Al Hodzic, Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel

Al Hodzic would be happy to keep his job at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel at 221 N. Columbus Dr. for the rest of his life.

“Someday, I’d like to be the GM of this place,” he explains. “But if not, I don’t mind remaining as a door attendant.”


Al Hodzsic

He joined the staff when he learned about a bell attendant position last year from his father, who works in the housekeeping department. When the gentleman who was door attendant at the time moved to another position in May, Hodzic was next in line. No doubt, the position fits him well.

“I love that it’s a job that is all interaction,” he continues. “I’m always dealing with guests.”

As the only person with the title of door attendant at the hotel, he is the first representative to greet guests and residents when they arrive and the last one to bid them farewell when they leave. For the duration of their stay, he handles a number of chores that are typical of such a position.

“We do everything from hailing cabs to picking up peoples’ laundry,” he says.

He also keeps a record of every person he enounters in a leatherbound, pocket-sized notebook.

Among the residents he serves are a number of artists, athletes and celebrities who have upped the location’s reputation as one of the city’s premiere  properties. According to Hodzic, the’re just as friendly as the rest.

When New Eastside News caught up with him on the job, Hodzic was saying hello to one of his favorite residents, Ms. Jeannie Klauberg.

“Hey, Miss Jeannie, how are you!” he exclaimed. “I’m going to be in the newspaper.”

“Oh, good!” she responded.

“He’s wonderful,” she continued. “He takes wonderful care of me. He immediately gets the cab for me. Helps me into the cab. Yesterday, when I was upset because my mother was sick, he was so kind and so giving.”

Hodzic also handles the occasional — and often unique — one-off task.

“I had a lady ask me to get her pants sewn back together,” he remembers. “She’s a resident here. She’s really nice. I don’t mind doing anything for her.”

For many of the hotel guests, he’s the go-to source for tourist information.

“If they’re going shopping, I always tell them to go north,” he says. “If they’re going to museums, go south.”

“I also get, ‘what’s a good restaurant?’ I always recommend, for breakfast, Wildberry. That’s my favorite place for breakfast. For lunch, I would have to say Tavern at the Park. I’ve been to all of them. They treat me well because they know me so it’s a good thing.”

For the early birds willing to brave the Chicago winter, Hodzic recommends the ice rink in Maggie Daley Park. “That’s always a good thing to do to start the day off,” he says.

For those looking to explore the city’s bar scene, he recommends starting the night at Sweetwater Tavern & Grill on Michigan Ave. and finishing it off at Underground on Illinois St.

When he’s not on duty, Hodzic hangs out at the same places that he suggests for guests and residents. He also prefers spending time with friends and family near his home in Edgewater, especially when his mother cooks her homemade Bosnian specialties.

“I was born in Bosnia,” he says. “I came here when I was four years old, right after the war. My mom makes the best Bosnian food. No other woman can compete. Meat, lamb. She makes pita. You can put whatever you want in it. My favorite is the one with spinach.”

Like most Bosnians, he’s also very fond of Rakia, the frequently home-brewed fruit brandy of the Balkans that is known by many, including Hodzic, as “a cure for everything.”

“You can buy it at Mariano’s,” he says. “It’s good, but nothing can compete with the stuff from home.”

— Daniel Patton

Craig Lykes, The Tides

Craig Lykes, Doorperson at The Tides (360 E. South Water St.), learned some of life’s most valuable lessons from his mother.

“She was an educator my whole life,” he explains. “She knew all the teachers and the principals, so I was always able to get help because they knew my mom personally.”

img_0388aHer extended network, he says, was his “most favorite thing” about having a mom who was a teacher. It not only helped his academic pursuits, but it also kept him honest and allowed him to develop great sense of humor.

“My least favorite thing about having a mom who was a teacher,” he jokes, “is that she knew all the teachers and the principals, man.”

By the time he graduated from Morgan Park High School in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, Craig definitely appreciated the value of a hard days work. But he wasn’t sure exactly how to make use of that appreciation. So he decided to join the army.

“I was not so much a troublemaker,” he explains. I was just all over the place. The military helped me get focused.”

