The Pin Comes Home

~ Story and photographs by Kaeleigh Beebe

Jon Wunderlich and Mara Fernandez have traveled all over the world, individually and together. Some of their favorite destinations include South Korea, Budapest, Thailand, Haiti and Iceland. Last year, the newest pin on their map became Corn Hill when they moved into the gothic revival house at 149 South Fitzhugh Street built about 1870 by Abelard Reynolds, our city’s first postmaster and founder of the original Reynolds Arcade on East Main Street.

Jon is a Rochester native who proudly grew up and went to school in the city. “To be a part of the city community again at this stage in my life is something that is really important.” After graduating from college, Jon wanted to see the world and become a writer. He got certified in TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) and flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina with “$800, no contacts, no job, and no Spanish.” He became an English teacher and eventually Associate Professor at the University of Business and Social Sciences in Buenos Aires.

Jon then did some traveling through South America, spent some time in Caracas, Venezuela working as a teacher and consultant, where he gave Intercultural Communication seminars to international companies and law firms. He also fell in love with salsa dancing and the country in general. After two years in Caracas, he moved to Cologne, Germany, giving seminars as an executive coach for Intercultural Communication and Public Speaking. Three years later, he went to the north coast of the Dominican Republic to visit his best friend and to write a book.

Mara Fernandez is from the Dominican Republic and is a Simultaneous Interpreter or Conference Interpreter. She graduated from college with a degree in architecture. In addition to Spanish, she also speaks French. The couple met at a ‘70s disco-themed Fourth of July party at the US Embassy in the Dominican Republic. Mara was working that night as an interpreter and Jon was a guest. They started a conversation at the party, continued it the next day over a five-hour lunch and have been together ever since. Being from different worlds is a never-ending journey for them as they negotiate cultural differences openly, willing to accept that some things can be seen from different points of view.

Jon Wunderlich Mara Fernandez
Mara Fernandez and Jon Wunderlich of South Fitzhugh Street

One thing they agreed on, Jon and Mara wanted a “forever home” where they could build their life together. The Dominican Republic was not the place; Mara wanted to spend more time in the United States. They chose Rochester. It offered access to New York City, Jon’s family and, most importantly, because Mara found the house online.

The couple was looking for a home in the city of Rochester with character, one that was not like the house next door, but they did not want a “fixer-upper.” They wanted to get right to living in it. The 4,000 square-foot Landmark house at 149 South Fitzhugh Street met those parameters. “It was just so beautiful.” Jon and Mara have proudly assumed their role as stewards for this historic home. They still feel a thrill every time they walk into it. “It’s kind of like a really good relationship. It’s love at first sight and it gets deeper and better,” says Jon.

One of the first things the couple did was to work on the foundation. Jon is particularly proud of the work he did to clean up and organize the basement, something few people would see but important to him nonetheless. They spent two months restoring the iron fence that runs along the sidewalk, a time consuming project but well worth the effort. Jon is grateful to the previous owners for the work that they did to restore the home to its former glory. The past work done to the house before they purchased it “made their dreams come true.”

Mara is already looking forward to future projects. She wants to restore the wood fascia and iron cresting she found buried in the garden. To see if there was anything else hidden on the grounds, the couple had a group with metal detectors spend two days combing through the yard where lots of other little discoveries were made: an 1890 penny, a Boy Scout “Good Luck” token from 1910, a gold police pin, a heart locket, and lots of nails and bolts. Now they are learning how to care for the gardens in their backyard and the landscaping that surrounds the property. “This house will forever be a work in progress.”

As for fitting into the neighborhood, Mara is attracted by the Holiday House Tours and Jon, with his nonprofit background, is interested in the Corn Hill Neighborhood Association. They have also enjoyed meeting neighbors and, jokingly, call themselves “stoop crashers.” “Everyone has been so nice, so friendly,” says Mara.

But their future may be about more than house and garden. Jon’s goal is to “have a family and be a part of this neighborhood for years to come.”

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