Doorperson of the Month: Johnson has stories to tell

by Mat Cohen

Johnson, who has worked at 200 E. Delaware Place for 37 years, is the Streeterville Doorperson of the Month.

If there are similarities between tending to 60 aquariums of freshwater tropical fish and being a doorman in a high-rise apartment building, Ralph Johnson would know.

For 27 years, Johnson successfully bred tropical fish and at his peak sold to 30 pet stores in the Chicago area. He’s also been at the door during the reconstruction of three lobbies, while generations grew old with their families.

“It’s nice, you see the people through the years,” he said. “Everyone is really friendly, I’ve seen people with little kids when they came here, and now their kids are having kids.

“And I’ve seen those children come to live here.”

Johnson’s favorite part of the job is building connections with residents. Some of which he’s had over to his house for barbecues.

“Helping people is a big thing,” he said. “I’m more personable, but there are some people that seem more attached to certain people.

“It’s personable when you’re a condo doorman rather than a hotel doorman. You get to know the people.”

Johnson has many stories to tell about love, friends and family. But his greatest story is of meeting his wife.

About 10 years ago, his future wife moved into the building to work as a cleaning lady. They met and ended up getting married on a cliff in Lake Tahoe with just the two of them and a minister. A dream come true for Johnson.

He also built a great relationship with a Jewish Hungarian couple who showed him the definition of true love each day.

“They would always walk hand in hand when they went out,” he said. “You could see a real love between them.

“When she couldn’t get out and was getting into her 80s, he would walk from underneath this canopy out front and look up to his wife in the window and wave. He would shuffle another 10 or 15 feet and look up and wave. Before he got to the end of the block he would do that three or four times. Their love was really strong.”

Johnson looks forward to his birthday in June and retiring around that time as well. He’ll be happy to have more time without the commute from Des Plaines.

Doorperson of the month: Jose Rivera, 530 N. Lake Shore Drive

By Jesse Wright

Jose Rivera knows how to keep his eye on the ball and stay in the game. Whether it’s playing centerfield in the softball field at Horner Park, or in the lobby of 530 N. Lake Shore Drive, where he is the doorperson, Rivera likes staying on his toes.

Rivera has worked at the Streeterville building for nearly seven years and he said it’s his first doorperson job. But he loves it. 

As the head doorperson he trains staff and manages guests and residents. Rivera said he likes the energy of the job.

“Normal days here are a rollercoaster,” he said. “It’ll get super busy for a little bit and then nothing. And then it’ll get super busy again and then nothing. And it’s like that most days.”

But Rivera keeps up with the pace. “You ride the wave,” he said.

The building includes 188 units, and over the past six years, Rivera said he’s gotten to know all the faces in the place. Everyone, he said, is pleasant. Rivera said he has never had much of an issue as a doorperson.

“You get the occasional tourist who walks in because they’re lost or they need to use the bathroom but no real problems with anybody,” he said. Rivera thinks of himself as a positive person and said that that is a quality he looks for in new doorstaff.

“They got to have a good personality, patience, and they’ve got to be positive. If you’re not positive you’re not going to succeed,” he said.

Away from the desk, Rivera likes to spend time with his family. His three boys and a girl keep him busy and he also plays sports. In the winter he’s on the basketball court and during the rest of the month he’s in centerfield as part of his softball league.

Why centerfield? “There’s lots of action,” Rivera said. “I like to keep in the action.”

To nominate your favorite doorperson, email info@neweastsidecommunity.com with the door person’s name and why you think they should be the doorperson of the month. Each winner will receive a $25 gift card to Mariano’s.

Doorperson of the month: Harry Harris at Lake Point Tower

(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Harry Harris has spent most of his life serving the federal government.

First, he served in the Marine Corps. He spent nine years in the service, and he enjoyed his time.

“I loved serving the country,” Harris said. “It was a different experience and I like to try new things. It had its hectic moments in there, but it was worth it. You get a different outlook.”

His work took him to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, to Hawaii and even to Cuba, to Guantanamo.

