Virgie: a woman of great words, great work

04 Nov, 2013

by Molly Snyder

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Seven months ago, Virgie Johnson found poetry. Or maybe it found her.

It started after she went to a poetry set at a Milwaukee nightclub called Nostalgia that features a spoken word event every Tuesday night called Poetry Unplugged.

“I went and I fell in love,” says Virgie, who has worked in housekeeping at the Pfister for three years and, prior to that, at the Hilton Hotel for 10 years.

These days, if you watch Virgie long enough, either on the job or in her personal life, you will see her occasionally scribble something onto a napkin or a scrap of paper.

“I write mostly about relationships. Love, hate. You know, relationships,” she says.

Eventually, Virgie found herself on stage at Nostalgia and now she tries to go every week, even if she has to go alone.

“It’s my sanctuary. No matter what’s going on at home or at work I can feel inner peace for a minute when I’m there,” she says. “ I take care of so many people at home and at work, the poetry takes care of me.”

Recently, Virgie performed at the Marcus Employee Show during Gallery Night and the next week, I went to see Virgie perform at Nostalgia. Both times I was blown away by her honesty, her storytelling skills and the sound of her smooth, confident voice.

Virgie performs at Nostalgia.

Virgie performs at Nostalgia.

Virgie grew up on Chicago’s South Side. She moved to Milwaukee years ago because she thought it would be a positive place to raise her five children.

“I thought Milwaukee was a slower pace than Chicago,” she says.

Living in Milwaukee definitely worked in her family’s favor. Her oldest daughter is a college graduate living and working in Memphis and her oldest granddaughter says she wants to be like “Grandma Virgie” when she grows up.

Family is very important to Virgie. But so is work.

“I have a passion to make people smile, to make people feel welcome. It’s in my nature. I don’t know what else I would do if I wasn’t greeting people,” says Virgie.

Virgie says she deeply connected with former Artist-in-Residence  Timothy Westbrook – her daughter was one of his models earlier this year – as well as current  AiR, Stephanie Barenz, whom she shares her poems with while on a break.

“I think I connect with people who are different because I am different,” she says.

Virgie loves her job at the Pfister so much that even though she gets four weeks of vacation every year she still has three weeks and three days left and fewer than two months to use it up.

“Even in the mall, I’m holding elevator doors  for people and saying ‘hi’ to people when I’m walking down the street. Some people think I’m crazy. But that’s just my nature. And that’s why I fell in love with this company. If you treat them good, they treat you good,” says Virgie.

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About the author

Molly Snyder

Molly Snyder has lived in Milwaukee her entire life. She started keeping a diary when she was four and published her first poem at age 10 called “The Unicorn” in the now-defunct Shorewood Herald. Today, she writes less about mythical creatures and more about Milwaukee people and places. She is a senior writer at OnMilwaukee.com, where she has worked for the last 12 years. Telling people’s stories is her passion.

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