Tyanna Weller, Chamber president and Kate Gassman, Chamber assistant give a family painting to Lori (Bonfoey) Hnanicek. The painting, by Eugene Kools, of Niles, was found in storage at the Chamber. Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT
Tyanna Weller, Chamber president, and Kate Gassman, Chamber assistant, give a family painting to Lori (Bonfoey) Hnanicek. The painting, by Eugene Kools, of Niles, was found in storage at the Chamber.
Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT

Archived Story

Mysterious painting returned to artist’s family

Published 2:19pm Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A mysterious 30-year-old painting found in storage at the Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce has been reunited with the family of the artist.

Kate Gassman, an administrative assistant at the Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce in Niles, was cleaning out a storage area when she came across the framed oil painting still in good condition.

The painting is of an older woman sitting on a white chair and a red cushion. The artist’s name, Kools, is written on the lower right hand side.

Kelly Rock, another employee of the chamber, said the painting used to hang on the Chamber walls, but was taken down for reasons unknown and placed into storage.

No one at the chamber knows how or why the Chamber came into possession of the painting.

They don’t know who the woman is in the painting either.

“We’d just call her Momma C, or Momma Chamber,” Rock said.

With the encouragement of Chamber President Tyanna Weller, Gassman began searching for more information about the painting’s artist and subject.

Gassman learned the artist was Eugene R. Kools, a Niles native and artist who died in April of 1981.

Gassman eventually tracked down one of Kools’ relatives — a nephew, Joseph Bonfoey, of the Detroit area. Bonfoey shared with the chamber some details of his Uncle Kools. He was born and raised in Niles and served in World War II. He lived in New York for many years, before moving back to the area in the late 1960s or early ‘70s.

The chamber presented the painting Monday to Kools’ niece, Lori (Bonfoey) Hnanicek, of St. Joseph.

Hnanicek, who grew up in Niles, said she would give the painting to her mother, Patricia (Kools) Bonfoey — the last living member of the Kools family.

“I am absolutely flabbergasted,” said Hnanicek upon receiving the painting. “I couldn’t believe it. I am just so excited and grateful they took the time to find out about the painting. Most people wouldn’t do that.”

Hnanicek said seeing the painting brought back memories of time spent with uncle Gene.

“He used to do sketches for newspapers,” she said. “Some of the larger upscale stores would send prom dresses to him. He would sketch the ads and I would get to model the dresses.”

Hnanicek doesn’t know the identity of the woman in the painting. However, she thinks it might be the last painting he ever finished.

Written on the back of the painting is “January – April, 1981.” Hnanicek said that is likely the time period in which the painting was created.

Eugene Kools died in April 27, 1981 at age 53.

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