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Physical Plant Custodial Staff Member Blends Art and Faith

Art at North Park University

CHICAGO, IL (June 14, 2010) – Ivan and Rayna Hadzhiminov(a) grew up just 100 miles apart in Bulgaria—he is from Sliven, and she is from Plovdiv. But it wasn’t until they both traveled more than 5,000 miles to America, leaving behind a deflated post-Communist Bulgaria and seeking new opportunities, that they crossed paths. They met in 2001, married in 2002, and today both work in North Park University’s Physical Plant as custodians.

After graduating from art school in Bulgaria in 1974, Ivan completed two years of military service, then worked as a studio artist for 20 years, painting portraits of political figures and posters for national holidays and festivities. Painting has been Ivan’s passion for decades, and his religious faith is as abiding as his love for the art. But in Communist Bulgaria, painting religious figures was forbidden. Ivan fused these two loves when he painted his first icon (pictured bottom left) in secret in 1974—St. George slaying the dragon.

Not only did coming to America provide Ivan with new employment opportunities, it also liberated his faith and art. “America is free. You can paint whatever you want,” he says. “When I came to America, icons were new subject matter for me, and now it’s 99 percent of what I paint. This is my passion.”

The other 1 percent of his paintings are depictions of historical figures and American entertainers and symbols, including Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charlie Chaplin, Jimi Hendrix, and the Statue of Liberty. Ivan also builds and paints wooden crosses, one of which is displayed at St. John of Rila (Ivan is pictured center left, giving the cross he made to the church).

One of Ivan’s most striking pieces is a painting of Jesus and Mary that he gave to Rayna for her 50th birthday (pictured top left). He devoted months to creating the painting, which depicts Mary with a Bulgarian face. Rayna treasures the painting and says there is no more beautiful gift Ivan could have given her.

Beautifying the City with His Gift

Ivan does not sell his paintings, but gives them as gifts to churches, including the Orthodox church St. John of Rila; organizations, including the Albany Park Community Center, where he and Rayna took English classes; and family and friends, such as those who requested a mural for their child’s room.

With their glowing palettes of gold, cream, amber, and red, Ivan’s paintings emanate his warm, generous nature and obvious love for his work. “I put everything I have into each painting, and I give them to the people and places that inspire me,” he explains. “What’s inside of me comes out into the painting. Everyone’s face and all the details are very specific, and I capture that essence the best I can.”

Ivan works the night shift at North Park, cleaning classrooms, hallways, and washrooms mainly in Carlson Tower, working behind the scenes to create environments conducive to learning and reflection. “I approach my cleaning work with an artist’s eye,” he says. “All the details have to be just right.” Though Ivan has a reputation for his painstaking detail, he can also work very quickly to support the demands of what the director of custodial services considers “emergency situations”.

The Quiet But Significant Work of the Physical Plant Custodial Team

Israel Pablo, director of custodial services, was born in Mexico, and he came to Chicago 30 years ago. He says, “I wanted adventure, and I wanted to see the world.” Israel oversees eight daytime and seven nighttime custodial staff members, along with five part-time student staff members.

In addition to keeping all the campus buildings clean, the Physical Plant custodial team also responds to calls regarding plumbing and other minor maintenance issues from students living in dorms. “And every time we get a hard rain, we clean up certain buildings that get flooded,” Israel explains.

The Physical Plant team recently prepared two dozen dorm rooms for a visiting group, cleaning the rooms and stocking them with bed linens and towels. “Then a heat wave came, and we got an additional dozen rooms ready in just half a day,” Israel says.

Karin Andersson, a new project manager in the Center for Scandinavian Studies, commented on the helpfulness of the North Park Physical Plant staff by sharing one of her first experiences at the University: “When I arrived for Swedish Flag Day, I realized that I had not reserved enough chairs for the event. I spoke to Eric at the Physical Plant, and he delivered 30 more chairs right away. I was not expecting this problem to be solved, given the last-minute notice, but he really saved the day!”

Israel shrugs off the recognition, saying with a smile, “We are just doing our job.” But he does give credit to his industrious team: “Our staff members are very responsive to these situations. They work very hard and put in overtime to get the job done.” Ivan puts in overtime, too, sharing the gift of his enduring faith and creativity with the world.