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by Patricia M. Szpekowski

Long before the pandemic arrived, employees at O’Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport excelled at serving travelers from around the world. Whether it was working in the culinary arts, selling forgotten phone chargers, cleaning all areas of the airports, or flying jets to the next destination, their work was performed for the benefit of others. Their brief encounters with the public through a simple smile or excellent customer service could make a passenger’s day — and vice versa, too.


Then, the pandemic arrived. Uncertainty stymied travel. Providing for the passengers’ needs became even more crucial. Employees still boarded morning trains or fought commuter traffic to get to work and do the jobs they loved, in spite of their own fears.


To honor airport essential workers the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) implemented the “Faces of O’Hare/Faces of Midway” multi-platform social media campaign. Individual photos or videos were taken of over 40 employees in their airport, store, restaurant, or business environment accompanied by a personal, heartfelt quote.


Over and over, they expressed how much their jobs, coworkers, and travelers meant to them. It highlighted their commitment as they worked through the COVID-19 pandemic landscape. During these days of no-touch social distancing, the “Faces” campaign provided that missing human touch.


Get to know a little more about some of the hero workers otherwise known as the “Faces of O’Hare/Faces of Midway” in this behind the scenes look into their work and personal lives.


Lillie Tumbs has been a server at Chili’s Too in O’Hare’s Terminal 3 for over 20 years. “I love my job,” she said. She’s had exciting encounters with high-profile entertainers there, including  Patty LaBelle, Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, and many more.


What about her spare time? “I love cooking for family and friends and I do a little catering,” she said. “It’s a passion for me.” She loves to spice things up. “My friends ask what makes my food so good and all I’ll say is my secret is Chili’s Chipotle sauce.” A mother of two teenagers, she is active at church, where she sings in the choir and is a member of, what else, the food committee.


Working through the pandemic at the beginning was tough, but there was never any doubt or fear. “We have always been very thorough with sanitizing and cleaning everything,” said Tumbs.


She’s developed many friendships with her long-time airport co-workers. “We’re like family.” In fact, she even related breaking news. “I’m getting married in August,” she said, “and my fiancé, Curt Rogers, works at the other Chili’s in the airport. We’ve known each other a long time.”


Another highlighted “Faces of O’Hare” employee is Barbara Kramarz, who works at Seaway Bank in Concourse C, Terminal 1. The bank serves as a convenient solution for international travelers offering more than 200 different currencies.


“I’ve been working here at the airport for over 15 years,” said Kramarz, “and I love every minute of it. Working during COVID-19 was stressful with jobs being insecure here at the airport and on the outside. But, customers were understanding and appreciated our job during this very hard time.”


Outside of work, Kramarz said she keeps very busy. “I’m a wife and mother of an 11-year-old boy,” she said. “I volunteer at his school, love to cook with my son, and when I have time, I love to work out.”


It’s a clean sweep (pardon the pun) for “Faces of Midway” with Midway lead custodial engineer Maria Mora and custodial engineer Juan Mario Martinez Lopez. Between the two, they have logged over 40 years of experience and dedication, here.


Lopez keeps busy with his family, which includes two kids and two grandchildren. “I work hard, but when I am home I like to work in my yard.” He grows jalapeno peppers, cucumbers, green beans, and tomatoes, which are perfect sides when he barbeques. Lopez spends time playing with his grandkids and is teaching them how to garden, too.


Lopez notes that his co-workers at Midway are “my second family, as I spend so much time with them every day.” He worked through the pandemic and felt safe with PPE, masks, and social distancing. What else

made him feel better? “So many passengers told me thank you and how much they appreciated what we do,” Lopez said.


The same for Mora who noted airport travelers noticed and expressed their appreciation to her for the continuous disinfecting
in the bathrooms. “They would always tell me it made them feel safe,” she said.


“I love working here at Midway. I meet so many different people from around the world and it makes me happy when they see I am cleaning and disinfecting everything for their safety. So many of them say thank you.”


With four kids and four grandkids, Mora stays busy. What does she like to do at home? “Clean the house,” she said, with a laugh. She also loves to create many Mexican dishes, including tamales, although she said they take a lot of work. Her garden is full of flowers, jalapeno peppers, tomatoes, and watermelon. “Cooking for my family makes me happy.”


Back at O’Hare, M.A.C. makeup artist Myra Guzman is dedicated to helping others believe in themselves and was drawn to what the brand represents. “M.A.C. stands behind its creed of ‘All Ages, All Races, All Genders’,” Guzman said. “They respect every aspect of my life, and my individuality.” She feels strongly that working at O’Hare helped her grow as an artist because of the diversity of the environment.


“I’ve been with M.A.C. since the store first opened in 2015,” notes Guzman, “and it has honestly meant the world to me. Being with M.A.C. has made me appreciate everything in my life and I’m a firm believer that my work here fills me as a person.” What she likes most about working at O’Hare is “the community, my team, and what I have built here. We’ve created such strong friendships.”


The toughest part for Guzman during the pandemic was not being able to do makeup. “I thrive on customer interactions and the pandemic limited my personal experience with customers. It was all about finding new ways to create those first impressions and make our customers smile.”

One of her goals is to write a book. “It would be about my life, my personal experiences, and what I believe it means to love the work that you do,” Guzman said.


Her thoughtful words just about sum up the sincere quotes expressed by all of the “Faces of O’Hare/Faces of Midway” hero employees. Working through the pandemic appeared to solidify everything even more  —  dedication to their jobs, strong bonds with co-workers and fellow airport employees, and providing excellent customer service to every single person they meet at the airport.

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