“I was there about six months,” he said of his time in Cuba. “It’s different now. You only could be on the base at that time, but it was beautiful. Well, what we could see. We couldn’t see outside the base.”

After that, Harris worked for decades walking the streets of Chicago delivering letters for the postal service. Harris said he likes to stay busy, so as he pounded the pavement during the day, he managed to squeeze in extra hours as a doorman at Lake Shore Tower, until he had to change shifts at the post office. After 25 years as a letter carrier, he retired.

“Management told me one of the doormen was retiring, and did I want to come back,” Harris recalled. “And I wanted to come back.”

That was in 2011, and he hasn’t looked back. Harris said he loves Lake Point Tower for the reasons many doorpeople love their buildings—the residents are great and he’s made friends at the job—but he added that the building itself is an attraction.

This year the building is 51 years old, and Harris said it still attracts tourists and visitors, people curious to see one of the more significant residential properties downtown. Architects John Heinrich and George Schipporeit designed Lake Point Tower. Both were proteges of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and the curving, Y-shaped design continues to attract students and fans of architecture—most of whom get turned away except during the Chicago Architecture Center’s annual open house in October.

“This is one of the buildings that people always want to get in to,” Harris said. “Every day, we have people come in off the street and say, ‘can we go upstairs?’ and we say, ‘no sorry. It’s a private building.’”

When workers completed the building in 1968, it was the tallest residential tower in the world and while that distinction no longer stands, it does remain the only major residential structure on the lakefront side of Lake Shore Drive. Given the city’s prohibition on future development, the building will likely maintain that distinction.

All of these things make the building popular among residents and wannabe residents.

“What building do you know has a three-acre park on the third floor?” Harris asked. “It’s got a park, an outdoor pool an outdoor pond and BBQ area a waterfall, it’s a whole park. You have restaurants here with a beautiful view. You don’t gotta leave unless you want to.”

And few do. Harris said the building has about 875 units and they’re generally all full or if they’re not, they’re in the process of being bought. Units don’t stay empty too long. 

“I love the people here,” he said. “It’s like a family. They make me feel like I’m part of the family you got all these different families but they make you feel like you’re part of their family. It’s a beautiful atmosphere. I’ve been offered other jobs but I say no, I’m not going to leave Lake Point.”

To nominate your favorite doorperson, email info@neweastsidecommunity.com with the door person’s name and why you think they should be the doorperson of the month. Each winner will receive a $25 gift card to Mariano’s.

Streeterville Doorperson of the Month: Kahari “KJ” Jones at North Water Apartments

(Published July 31, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Kahari Jones has been working at the North Water Apartments for nearly two years and he’s already made an impression. He was nominated by two separate residents.

This isn’t his first building as a door person though. Years ago, he started at 510 W. Erie on the Lake and he was there for four years, until his mother died. It was a hard time and he said it about wrecked him.

“If you’d have saw me when it happened, you’d have said he’s not going to make it,” Jones said. “But time is the cure for most things. But by the time I was whole again they had another person who was pretty good and they brought me over here.”

Jones said he enjoys the building, and its mix of young and older residents.

“If you’re leaning too much to one side or another, it takes away from the balance of the building, “Jones explained. “I’ve had people who have come here from some other buildings who have said it was just too young over there, it was a college atmosphere. We’ve got people return here who have come back because of that.”

The building is about 427 units and while it is at the end of a cul-de-sac with very little traffic, Jones said it can get busy at times. On the day of the interview, the garage elevator was down, which was frustrating for residents and Jones.

“That can really cripple the building,” he explained.

Jones went to college in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and while there, he fell in love with New Orleans, a one-hour-and-20-minute drive east.

“I love the state of Louisiana,” he said. “I always say this about Louisiana and New Orleans specifically, that the eating is comparable to here in Chicago.”

Like the rest of America, Jones watched in horror after the levees breeched following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Jones went down to New Orleans following the storm and volunteered to clean out houses and do what he could for the city he loved.

