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.