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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Mitch Dudek

Irena Dujmovic-Terman fled war-torn homeland, opened antiques shop in Chicago, dead at 52

Irena Dujmovic-Terman at her antiques shop, Proper Bonkers, 4003 N. Elston Ave. (Provided)

Decades before realizing her dream of opening Proper Bonkers — an antiques shop on the Northwest Side — Irena Dujmovic-Terman fled war-torn Bosnia with her boyfriend and a backpack.

Its contents were a what-would-you-bring-to-a-desert-island mishmash of books, clothes and cassette tapes, as well as what little money they had. The heaviest item was a chunk of stone from the bombed and burnt ruins of the historic Sarajevo library where Mrs. Dujmovic-Terman, a language student, devoted countless hours to study.

She and her punk rocker boyfriend, Ron Terman, escaped the besieged city of their youth. It was 1994 and they were both 24. They hitched rides, trekked through forests and hopscotched their way west, from friend to friend and sofa to sofa, to reach a refugee camp in the Netherlands.

She worked at a dog kennel and used her language skills — she spoke five — to help fellow refugees. He played guitar on the street and quickly learned that a fiery rendition of “Radar Love” by the Dutch band Golden Earring pulled in the most coin. 

The chance of a better, more stable life presented itself when the couple, who got married along the way, was granted political asylum in 1996 and came to Chicago. They both found jobs at O’Hare Airport — he at a music shop selling CDs and she at a book stall.

The chunk of stone accompanied them and was prominently placed in their first studio apartment in Portage Park.

It was buried with Mrs. Dujmovic-Terman at Graceland Cemetery on the North Side after she died Jan. 21 from a heart attack. She was 52. 

A chunk of stone from the bombed and burnt ruins of the historic Sarajevo library where Mrs. Dujmovic-Terman devoted countless hours to studying. (Provided)

“It represented the home we lost, the place where we’re from,” her husband said.

Mrs. Dujmovic-Terman, who for years managed Barnes and Noble bookstores in Chicago and worked as an interior designer for Walter E. Smithe furniture company, was “a beam of light,” her husband said.

“She is the most courageous and positive person I will ever meet in my life. The love of my life. A very, very strong woman. Very opinionated, very direct but at the same time very friendly and constantly searching for new experiences and things to learn and making connections with people by being very open and honest,” he said. “She never lost joy even in the hardest of times.”

Mrs. Dujmovic-Terman loved hunting for antique furniture and odds and ends. The couple decided to make such quests their livelihood and in 2021 opened Proper Bonkers at 4003 N. Elston Ave. — just down the road from their home.

Mrs. Dujmovic-Terman wrote the store’s name in lipstick on their bathroom mirror for her husband to find after it appeared in her head.

Irena Dujmovic-Terman and her husband, Ron Terman, outside Proper Bonkers, which they opened in 2021. (Provided)

During the pandemic, she began writing and posting to Facebook vignettes detailing her experience living in Sarajevo during the yearslong siege of the city during the Bosnian War.

“In the war, there’s no innocent side really and people don’t want to admit to that, but she wrote honestly and spared no truths, ready to go down to the bare bones to say the truth, and hundreds of people started to follow her,” her husband said.

The couple didn’t make extra efforts to join local diasporas.

“We never really got involved with our old communities in Chicago. We did not want that. After the war, there were still hot emotions. We didn’t want to be associated with any particular nationality, or for people to judge our son by the way his last name is,” Ron Terman said.

The two had been together since age 16 and Mrs. Dujmovic-Terman’s best friend introduced them. 

“After we met, she wrote me a letter saying she wanted to go out and for me to call her. It was really sweet and really brave. What kind of a girl writes a letter like that? She found me, man,” he said.

Mrs. Dujmovic-Terman was also an avid gardener, who planted gardens on three sides of her corner-lot home in Irving Park.

“She always used to say ‘I hope these flowers love me as much as I love them,’” her husband recalled.

“She completely made it magical,” said her son, Marlon. “Kids in the neighborhood would stop and she’d tell them about flowers. And she gave fresh mint to the mechanics across the street, who are from Palestine, for their tea. She made a landscape collage of pottery and glass and basically transformed this corner.”

Irena Dujmovic-Terman in her garden. (Provided)

Mrs. Dujmovic-Terman was “very stylish, but humble, and took over the room just with her laughter,” said her friend Mada Leanga. “She was kind of mesmerizing. You kind of wanted to hang out with her and know more about her.” 

She also loved swimming in Lake Michigan and biking and would attend fireworks shows along the lakefront with her family on July Fourth, despite misgivings.

“Even though we’re not big fans of fireworks because of memories of the war and PTSD and the noises of grenades, that’s our problem. It was nice for Marlon. He didn’t need to know about that.”

Services have been held.

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