“It was very humbling because what you saw on TV, it did nothing. That was nothing,” Jones said. “When I touched down and then drove into the city, for miles and miles the trees were mangled at their tops and they were always pointed in the same direction, hanging, facing the same direction. Then, when we came into the city, hundreds of cars were flipped over. The stuff I saw on TV versus the stuff I saw when I got there, it was drastically different.”

Jones volunteered with a couple of cleanup crews. He worked long summer days, tearing out drywall and mucking out houses for residents who were very much depending on the kindness of strangers. It was hard, hot work, but Jones said it changed him for the better.

“It was one of the best things for me,” he said. “It reinvented my disposition. What I can say is, I feel as though I will never really work again after that.” 
To nominate your favorite doorperson, email info@neweastsidecommunity.com with the door person’s name and why you think they should be the doorperson of the month. Each winner will receive a $25 gift card to Mariano’s.

Doorperson of the Month: Melvin Hunt

(Published June 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Melvin Hunt, has a long history as a Streeterville doorperson. 

He’s spent the last 26 years at 201 E. Chestnut St., and before that, 11 years at a building across the street. In that time, he’s made quite an impression with residents and management.

As he walks through the lobby, Tom Mahar, Hunt’s boss, stops to praise his employee.

“He’s the best doorman in the city of Chicago,” Mahar said. “And all of the suburbs.”

Hunt said the trick to being a good doorperson is kindness and courtesy.

“You have to be nice,” he said. “And you have to get along with people. You have to learn names. You have to be good at learning names.”

Hunt said 201 E. Chestnut was built about 56 years ago, 10 years before Hunt got to the city, following a move from Memphis.

“I had aunts and relatives up here and I used to go visit them over the summers, and when I become 21 I decided to move up here,” Hunt said. There seemed to be better opportunities in Chicago than down in Tennessee, he said.

Over the decades, Hunt made a home for himself in the city. He’s got a wife, five grown children, grandchildren and even some great-grandchildren. 

And he discovered a passion for working the door.

“I like to meet new people,” he said. “It’s a great job.”

He estimates there are about 300 residents in the building, and he’s worked hard to memorize names and personalities of all.

“If I see someone two or three times, I’ll know their names and stuff like that,” he said. “If  you see them every day it becomes easy.”

Other than helping with the door, packages and hailing cabs, Hunt said his job is fairly low-key. This year roving groups of youth have harassed and in some cases attacked pedestrians in Streeterville, but Hunt said those problems don’t make it down Chestnut.

“It’s a very quiet neighborhood,” he said.

When not working, Hunt said he spends time at home and running errands.

“Well, there’s nothing much I do,” he said. “There are a lot of doctors’ appointments. And I go shopping with my wife. She loves to shop. To her it’s relaxing. I hate it.”

Hunt may get a lot more free time soon. He will turn 70 within three years, and expects to retire by then. Hunt said he already knows what will fill his days.

“That’ll probably be it,” he sighed. “Shopping with the wife.”

To nominate your favorite doorperson, email info@neweastsidecommunity.com with the door person’s name and why you think they should be the doorperson of the month. Each winner will receive a $25 gift card to Mariano’s. 

Doorperson of the month: Lavelle Barnett, 850 N. Lake Shore Drive

(Published on May 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Lavelle Barnett has been the doorperson since 1996 and at 850 N. Lake Shore Drive since 2013. He said he particularly likes 850 Lake Shore Drive because of its storied past. Once known as the Lake Shore Athletic Club, it was built in 1927 though by 2005 it sat empty and faced demolition until developers turned it into luxury apartments.

Barnett works first shift, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and he’s the head doorperson, overseeing five other staff members.

“It’s hard work, but we get it done; we’re a team,” Barnett said. “And everybody around here treats each other with respect.”

Barnett said the building has about 240 residents who make up a small community he is happy to be a part of. For most of his career, he’s worked in the Gold Coast and Streeterville areas and he said he’s learned a lot from watching residents.

“I can say this community raised me,” he said. “I learned a lot just watching the way the people I worked for, how they would raise their children. It taught me what makes a good school and how my child can take a test to see how far her academics can go. They taught me life lessons, to save money, be grateful and be good to people who are good to you and all of those little things.”