For the next five years, he was stationed in places he had never seen before. “I was just all over the country,” he remembers. “Wyoming, Texas, Virginia.”

The journey continued even after he completed active duty and transferred to the reserves.

“When your contract is up, for two years after that, they can call,” he says. “Which they did.”

By the time he received his honorable discharge two years later, Corporal Lykes was a Chemical Operations Specialist with experience training soldiers how to identify and decontaminate biological weapons, nerve agents and poisons.

He returned to Beverly and worked security until a friend introduced him to the service industry. He became a member of the staff at a Lake Shore Dr. property and also filled-in at the Tides. When a position became available in the New Eastside building, he applied, received an offer, and said yes.

His previous experience is perfectly suited for the position.

“The military helped me deal with all walks of life,” he says.

“It taught me patience and how to deal with people. The values and the lessons that I learned from the military, they are priceless. I use them every day.”

But he’s quick to add that the challenges at the Tides have never tested this military-grade patience.

“I love the people here,” he says. “You have people from all walks of life, all places of the world. Everyone gets along just perfectly They make my job easy.”

The same goes for the building’s four-legged tenants.

“I’m a dog lover,” he says. “I’ve had dogs growing up my whole life. I love that this is a dog-friendly building.”

And it’s especially true of The Tides youngest residents.

“The kids here are so lively. They just put a smile on my face. They walk out that door, my whole morning lights up.”

— Daniel Patton

LaVelle Allen, Park Millennium

LaVelle Allen learned most of life’s important lessons as a child in Chicago’s Washington Heights neighborhood.

“My mom taught me how to communicate with people and treat people and be pleasant at all times,” she remembers. “She was a very outgoing person.”

Growing up with eight brothers and sisters, she had plenty of opportunities to perfect what her mother had preached. Now she puts that expertise to work as a member of the door staff at Park Millennium.

img_0969aweb“You’re the first person the residents see,” she says. “You smile and they feel good about their jobs.”

Her natural finesse for the role’s responsibilities is matched by a strong appreciation for the building’s residents.

“I’m comfortable with my position,” she says. “I love the tenants. Our manager, Cindy, is great. Anything has to get done, she gets it done.”

The instinct to provide comfort and show respect has also guided her to more than just a successful career.

Before joining the Park Millennium, Ms. Allen spent 25 years in the banking industry. When she was working at a particular branch where she could see homeless people “right across from City Hall,” she began collecting donations to provide coats, socks, hats, gloves, and toiletries for those in need.

To this day, a handful of grammar schools and churches continue to benefit from her efforts.

“My father always said that if you give, you will receive,” she explains.

In 2009, after she retired from the banking industry, Ms. Allen lost her mother, Gladys, to cancer.

She recalls that, “I wasn’t taking it so good,” when a friend gave her some life-changing advice.

“He said, ‘hey baby why don’t you get up and get your resume together and I’ll help you get a job.’”

She got the job at Park Millennium on the same day she interviewed.

The man who suggested the idea was someone she trusted. He came from the same community where she had grown up. He had been  a good neighbor for 42 years and a doorman on Lake Shore Drive for 25 of them. Also, he was her father-in-law.

“My husband Julius and I met in Mt. Vernon grammar school at 103rd and Morgan,” she says. “We have been together for 42 years.”

Together, the Allens have two children and six grandchildren. A seventh is on the way.

In her spare time, Ms. Allen operates a small business creating gift baskets and centerpieces, most of them for holidays and special occasions.

She started the operation as a creative outlet with a friend, but still enjoys the opportunity to tend to the needs of others.   

“Kids like Disney toys, Star Wars, Batman,” she says. “So I put that in my Easter baskets. Grownups like wine and other beverages. The exotic baskets have liquor, glasses, and candles.”

“Whatever the customers tell me they want and whatever design they want,” she says, “I fix it.”

Ryan Turner, Lancaster Condominiums

When Ryan Turner was just a teenager, he not only understood the value of a positive attitude, but he also consistently maintained one as point guard of the conference champion Gage Park High School basketball team.

“Even in the eyes of defeat, you have to see a win coming,” he says. “You put yourself into it and you get to know the inside and out.”

