
Tell me about some of the things CAC does.
“We do programs with schools, community centers and other organizations.”
In East Chicago only?
“Oh, no. We travel to Hammond, Highland — anywhere the opportunity takes us.”
Is it just for kids kindergarten through 12?
“No, we have a terrific senior citizen program. Our oldest student is 88. There’s a story for you; she just got her bachelor’s degree from Calumet College in May.”
What’s her name?
“Willa Hughes; she’s a longtime resident of East Chicago.”
Thanks; I’ll give her a call and tell her Lisa Woodruff-Hedin sent me.
“Willa’s a character.”
Professional theater and CAC?
“We’ve done ‘Miss Saigon’ and, last year, we did ‘Evita.’ Forty-two of us will be traveling to China on Dec. 26, where we’ll collaborate with South Shore Orchestra and South Shore Dance Alliance; it’s sponsored by the Confucius Institute out of Valparaiso University.”
When you moved from the glitzy North Side to blue-collar Northwest Indiana, did you worry that maybe your cultural life was over?
“Being an actress in Chicago, and then moving to the suburbs in Indiana, well, I did think, ‘Woe is me.’ But I soon found out that was not the case. There’s an incredibly vital arts community in Northwest Indiana. Whiting, Michigan City, LaPorte, Valparaiso, Paul and Angie Lowe in Cedar Lake ... .
“And I’m not just talking about the performing arts. There’s also music, fine arts, sculptors, painters, graphic artists ... . I’m really proud to be part of the arts community in Northwest Indiana.”
In 2012, some of the venues for which Carnegie Arts Center provided musical and theatrical programs were Lincoln Elementary, West Side Freshman Academy, McKinley Elementary, the East Chicago Public Library, St. Stanislaus School, Carrie Gosch Elementary and Highland High School.
All were spearheaded by Lisa Woodruff-Hedin.
The North Side’s loss is Northwest Indiana’s gain.