Barnett said it’s important for the doorperson—especially the first shift doorperson—to set the tone for residents in the morning by being cheerful and helpful. He said he likes that part of the job.

“It gives me pleasure,” Barnett said. “I think I was bred for service. I love providing service, I do.”

Barnett said the work isn’t for everyone, because being a doorman means not thinking about personal issues and not bringing frustration, anger or even pain into work. He recently lost a child, but when he was at work, he focused on the residents.

“You can’t bring it in here,” he said. “I’m speaking from experience. You can’t take it in. You got a lot of people depending on you and you have people who have already had a bad morning and when they come past, they have to see you in good spirits to let them know everything is going to be alright.”

To nominate your favorite doorperson, email info@neweastsidecommunity.com with the door person’s name and why you think they should be the doorperson of the month. Each winner will receive a $25 gift card to Mariano’s.

Bob Jackson is the Streeterville doorperson of the month for May

(Published April 29, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, staff writer

Bob Jackson is a doorperson unlike most in Streeterville because he works at The Clare, a senior independent living community. Jackson’s been at the job for 10-and-a-half years, since the building opened.

This isn’t his first building, but he said being a doorperson for a senior community is different than being the doorperson at a residential building. Jackson said the senior center is  better.

“The personality of the Clare is, I guess for me, it’s like having a building full of my mom’s friends or my grandparents and their friends with all their quirkiness and wisdom,” Jackson said. “There are a lot of very successful people here. I’ve learned a lot and grown from these residents. This is the greatest generation here.”

The energy at the Clare is different. Some condos and apartments bustle with energy every morning as residents stream out into the world while some days can be slow and downright dull. Not so at the Clare.

“The energy level is a little lower, but the expectation is higher,” Jackson said. “These people have travelled and they know what they want. They’ve lived long lives. My job is to make sure the level of service they’ve come to expect is still there for them. If you spend the kind of money to move into a place like this, you have expectations and that’s a challenge from my perspective.”

Besides helping with bags and packages, Jackson said he has helped residents repair walkers and change hearing aid batteries and sometimes even help with clothing buttons.

“This community is just that,” Jackson said. “People looking out for each other across the board. I lost my father since I started working here. But the response from the community was overwhelming. They stepped up in a way that let me know I was part of this place. It was moving. They stepped up and, in a way, helped me get through the process. You have to remember that everybody has been touched by some types of tragedy or loss and they helped me walk through that. That was the first parent I lost. That let me know too that part of this place is more involved than calling cabs and pushing carts. Family would be a good way to put it.”

Bob Jackson is the Streeterville doorperson of the month and he works at the Clare. Photo by Jesse Wright

Alfred Veal, Streeterville Doorperson of the Month

(Published April 1,2019)

By Jesse Wright

For the past 34 years, residents at 111 E. Chestnut St. have had a familiar face greet them every day: Alfred Veal.

Veal has watched families start and children grow into adults. And he loves it.

“I love people,” he said. “And you know loving people and meeting different people and just seeing different things, that’s what kept me here.

Veal said a lot has changed over the decades. A church across the street used to be a parking lot. His building has changed, too. When he started, it was an apartment rental building. Now, 111 E. Chestnut is a condominium complex. The change brought an influx of younger residents.

In his first days at the building, he wasn’t a doorperson. “I was working for security in the garage and I had a buddy of mine who was a doorman here and when he left, he recommended me for the job,” Veal said.


When he did get the job, he didn’t look back. “I worked midnights [shifts for] two nights and I’ve been on days ever since,” he said.

The building has 444 units. Veal said before he knew the residence and the people who lived there, he didn’t love the job. “I had to get to know the people,” he said. “You have to build the relationship for you and the people.”

Veal said the job consists of getting cabs for people, helping residents with their luggage and knowing children’s birthdays and the personalities of each resident.

Veal has learned to listen to people. “Be attentive to people,” he said. “Be attentive to their needs and wants and just pay attention. Pay attention and don’t speak as much. Speak when you need to speak and you go from there.”

