Cindy Pardo, a quilter known for her elaborately patterned, particolored designs and leadership in the local arts scene, as well as her work with First Unitarian Church, died on Oct. 25 at 74.
Pardo came to Hyde Park in 1999, after marrying second husband Dr. Richard Pardo and moving into his home in the Rosalie Villas section of Harper Avenue.
She quickly became involved with Artisans 21, a cooperative gallery located in the old Harper Court shopping center. She served for a period as the group’s president, and would sell glass jewelry and quilts — she had sewed since childhood, and one of her dolls once made it onto the White House’s annual Christmas tree.
"When I am making something, my relatives are honor-bound to say, 'It's terrific,' " she told the Tribune in a 2003 feature about Artisans 21. "But here, the other artists can tell me what they actually think: 'It's fine.' Or, 'Here's something you need to fix.' "
In 2007, Pardo, along with co-owners Evelyn Johnson and Madeiria Myrieckes, opened the Fair Trader at 1623 East 55th Street, in a space that had previously housed a dentist’s office. The trio, who developed the idea for the store after selling fair trade coffee and tea through First Unitarian, bought goods from artisans in developing countries and resold them in Chicago.
They paid the artisans, predominantly women, half the value up front for the items they created: textiles from Nepal, Ugandan baskets made of raffia and millet, and tagua nuts, the small seeds of palm trees, carved into imitation ivory.
The store, which came into the world shortly before the 2008 recession and struggled in its aftermath, made it to 2013. "We're closing because we don't have enough business to stay open. That'll do the trick," Pardo told the Herald at the time. She continued to sell fair trade items at Christmas shows in the suburbs and at an annual Chicago Fair Trade pop-up shop in Lincoln Park.
Artisans 21 also shuttered in 2013 — after the old Harper Court was demolished by the University of Chicago in 2008, the group couldn't find another affordable space.
“Cindy was a very positive person — things didn’t affect her from the point of view of being frustrated and so forth,” said Richard, her husband, about the twin closings. “She would just move on to something else.”
Apart from her freelance fair trading, she worked on finding ways to showcase other talented craftspeople on the South Side. She ran knitting workshops for members of Hyde Park Village, the neighborhood’s senior community, and she continued with her own work.
"They turned their attic into a studio, and it was just a fabric haven," said Ann Maffeo, her daughter. "Richard would always joke there were just bags of knitting supplies around the house."
During the COVID-19 crisis, Pardo sewed 200 masks for Lawrence Hall, a nonprofit that works with at-risk youth.
"This is a woman who knew she was having surgery on her heart, but come May 1, when the mask mandate went into effect, she was like, 'Well, I gotta make masks for these kids because they need some way to protect themselves,' " said Maffeo.
Pardo was born March 17, 1946 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In her early teens, she moved to Chicago, where her mother had a job at the West Side’s Fred Niles Studios, in a set of buildings that would eventually give way to Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions. Pardo’s mother, a classically trained opera singer, also worked as a radio DJ — she was once arrested for obscenity after reading Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” on air.
"My mother came from a long line of feather rufflers," said Maffeo. "The fact that my mother was marching in the Civil Rights Movement in the sixties was not totally surprising to anybody who knew my Nana."
Pardo attended Francis Parker High School, 330 W. Webster Ave., where she met Marilyn Sheperd. The pair got to know each other at a coffee shop across from the school.
"You could meet there and sit, have a cup of coffee and smoke — that was the important part," said Sheperd. “We both smoked. At 14 years old we thought we were extremely sophisticated."
Sheperd would go on to found the Hyde Park School of Dance in the early '90s and, a few years later, indirectly bring Pardo to the neighborhood.
"She was at a point in her life where she needed to do something different, to explore some other avenues, and I said you should come to First Unitarian Church," Sheperd recalled telling Pardo. "It would be an opportunity for you to meet some really different people and all, and I think you’d love it."
It was at First Unitarian that Cindy met Richard Pardo.
“There were so many things she was involved in, mostly surrounding church activities,” he recalled. “For example, she worked at (Parkway Gardens) over in Woodlawn for many years both training and finding jobs for the residents of that community.”
Cindy also helped with fundraising for the church’s capital campaign, and sang in the church choir — that’s where the couple became acquainted with one another.
“She was mostly a soprano. She could sing alto very easily, and hit low notes extremely well,” Richard said.
Sheperd has her own memory of Pardo’s singing. After Sheperd’s father died, she and her siblings were trying to figure out a program for the funeral.
“I asked Cindy just to sing, if she would sing a song at the funeral. And she said, ‘I couldn’t do that. First of all, I would look at you and get hysterical.’ We were both also big criers,” Sheperd said.
“A couple of hours later, she calls me back. She said, ‘Okay, here’s the deal. I’ll sing, but the only way I can do that is if I can’t see you. I can’t look at your face and do this. So I’ll sing the song from the back of the church, and you have to promise me that you will not turn around,’ ” Sheperd continued. “And she did. She did, and I didn’t turn around. After that, that was always sort of one of our codes, like, ‘Don’t turn around.’ ”
Cindy Pardo is survived by her stepmother, Roberta Klaeser, and her husband, Dr. Richard Pardo, as well as her children James Carroll, Thomas Carroll, Ann Maffeo and Chris Pardo, and their spouses Andrea, Jennifer, Michael and Laura, respectively. She also leaves behind seven grandchildren: Conor, Alex, Benjamin, Mia, Max, Marnie and Kiara.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Cindy Pardo Memorial Fund at Lawrence Hall, 4833 N. Francisco Ave., Chicago, IL 60625, or at lawrencehall.org.