This gentleman was visiting The Pfister for his birthday and meeting a friend of 40 years to celebrate and reminisce. While he waited for his friend, he shared a portion of the difficult but rewarding work he used to do as a mental health professional.
My dad was a businessman in Big Bay, Michigan, so he sent me to a private business college to follow in his footsteps. But I dropped out before year-end because of my experience working at Bay Cliff, a camp for physically handicapped kids. I knew that I wasn’t in my element with business, but Bay Cliff showed me my path. I went home, pursued a degree in Management in Psychology, and became part of the community mental health movement that started back then. Michigan and other states were beginning to close mental health institutions and move patients into their own home communities. I worked for a state institution where I saw people locked behind closed doors–and actually got to see those same people moved into the community where they could learn how to become self-sufficient.
I worked for thirty years at St. Mary’s Hill Hospital in its adolescent psych ward. The only diverse thing I saw in Milwaukee was at St. Mary’s Hill. Back then, the laws allowed parents to send their kids to an institution for misbehavior and things like that. So you had your black kids from north side with the Port Washington kids with the Whitefish Bay kids with the south side kids–all doing the same group therapy. Their stories were so incredibly diverse.
Coming from a fairly affluent family, these stories–along with the compassionate role he assumed as a mental health professional–broadened his horizons and gave him the ability to see everyone as an individual.
I retired after thirty years so I could keep my own sanity. It takes a toll. I rewarded myself throughout the years by coming to The Pfister and treating my folks to some of what they treated us to growing up. One time I was here, a homeless person came into the lobby and he was loud and security was surrounding him. I knew how to deal with him, though, and offered to help. I went up to him and whispered, “You want a Coke, don’t you?” The bartender got him a Coke, it was really good, and he left.