When he’s not working, Veal said he enjoys reading, going to church and fishing, either near his home or at Starved Rock State Park. But don’t look to Veal for fishing tips. “Nah, I’m trying to learn tips from other people,” he laughed.

To nominate your favorite doorperson, email info@neweastsidecommunity.com with the door person’s name and why you think they should be the doorperson of the month. Each winner will receive a $25 gift card to Mariano’s.

Alfred Veal is the doorperson at 111 East Chestnut and he is the April doorperson of the month. Photo by Jesse Wright

Tom Bohlen is the Streeterville doorperson of the month

By Elizabeth Czapski, Staff Writer

Tom Bohlen has been a doorman at 201 E. Chestnut St. since 2007. Previously, he worked in construction, but after he was laid off, a friend of a friend suggested he apply to the building. He’s been there ever since.

Morning is madness, a scramble to get residents out the door and on their way, into cabs and off to work, Bohlen said. After that, it settles down and he accepts packages and greets visitors.

Bohlen said he’s always been a people person, and his favorite part of his job is interacting with residents.

“I enjoy my job [and] watching people go by,” he said.

His most memorable experience as a doorman has been seeing the kids in the building grow up, Bohlen said.

Aspiring doorpeople should be attentive and polite, he said. Anyone who wants to work in the field must be a people person, ready to learn the ways and the routines of residents.

“Keep your eyes and ears open. Get to know people, what their habits are,” he said.

Bohlen said when he’s not working, he likes to golf and he enjoys spending time with his rescue dog, a red nose pitbull named Bear, whom he calls “Cookie.”

Bohlen was nominated for Streeterville Doorperson of the Month by Gayle Hargrove, a resident and board secretary of the building. She praised Bohlen’s dedication to his job and the building.

“In all my years as a resident, I have not known him to ‘call in’ an absence unexpectedly—including during the recent polar vortex when his train broke down on his way to work,” she wrote in an email. “Tom has an uncanny way of learning our (resident’s) habits…and always has a kind word to offer.”

To nominate your favorite doorperson, email info@neweastsidecommunity.com with the door person’s name and why you think they should be the doorperson of the month. Each winner will receive a $25 gift card to Mariano’s.

Doorperson of the month: Oladayo Taiwu

By Elizabeth Czapski, Staff Writer

Being a doorman comes naturally to Oladayo Taiwo.

“I no longer see it as a job. I just see it like part of me already,” he said. “I think that’s why I put in my best doing what I do.”

Taiwo, originally from Nigeria, has worked at 600 N. Lake Shore Drive for eight years. He works the morning shift, from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. The security and customer service aspects of what he does are the most important, he said. That includes taking care of and assisting residents “the best way we can.”

Janice Avery, onsite property manager for the building, nominated Taiwo for Doorperson of the Month.

According to Avery, Taiwo, “is personally responsible for overseeing the inner workings of the building with over 1,000 residents. Increased resident traffic in the building, especially during the Air and Water Show, Fourth of July and our building parties, demands Taiwo is present and that our property stays orderly,” Avery wrote. “It is Taiwo who will go the extra mile in keeping confidentiality surrounding such events, while still responding to owner inquiries about the event, all done with class.”

Taiwo spends his free time cooking delicious meals. “I love to get myself a bottle of wine, cook, watch movies…I cook everything I can cook, a lot of African delicacies,” he said. “I like spicy food.” He spends a lot of time finding new recipes on YouTube.

Taiwo said he got the job because he wanted to do something good for himself. People getting into his line of work have to think about what their motivations are, he said. “Discover for yourself if it is something you really want to go into, or if you just want to do it temporarily, or just do it for financial purposes or whatever,” he said.

“Whatever you do, you just have to make sure it’s part of you,” Taiwo said. “I would say the best thing, is to enjoy it.”

To nominate a doorperson, email info@neweastsidecommunity.com

[Oladayo Taiwo loves his job as a doorperson at the North Lake Shore Drive residency and when he’s not at work, he loves to cook. Photo courtesy Oladayo Taiwo]

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