By Erin Blasko
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – On a recent weekday afternoon, Clint Zalas, a local attorney, entered the First Bank Building at Main and Jefferson downtown, passed through the Art Deco lobby and stepped into a waiting elevator.
Inside, the operator, Sandra Buie, seated on a padded office chair, pressed a button and engaged a lever. The doors closed and the car jerked into motion and floated up, up, up to the fifth floor.
A moment passed, and then the doors opened again. Zalas stepped out and into the hallway outside of his office, where he has worked for about 10 years.
Standing there, in the quiet of the carpeted corridor, he said he would miss Buie. “Well sure,” he said. “Sandy is a nice lady. I talk to her every morning.”
First Source Bank, which owns the First Bank Building and also houses some of its administrative offices there, said goodbye to Buie and the building’s other remaining elevator operator. By all accounts, the two were the last elevator operators still working in the city – and possibly the entire state.
Buie, for her part, said she would miss the work.
“Oh, yes,” the 72-year-old said during a recent visit, noting how much she loved talking to Zalas and the other passengers who happened to step into her car. “I was a pastor’s wife and I like to visit with them,” she said. “It’s only like a minute, but it’s nice.”
Buie started working as an elevator operator at the First Bank Building in 2005. She is part of a long line of operators that have worked at the red-brick high-rise since it opened in 1916 as Farmers Security Bank, now KeyBank.
“I think we’re all a little sad to see (the operators) go,” Angie Dvorak, the bank’s manager of public relations, said.
As a bank employee, Dvorak has worked inside of the First Bank Building for a number of years. She knows Buie personally.
“One of the nice things about Sandy,” Dvorak said, “is that when you walk into her elevator, she knows where you need to go.”
Despite advances in elevator technology over the years, First Source continued to employ operators at the First Bank Building out of a desire to hold on to a bit of the building’s historic past, Doug Way, the bank’s vice president, told the South Bend Tribune.1 2 next >>