People, Walker's Point

“It’s tough but at least I have this”

Mary Koerner looks down at her phone as she sits on a bench in front of Soup Bros. She’s just waiting for work to start.

Koerner isn’t from Milwaukee, though. It’s just been the last of a couple different stops. But, she says, Syracuse, New York, where she grew up, isn’t that much different. What’s it like? “Like here. Cold, snowy, you know,” she says with a smile.

It might have been chilly but Koerner describes her parents as just the opposite. Her father was self-employed – he installed aluminum siding. “He did it all through the winter, everything,” she says. “Six days a week – he’d always take off one day.”

And, her mom? She ran a daycare out of their home. “They loved her and my dad. Every body called her ‘Katie’ and my dad was always ‘Uncle Bob,’” recalls Koerner. “They even came when my mom died a few years ago. Two of the young brothers that, uh…I watched them, too – Wesley and John – they came to my mom’s funeral. That says a lot to me; that says a lot.”

But, right after she finished high school, Koerner left New York for California. She ended up getting a job at UC-Berkeley where she met her husband of 20-some years.

Koerner worked at Berkeley for a while and then her and her husband decided to go into business together. “I was there for 10 years and then we got a family business goin’ – another 10 years.”

She’s worked a number of different jobs over the years, most in staffing, accounting or something similar, but Koerner says her favorite job of all was when she worked at Six Flags in California, tracking attendance and revenue.

“I loved that job. That was cool because, you know, you go out and take a break and on the back row…there’d be tigers walking by, elephants, you know, Maggie the Chimp – she’d come on that little cart and it was hysterical. It was fun cause they’d give her 50 cents and she’d put it in the little vending machine and she always hit the Rolos; she loved her Rolos.”

“And, when I would get stressed, I’d go over to the giraffe dock cause they’re very peaceful,” Koerner remembers fondly. “It was just very calming to see them.”

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Now, Koerner cleans an office building at 3rd and Florida. “Yeah, sixth floor…it’s a job – cause it’s tough out there and I know, because of my age, I know that people aren’t gonna hire me for accounting and stuff.”

When Koerner first came to Milwaukee, she was working for a temporary staffing agency interviewing potential candidates. Then, she was laid off the day before 9/11 – since then, she’s been the one interviewing. “I’ve been working a lot with temp agencies…they get me enough work to survive. But it’s tough.”

She does appreciate this job, in particular, though. And, in a way, she now has what she always envied in the giraffes she used to watch. “This is nice because I’m by myself, it’s peaceful,” she says. “I can switch it up if I want to – not do the same thing every day the same way.”

How did Koerner end up in Milwaukee, in the first place? “I got divorced. I met someone on the Internet,” she says. “We were only together for a couple years. But, then, I met Jerry.”

They’ve been together for 14 years. “Oh, man, he’s wonderful. He really is; he’s a really cool person,” she says. “We were just texting.”

At this point in her life, Koerner hopes to find her way back out west soon. “I want to go back to California…just, I don’t want to leave Jerry; he’s my best friend.”

But, she says, he’s ready to leave Milwaukee, too, so maybe they’ll make it to California, yet. “My sister and brother live out there. My sister lives in Berkeley, works in San Francisco; my brother lives in that same area and his kids,” says Koerner. “I miss having everybody up to my house…that used to be fun; we’d always have a good time.”


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