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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

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The Pfister Hotel is illuminating in many ways. (PHOTO: Royal Brevväxling )

Reflections on my role as The Pfister Narrator


Check in early and stay late during OnMilwaukee.com's "Hotel Week" sponsored by VISIT Milwaukee. The next seven days will be packed with stories about historic area hotels, reviews, famous guests, food and drink, overnights with kids and more. Find out what it's like to be a tourist in this town. (Chocolate on your pillow not included.)

Last spring, I was selected as The Pfister Hotel's sixth Pfister Narrator. Prior to me, local writers Stacie Williams, Julie Ferris, Ed Makowski, Dasha Kelly and Jenna Kashou held the post.

The role of the narrator is to spend time in the hotel, talking to guests about what brings them to the hotel and documenting their stories via The Pfister's blog. But it included much more than that, too.

Over the past 10 months, I have heard some amazing stories, including one about a couple who decided to wed at the age of 90 and two women who blew me away with their heartbreaking honesty and their shoe collection.

I also visited the grave of Guido Pfister with flowers, rode the elevator all night and interviewed a lion, but I might have had one too many at the Lobby Bar that night.

In November, the six-month narratorship was extended for a full year. Although this is a lot to take on because of my unwavering commitments to my family and OnMilwaukee.com, I was honored and thrilled to keep going.

And I just wasn't ready to let go.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the job has been working with and becoming friends with the artist-in-residence, Stephanie Barenz. From the moment I saw her beautiful work – laden with Milwaukee imagery, particularly the clock tower which I can see from my yard – I knew we had a connection.

Stephanie and I have collaborated in many ways during the year. I have learned so much about visual storytelling through Stephanie and also caught a bad case of wanderlust from all of her paintings and tales from faraway places. (I do have a trip to Indianapolis on deck for this year, but that's not quite remedy-enough for the road trip blues.)

Stephanie and I also created a collection of greeting cards and hosted a storytelling event that had nine Milwaukee artists compete with stories about art. Anja Sieger won this event.

I wrote companion copy for most of the paintings she has completed this year and The Pfister has funded a book of her paintings and my writings. She painted my "life story" as a thank you for the writing, and the piece completely blows me away. I have lost sleep wondering where I will hang this in my house – it doesn't seem I have a wall that will do it justice.

As I watch Stephanie finish up her last painting, and my favorite Lobby Bar bartender moved on, I sense it is almost time for me go, too. I have six weeks left, but I am already feeling nostalgia. I have visualized myself removing "Pfister Narrator" from my Facebook profile and actually teared up. (Geez, somebody knock me over the head with my laptop, mmmkay? Oh wait, it's a Macbook Air, too light. Shoot.)

But aside from my friendship with Stephanie and so many other Pfister employees, the greatest gift from this role has been realizing how much I love Milwaukee history.

I have always considered myself more of a pop culture enthusiast with a mild interest in history, but within the past year, I have felt closer to and hungrier for the past than ever. I always knew I had that gene in there somewhere, my father had a doctorate in American history, but it took a gaggle of decades for it to fester, I guess.

I'm certainly not about to rival Milwaukee historian John Gurda, or my coworker Bobby Tanzilo for that matter, but I am on this path now, too, thanks to spending so much time in the opulent, historic Pfister Hotel.

On, Milwaukee – past, present and future.


Talkbacks

JenniWho | March 18, 2014 at 3:00 p.m. (report)

Huzzah! You've done a beautiful job as Pfister Narrator, and I will miss reading your vignettes.

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