This is the philosophy that he brings to work every day as Doorperson of the Lancaster Condominiums.


Ryan Turner (photo: patton)

“You don’t want to come home and see me with a frown on my face,” he explains. “I’m going to make it real easy. My smile might brighten your day.”

The optimistic outlook has helped Mr. Turner earn personal trust and handle delicate responsibilities throughout his career. Before coming to the Lancaster six months ago, he spent six years working security at TCS Bank locations in Calumet City and in Homewood.

Although he describes the position as somewhat routine, he remembers one particular day on the job as “the wackiest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“We had those Keurig coffee machines and you’re only supposed to take one,” he explains. “A lady came into the bank in a post office worker uniform and emptied the whole box into her purse. The branch manager came to me, like he’s supposed to do. The lady was ready to fight, but I calmed her down.”

The assistant bank manager recognized Mr. Turner’s knack for working with people and suggested that he pursue the position at the Lancaster, where her brother-in-law Eric was a member of the door staff.

After receiving the position, he says, “I couldn’t ask for a better building.”

“The people here are lovely,” he continues. “I’m getting to know the residents as well as their dogs and their babies.”

Looking forward, Mr. Turner plans to build a foundation for the future with his girlfriend of two years, Treamaine.

“The whole family loves her,” he explains. “My father doesn’t say much, but when he said he liked her, I knew I had to keep her.”

Likewise, Treamaine appears to hold Mr. Turner in the same high regard: she was the assistant bank manager who encouraged him to seek opportunities at The Lancaster.

“She’s the first and only woman besides my mother to ever help me improve my life,” he says. “She’s the woman I’m gonna marry.”

— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Betty Girma, Aqua Condominiums

When Aqua Condominiums Doorperson Betty Girma immigrated from Ethiopia to Chicago in 1989, she experienced more than just a culture shock.

“It was on December 5,” she remembers. “I know it’s cold, I hear it, but when you’re really here… Oh my goodness. I never expected that weather.”

Fortunately, a small but thriving Ethiopian community had firmly established itself — and the culture of its homeland — in the Lakeview neighborhood that she moved into long before she arrived.

IMG_0200webAmong those who populated this touch of eastern Africa in the Windy City was her Aunt Atsede. Aunt Atsede not only helped Betty adjust to life in America, but also provided her the basic necessities to get by.

“My aunt had a restaurant here at 3462 N. Clark,” Betty says. “It was called the Ethiopian Village. She lived upstairs and I lived with her and worked there for like two years.”

Betty enjoyed the same dishes that she had known while growing up in Adis Ababa, the capitol of Ethiopia.

“The bread, they make it from a grain called peff,” she says. “It’s very heavy.”

She also dined according to the traditional Ethiopian custom.

“Everybody eats together,” she explains. “No fork. No knife. One big plate and everybody eats from that.”

At the same time, she began studying Business Administration at Harold Washington College and eventually earned an associate’s degree.

The neighborhood was also home to The Wild Hare, one of the most popular reggae clubs in Chicago and a big part of the city’s Ethiopian community.

The Wild Hare was co-owned and operated by Zeleke “Zack” Gessessee, an Ethiopian immigrant and former bass player for Ziggy Marley. His sister would one day marry Betty’s brother.

The other co-owner was the brother of one of Betty’s friends. She worked at the Harbor Point Tower grocery store. and, six years ago, told Betty about a doorperson opportunity at the Aqua Condominiums.

At the time, Betty was manager of a parking garage, a job that did not make use of her talents.

“I don’t like sticking in the office,” she explains. “I deal with people and I like them.”

So she applied at the Aqua, got the offer, and quickly turned the lobby into a second home for the tenants.

“It’s not just about ‘hi, bye,’ and smile,” she explains. “Of course, that’s great — that’s customer service — but you should also ask people how are you, how was your day. When people come through this door, I went them to feel like they’re at home.”

And what better way to make people feel at home than by offering them a nice meal.

“I took so many people from Aqua to Ethiopian restaurants and everybody loves it,” she says. “I bring in food. The people here are just like my family.”

