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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Among Friends

“We consider this house to be the living room of the university,” says University of Evansville president Tom Kazee on a recent tour of the May House, the university-owned residence where he and his wife, Sharon, have lived for nearly two years.

Located 14 blocks east of the UE campus in a historic East Side neighborhood, the spacious home at 654 Lombard Ave. is convenient for hosting university functions of all sizes. “We’ve had everything from lunch for one person in the kitchen to an ice cream social in the backyard for 600 freshmen,” says Sharon Kazee.

But the Kazees, who moved from Greenville, S.C., where Tom served as provost and executive vice president of Furman University and Sharon was dean and vice president for arts and academics at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, agree that their home in Evansville is not only perfect for entertaining guests, but is a comfortable, livable space.

“We find that it’s the best of both worlds,” says Sharon. “It’s a great blend of the formal and informal. It’s very welcoming.”

The home’s ties to the university date back to 1982, when longtime Evansville developer Guthrie May and his wife, Alice — both alumni of Evansville College (now UE) — donated the 1941-built home to UE to serve as the president’s home. (The former president’s residence at the corner of Lincoln and Rotherwood avenues, known as the Igleheart Building, now houses the university’s development staff and Office of Alumni and Parent Relations.)

“The Mays were very generous to UE and the community, so it is quite an honor to live in their home,” says Sharon. “We’ve been so lucky to have so many people support recent improvements to the home,” she adds, noting the advice and support of UE Board of Trustees members Rita Eykamp and Barbara Price.

“The home was in great shape structurally,” Tom says. “All it really needed was some updating.”

The renovation projects undertaken by the Kazees on the May House included refinishing oak hardwood floors hidden under carpet, converting windows to energy efficient models, painting several rooms, and gutting and modernizing the kitchen.

The Kazees started at the entrance of the two-story home, warming up the ground level with new paint colors by Benjamin Moore. “The walls were cream-colored,” says Sharon, “and we added some darker color to make the white woodwork pop.”

However, many historic touches were left intact, including the mint green Art Deco-style bathroom. “We thought the bathroom was so cool and retro. We wanted to leave it just like it was,” says Sharon.

The downstairs also functions as a showcase for the UE art community — students, professors, and alumni. “Living with all of this artwork has been one of our greatest joys,” says Sharon. Soon after the Kazees arrived in Evansville in 2010, Bill Brown, former chair of UE’s Department of Art, worked with them to select appropriate pieces for the home.

Above the mantel in the living room is a large watercolor painting by artist Jerry Baum depicting Harlaxton College, a Victorian manor and popular study abroad destination that serves as the British campus of the University of Evansville. Many of the small ceramic bowls throughout the room were purchased at UE’s annual Chili Bowl Sale, held every November. In the adjoining formal dining room, Brown’s pen and ink drawings line one wall, while students’ still lifes are highlighted on the opposite wall.

The crown jewel of the May House renovation is the kitchen, redesigned by Lynda Wilhelmus of Lensing Home Consultants Center and transformed by the UE facilities department and Arc Construction, which donated professional services. With the installation of new cabinetry and a new island that bisects the room at a striking diagonal angle, “we really started over with the kitchen,” says Sharon, who acknowledges that only the original 1940s brass hardware was recycled.

A decorative piece of glass, created by UE alumna Sue Morrison of Sunburst Stained Glass in Newburgh, is the new focal point of the kitchen. The elegant design echoes the Rothschild bird pattern in a collection of Herend china donated by Susan Enlow. “My understanding is that Mrs. May loved birds, so we thought the bird pattern was especially appropriate for that space,” says Sharon.

With five bedrooms, two of which are now used as offices, the Kazees have plenty of space to incorporate their own sense of style into the May House. While they lived in a more contemporary home in South Carolina, they brought some of their own furniture to Evansville and dispersed the rest to a beach house on the East Coast and to their grown children. (Their daughter, Nicole, is the director of health policy and programs for the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Science System; their son, Geoffrey, is an assistant superintendent at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland.) A few of their favorite treasures in the May House include Sharon’s grandmother’s Victrola in the living room and the Duncan Phyfe dining room set in the butler’s pantry.

“When I stand in any space in the May House, I feel as though I am surrounded by friends because so many people have been so generous,” says Sharon, “and I think of them whenever I see their treasured gifts. This is the university’s home, but everyone in Evansville has made us feel right at home here, too.”

Tour the May House on April 21 for the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra Guild’s Homes of Note Tour.

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