GR’s last elevator operator nears final ride

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If you walk inside the Loraine Building off Fulton Street in Grand Rapids and head for the lobby elevator, you’ll find someone waiting.

Her name is Bernadette Meeuwenberg. Those who know her call her Bern. Those who don’t just call her the ‘elevator lady.’

And as far as historians can tell, she’s the last elevator operator left in Grand Rapids.

“It does surprise people when I open the (elevator) door, and I’m standing there and (people) look at me like, ‘What are you doing? Can I help you?'” Meeuwenberg joked.

The six-story Loraine Building is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in the early 1900s and the manually-operated elevator inside has been there for more than 100 years.

“They said it’s like a tank. It’s not going to die,” Meeuwenberg told 24 Hour News 8 Monday.

Bern first learned the ropes in 1983 from the man called Grand Rapids’ longest elevator operator, the late William ‘Bill’ Mitchell.

Meeuwenberg has been helping people get up and down for the past 35 years.

“(I) pretty much know everybody’s families, kids, animals,” she explained.

But soon, what’s believed to be the last elevator of its kind in Grand Rapids will be gone. The condominium association that maintains the building, which currently serves as office space for various businesses, has decided to finally replace it with an automated elevator, citing maintenance costs. Workers will be tearing out the old one this summer.

“I understand,” Meeuwenberg said. “I mean, it’s technology. Everybody wants new things. Out with the old in with the new.”

But the change means she will lose her job. While she’s disappointed, she said she’ll always cherish the rides and memories.

“I’m very proud of it. You know, it’s a dying thing,” she said.

Meeuwenberg operates the elevator from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. As the self-proclaimed ‘watchdog’ of the Loraine Building, she does all sorts of odd jobs, including helping to maintain the boiler.

Another woman who has been working at the Loraine Building for a few years covers the elevator during last part of the workday.

Meeuwenberg’s last day is June 30.

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