When she’s not at work, Betty enjoys spending time with the rest of her family, 17 year-old daughter, Sarah, and 10 year-old son, Rafael.

To nominate your doorperson, please email

Talina Morris, the Heritage Building

Enter the majestic Heritage Building in Downtown Chicago and you will be greeted by Talina Morris, a friendly and easygoing front desk professional who has been with the property for more than a decade.

Prior to joining the Heritage building, Ms. Morris travelled all over the U.S. with her husband, a soldier who was stationed at various bases across the country. The position at the Heritage provided an opportunity for her to settle down and enjoy what she loves most: “bonding with people.”


Talina Morris. (Photo: Reemaa Konkimalla.)

“Interacting with residents, hearing stories, watching the little ones grow up and shine, and seeing tenants get married are the things that I most enjoy,” she says. “There is excitement every day!”

Her down-to-earth personality and calm presence have made her a favorite among residents. “One has to enjoy being a people person in order to perform this role,” she says.

According to Talina, “patience, being yourself, and a warm smile” are the key components that make a successful door person. “As the first point of contact in the building,” she advises, “remaining calm is one of the greatest qualities to develop.”

Being a door person is also challenging in some ways. “We face challenges, too,” she says, “especially with tricky parking situations in front of the building.”

“Outsiders not living in the building park outside the building and have to be told to vacate so residents can use the space for unloading luggage or groceries,” she continues.

“I constantly keep vigil to make sure no unauthorized person enters the building. Alertness is another one of my responsibilities.”

When not on the job, Talina dotes on her three adorable grandchildren and enjoys changing her hairstyle every now and then so residents get to see a “new Talina.”

“That’s my way to keep the freshness alive in my job,” she exclaims. “Residents love seeing the change time to time!”

To nominate your doorperson, please email

Reemaa Konkimalla | Community Contributor

Perry Jefferson, Harbor Point Tower

When doorperson of the month Perry Jefferson began working at Harbor Point Condominium Association a decade ago, he soon discovered that the position was unlike any that he had held in the past.

“When I started, I just thought I’d do my job and then go home,” he says. “But you get to know people and they become like family. I never thought that would happen on the job.”

His enthusiasm soon distinguished him as one of the best who had ever held the position, according to Elizabeth Onesto, Harbor Point’s Assistant Property Manager.

IMG_1880web2“He is the greatest example of a perfect lead doorman, a person who you want at every building,” she says. “He’s got such a good, positive attitude. He is attentive. He is friendly. You can never catch him being upset about anything.”

Prior to accepting the position, Mr. Jefferson worked for Sears and David Bancorp Armored Transportation.

“I don’t like firearms,” he says. “But I’m trained with them.”

When not on the job, Mr. Jefferson spends time with his wife, a nurse at Loyola Medical Center, and his daughter, a senior premed student at Atlanta Clark University who plans to study gynecology in New York next year.

“We come downtown on off days and get the DIVY bikes or do the Wendella boat tour. That’s very interesting. I recommend it to everyone.”

To nominate your doorperson, please email

—Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Nita Thornton, Coast apartments

Nita Thornton, doorperson at Coast Apartments, 345 E. Wacker Dr., learned how to handle the front desk responsibilities of a busy New Eastside high rise from a former coworker and friend who she believes to be without equal in the business.


Nita Thornton

“The good man from the Shoreham, Fred Crocker, is the best Doorman I’ve ever known,” she says. “He looked out for me. Got me all set up. Got me through training.”

It was Fred’s mother, a trusted friend for years, who encouraged Ms. Thornton to investigate an opportunity in the building where her son worked in October 2012.

At the time, Ms. Thornton was a Moraine Valley Community College nursing student, but her natural instinct for helping others was growing restless. So she decided to give it a try.

There is no doubt in her mind that it was the right move to make.

“You get to put your arms out and extend yourself,” she explains. “It’s beneficial all the way around.”

Roughly a year later, she accepted a postion at Coast when it opened.

Since then, her personalized brand of courtesy and service has been a hit with the tenants. “Nita is always on it,” said the resident who nominated her for this honor. “Everyone loves her. She always has a smile on her face and the right answer to give to anybody. We know we can count on her.”

