Meet the last manual elevator operator in Elgin
87-year-old would ‘rather be busy than idle'
Allan Wudi operates the last manually operated elevator in Elgin and plans to continue doing so as long as he can.
The 87-year-old Elgin man works part time shuttling people up and down the 15-story Tower Building at 100 E. Chicago St., in Elgin's downtown. The job keeps him up and out of the house — better, he says, than sitting at home all day.
"I'd rather be busy than idle," Wudi said.
And Wudi is hardly idle. He is teaching himself Spanish during his time between clients at work and getting ready to publish one book while writing a second. He also spends plenty of time golfing when the weather holds out — a hobby he started when he was about 13, first as a caddie and then moving on from there.
"It's better to be active than sit in front of the TV and vegetate," Wudi said.
Wudi started working for the Stickling Foundation operating the Tower Building's elevator 12 years ago when he moved to Elgin following the death of his wife. His earlier career was as a pilot, flying all over the country and throughout the world carrying top executives of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company.
Wudi got his pilot's license as a teenager and joined the Army Air Corp in World War II to serve in the Pacific. After his four years of service, Wudi continued flying and spent 35 years with Pittsburgh Plate Glass and its corporate planes.
His life is quieter now with his wife gone and his children grown. His two sons and two daughters have their own families now and have given him not only grandchildren but great-grandchildren.
Wudi wakes up every day at about 4 a.m. and sometimes starts dinner for himself before he leaves for work. He was always the one to cook in his marriage and often gets a crockpot simmering first thing.
His job is supposed to start at 7 a.m., but Wudi said he always gets in at about 6 a.m. to be there for the few tenants who get to work early.
The best part of his job, he says, are the people. He has a friendly word or an inside joke to share with most of those coming in and out of the building. Sometimes what he says is more crass than kind, but only to those who expect it and are prepared with answering banter.
When there isn't anyone to shuttle up and down, Wudi sits at the front desk and reads. Sometimes it's a Spanish dictionary — helping him make progress on learning the language — but other times it's just pleasure reading.
He doesn't usually get much time to sit, though. And at 87, he's in great shape. He doesn't need a hearing aid or glasses and counts on a healthy diet and regular activity rather than vitamins and supplements.
Though sitting is an option while operating the elevator, Wudi prefers not to.
"They had a chair in there but I took it out because it was more a pain in the neck," Wudi said.
Because the tenants in the Tower Building are more often short-term rather than long-term renters, Wudi has watched plenty of people come and go over the years. He said there have been some "characters" but he has always enjoyed the interesting people he helps move throughout the building.
It would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to convert the elevator from manual to automatic in Elgin's tallest building, completed in 1929 as a bank. The cost means any conversion won't happen soon. So Wudi plans to enjoy his job and his full life for years to come.
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