Obituary: Melvyn A. Skvarla, 1942-2017

by Chicago Tribune and SAH staff | May 01, 2017
Melvyn Andrew Skvarla of Champaign, formerly of Chicago, born January 9, 1942 passed away on March 28, 2017.  Melvyn's memorial service will be at Cliff Dwellers Club in Chicago; May 12 (3-6pm); visitation 3pm, service 3:30, reception follows.  A piano recital to celebrate Melvyn's love of classical music and uplifting spaces was held at Allerton Park and Retreat Center in Monticello, IL on Saturday, April 29.  Burial will be private.

Melvyn's vocation and his passions were one in the same; as a young man, architecture captured his spirit and throughout his life he embraced the arts, visual and musical, and the buildings, furniture, furnishings and individuals who interpreted history in soaring and innovative ways.  Melvyn loved to "talk shop" with colleagues and friends of like mind, worked tirelessly for preservation of historical spaces to benefit coming generations, and schooled his nieces and nephews on the fine points of Michigan Rummy following holiday dinners.  He was the "go-to-guy" for many of us on both the grand and the gritty sides of the City of Chicago.  He generously donated his time and resources to both established and upstart groups who shared his love of the arts.  He was our Renaissance man!

Melvyn's interest in both architecture and academia was evident in his professional life as well as in conservation of architecture and the arts in communities where he lived.  His early years focused on campus planning at Northeastern Illinois University and Western Michigan University.  At WMU Melvyn assisted community efforts of Michigan Historic Preservation Network to alert neighborhood organizations about state, local and federal tools available for local preservation.  At University of Illinois Champaign, as Historic Preservation Officer, Melvyn continued his passionate interest in these areas by providing leadership for renovation and preservation of Memorial Stadium, preservation of the iconic 1929 Lorado Taft sculpture of the Alma Mater, and renovation of the mansion at Allerton Park as well as preparation of the nomination for the historic site to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.  Melvyn generously shared his knowledge of Chicago history and architecture and his interest in design and furniture with all of us, as well as his students at Harrington Institute, Newberry Library Lyceum and numerous community colleges.

Melvyn, a life-long member of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, was the eldest son of late Andrew and Myrtle (Gylstrom) Skvarla and is mourned as beloved brother of Olivia, Ruth, David (Madelynn), Wesley (deceased; Mercedes) and Clifford; 4 nieces, 3 nephews and by 12 grand nieces and nephews.

Melvyn's love for art and architecture throughout his life was reflected in the many organizations with which he affiliated, including Cliff Dwellers and Fie Arts Clubs in Chicago and Sinfonia da Camera in Champaign.  He was an SAH member for over 53 years, joining in 1964 and became a Life Member in 2008.  Throughout his membership, he actively supported Buildings of the United States, the George R. Collins and Roseann S. Berry Fellowships, the Charnley-Persky House and the SAH Awards Gala. 

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to The Cliff Dwellers Arts Foundation, Allerton Park or Sinfonia da Camera at University of Illinois through University of Illinois Foundation. Condolences are received by Melvyn's family at 8617 Mattson Drive, St. John, IN  46373.

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