The position also allows her to frequently communicate in Spanish, which she speaks fluently thanks to her father, who is of African American and Puerto Rican descent.

Although she wishes that she had learned to speak more than “just” two languages — “There are a lot of people and I would love to speak with them all,” says Ms. Thornton — she has taken full advantage of her bilingual and bicultural upbringing.

“The beat of Reggeatone is amazing,” she says. “And I like to dance.”

When she’s not enjoying the calypso rhythms of her heritage, Ms. Thornton likes to “just hang back” and spend time with family. Whether it’s with her own cousins, who rely on her wisdom as the oldest, or the children of friends, she cherishes being a helpful and mature friend.

“For some reason, kids take a liking to me,” she says. “I like to claim them when I can.”

To nominate your doorperson, please email

— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Marshey McCaster, Coast

Marshey McCaster knew that she wanted to join the service team at Coast on E. Wacker Dr. as soon as she learned about an opportunity in the building from a member of the doorstaff last December.

“I was at Jefferson Tower on Lake Street,” she explains. “It was a great job, but I was ready to make a switch.”

Since both properties were and still are managed by the Magellan Corporation, the change involved little if any stress.

IMG_9359web“I’ve been with Magellan for six years,” she says. “They’re awesome people to work for because they really care about their residents and their employees.”

Ms. McCaster also knew that her personality was a great fit for the job. Recognized by friends as “the one who is always smiling,” she enthusiastically describes her role by saying, “you meet and greet people all day!”

The location was another big plus. “Everything in this neighborhood is changing,” she says. “They’re building the Wanda Vista next door and there will be a lot of people and businesses moving in over the next few months.”

With “a great reference” from one of the staff, she got the offer, settled in, and soon discovered that the situation exceeded her highest expectations.

“I met the superstar Terrance Howard!” she exclaims. “He was compassionate and polite.”
Noting that “a lot of celebrities” pass through the lobby, Ms. McCaster says that her new job has become a perfect compliment to and resource for her love and pursuit of fashion design.

“It’s always been my passion,” she explains. Besides earning a BFA from the International Academy of Design & Technology, she is also an avid student of celebrity couture. “My best things are bowties for men and women,” she says. “I created a bowtie inspired by one that I saw Usher wearing in a GQ photo.”

To nominate your doorperson, please email

By Daniel Patton | Staff Writer

Doorperson of the month: James Henri, 340 On The Park

James Henri, doorman at 340 On The Park, has always enjoyed working with people. Before assuming front desk responsibilities at the city’s second tallest residential building, he spent decades in hospital administration, hotel security, and public education.

But the immeasurably professional Mr. Henri, who also earned a degree in Education from Cornell College in Iowa, credits the tenants of the building for his success. “We have doctors, lawyers, CEOs,” he says. “They are down-to-earth and they’ve embraced me and included me in their families.”

He came to 340 by way of a recommendation from a tenant in a condominium where he worked before pursuing the position.

“She was moving out and I said, ‘I hate to see you leave,” he recalls. “And she said, ‘you ought to come with us.’”


James Henri (photo: Daniel Patton).

Mr. Henri joined the team that helped inaugurate the high-rise when it opened in 2007 and has fostered a number of admirers ever since.

“There isn’t a person whose name he doesn’t know,” says Betsy Gilfillan, a tenant in the building. “He set the standard for great service and he is a joy to see every time we walk through the lobby.”

This respect for other people has been a part of Mr. Henri’s character since he was a child growing up in the Chatham neighborhood on Chicago’s south side.

“I am from a mixed-race family,” he explains. “My father was African-American and my mother was white. It could be intense.”

Mr. Henri was taught about patience, respect and ambition by his parents, who remained together throughout their entire lives.

“We couldn’t use the word ‘hate’ in our household,” he explains. “Because it’s a learned behavior.”

The rule was applied to every aspect of the family’s life. “I don’t like asparagus and I don’t like Brussels sprouts,” he says. “But I can’t say I hate them.”

To nominate your doorperson, please email

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