Since I started my narratorship at the Pfister in May, I have become a master eavesdropper. It’s true: I can be sitting on the other side of the lounge or the cafe and if someone starts to tell a good story, I swear my ears double in size.
This happened recently when I was hanging out in the lobby, trying to feel out who might have a good yarn to tell, and I suddenly heard Bob Ellisor, who was having a drink with his daughters and friends, share a story with a server about his father.
His story ended with a group laugh and within seconds, I was at the edge of his table, introducing myself and asking if he would retell the story to me.
“I would love to,” he said.
Bob went on to tell me he was from Adams, Wis. but he hoped to live in Milwaukee someday.
“Moving to Milwaukee has been a part of my five-year plan for 15 years now,” said Bob. “It’s a cool place to be and, also, it’s where my parents met.”
Bob’s parents met at Cass and Juneau Streets right after World War II where they both lived in a boarding house.
“It was a beautiful building with lots of ivy,” Bob said.
His parents had an unconventional first meeting. “My dad met my mom when my mom’s brother, who would later be my uncle, accused him of stealing a suit and called the cops on him,” he says.
Whether or not he stole the suit is unclear, but one thing’s for sure: he fell in love with Bob’s mother.
“My dad, his name was JD, was quite a character. He was like a 1940s movie character – sartorial – and he had a lot of flair,” he said.
JD, originally from North Carolina, went on the GI Bill after the war and found himself in Milwaukee attending the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
“He was something he would never call himself: a war hero. And he was a very intelligent man, but after everything he went through – all those horrific experiences – and then to come back as a civilian again … it was tough. He didn’t have any money and yet he was starting a new life,” said Bob. “He had a very fish-out-of-water story.”
Bob said JD took a job at the Pfister Hotel and would tell stories from that experience for the rest of his life.
“He always told us it’s one thing to have your coat brushed and put back on but a whole ‘nother thing to brush someone else’s coat and put it back on them,” he said.
JD also supposedly delivered cocktails to hotel guests. “He used to go downstairs to get the drinks and bring them to the upper levels and he would always take a little sip out of each one … I don’t know how long he was employed here.”
Bob’s parents moved briefly to North Carolina, but there was a housing shortage, and so they moved to the upper peninsula in Michigan.
“My dad was the only one in the UP with a Southern accent,” said Bob. “That voice. Oh, he was loud as hell on the phone. My brother used to say dad didn’t think phones actually worked.”
JD worked as an electrician and appliance repair man. He fathered eight children and passed away at the age of 63 in 1986.
“He was a guy who celebrated the simplest things,” said Bob. “When he took the whole family out, he would put on a little aftershave and make every single one of us smell him.”
Bob stopped talking then, thanked me for listening to his story about his dad, and referred to our interaction as a “happy accident.”
“I come here because there’s a lot of nostalgia here,” said Bob. “But I also come here so I can repeat those stories and to celebrate the little things, like my dad. And by the way, when you weren’t looking, I took a sip out of your drink.”