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There’s no place like Allerton

This weekend, I was sitting at a table that I purchased over 15 years ago. I am sure you have purchased dining room tables and chairs before, as well. But I had to find multiples for the sun porch that was just off the massive living room. It wasn’t simple because I remember everyone involved really wanted the tables and chairs to match the wood tone of the bar. I forgot to mention, there is a bar in the sun porch, too. Oh, and I remember that they needed to be simple in design so that the rest of the artwork and other historical pieces throughout the house would not be overshadowed by the furniture. The owner was a collector, you could say. “Be sure what you choose feels like home,” I was told. It was not my sun porch. It was not my home. It belonged to Robert Allerton.

••• Over fifteen years ago, I was handed a newspaper clipping for a job opening at Allerton Park and Retreat Center, owned by the University of Illinois. It was for a wedding and special events coordinator. And while I had started off my events career in 2005, I was a fresh college graduate and the enormity of the university system seemed like I would be a small fish in a big pond. Actually, a tadpole in a huge ocean.

I was a bit overwhelmed at the idea but everyone encouraged me and so I leaned into the belief that maybe I was holding myself back and I began to put together every party, baby shower, event and wedding that I had ever planned, executed or volunteered for. I submitted & I interviewed and I accepted.

And so began two of the busiest years of my life. Years that shifted my mindset on customer service and future goals, fanned my passions and brought me into countless numbers of people’s lives. I walked hundreds of steps around the gardens daily, turned the Mansion into a ceremony site, reception locale, convention or retreat space in minutes. Our team was busy and we were close. We felt the impact our jobs had on people’s lives instantly. We felt the impact our friendships had on each other’s lives immensely.

I think back to those years, I think about how I got my start to my career and how it fostered my identity in marketing & events and always being a part of someone needing to communicate something. I coordinated and executed hundreds of events in a single year and watched countless people celebrate marriages, commitments, birthdays, engagements, retirements, celebrations of Life, new inventions, retreats, gatherings, conferences, employee appreciation events, and so, so much more. I held hands, wiped tears, sewed on buttons, secured bustles, pinned boutonnieres, encouraged cold feet, served drinks, took away drinks, held cats on leashes, tasted every type of cupcake or cake. But, I never did it alone. I always had my second mom and partner in crime, Betty, by my side. On my breaks between events, over my lunch hours and between the celebrations, happiness and tears, I swirled about the Allerton mansion and gardens and never have I ever felt more at home. How could one man dream up and create such big magic. The inspiration and support from his step-mother, the support of his kindred spirit John Gregg…all encouraged him to create “The Farms” as if it was solely to play a role in my life’s story time and time again. Working amidst the legacy of Robert Allerton was nothing short of magical.

I kid you not, Betty and I have executed thousands of events together over the course of our years at Allerton and then her helping me on the side after I moved on. We check in on each other and rely on Facebook for a digital version of a photo album so she can keep up on all of Jack’s shenanigans. But life is busy and we never check in as often as we should. We never grab lunch as frequently as we must. And truth be told, I think she is busier in retirement that she was working 60+ weeks with me in the wedding industry! ••• Fast forward to this weekend, I had a retreat at Allerton. But due to the fear and hype from this virus crisis, I was helping friends, colleagues and clients with messages and ideas. I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing, but it was a beautiful relief to know what awaited me in the mansion.

My eyes welled with tears as I drove into the park noticing all the updates and changes. When you ask....most people will claim that they do not like change. But, I am not like most people. I was in awe of the new paths, the care and love that has been poured into the park and the mansion. It was like a homecoming. Leaving a career and place that I loved so dearly to find that over a decade later, it was better than I left it. That is a rarity in today’s culture.

I took in a deep breath as I walked up to the entrance. I knew on the other side of the door awaited luxurious navy couches that were new additions that had popped up on my social media. It seems silly but it is like when you notice your parents or grandparents with something new and you just want to see if for yourself. I was pumped to see couched.

As I passed through the door, it felt like a movie flashback and I was walking into work again. My old office was to the left above the dining room, but to the right was the desk where my dearest friend Betty would sit. She manned that post for decades but today I knew I’d find a smiling face of an intern or high school helper checking me in.

My feet hit the black and white tile entrance and I turned to the desk and stood there in shock. There sat my dear friend, Betty. Just like it was summer of 2006, she sat smiling at me. I think I smiled and was so stunned said, “What are you doing here?” But she was called to fill in unexpectedly and out of urgency for today’s shift, not knowing it was my retreat, my return.

I shouldn’t be surprised. God has a sense of humor. It was just like old times, I snuck in and stood behind the desk catching up on stories. Normally, she would have swiped some dessert from an event and we’d hang out there in a space the size of a half-bathroom, chatting and critiquing the fondant details and buttercream flavors.

Our conversations never lull and our memories never cease. There’s always a familiarity and hilarity in our togetherness. We always pick up where we left off. And like the thousands of people that I celebrated with over the years at Allerton, it is that same familiarity and remembrance that always reminds me of my roots. Maybe this was really the only goal that Robert Allerton strove to achieve….maybe this is the essence of a legacy that we all should strive for….creating and molding our lives into something that makes people feel like they are always home around you.

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