Tour docents share love of architecture
Architecture tour docent Wayne Galasek is a 36-year veteran of the insurance industry, who owns and operates American Insurance Schools and serves as a consultant for small- to mid-sized companies. | Contributed photo
Updated: October 7, 2012 7:07AM
CHICAGO — Sure, they’re both successful in business and they both live in Oak Park, but Wayne Galasek and Mary Ludgin have something else in common.
You might say they’re in the same boat.
Make that a Chicago First Lady Cruises double-decker yacht, where both volunteer as docents leading Chicago Architecture Foundation tours of the skyline, as viewed from the Chicago River.
The CAF and the CFL have partnered for 19 years on the cruises, which attract roughly 200,000 tourists during sailing season, in part because of the work contributed by more than 85 docents such as Galasek and Ludgin. Docents receive more than 170 hours of classroom and field training before leading the river tours, weaving facts and figures about 110 buildings, along with anecdotes about their architects, in 90 minutes.
“It’s intense, but I think the Chicago Architecture Foundation has the best volunteer training program of any organization in Chicago.” said Galasek, a 36-year veteran of the insurance industry, who owns and operates American Insurance Schools and serves as a consultant for small- to mid-sized companies.
Galasek became a Chicago-certified tour guide after his own interest in the city’s history — especially its gangster era — led him to start giving informal tours to friends. His own tours have been featured on local television as well as The History Channel, The Travel Channel and Ian Wright’s “Globe Trekker.”
Galasek, who grew up in Oak Park somewhat skeptical of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “almost God-like” status, said his interest in American architecture arises from its overall history during the 1890s and early 20th century.
“Only in Chicago can you get the old and the new right next to each other and see how architecture has developed historically,” he said. “As soon as we leave the dock, for example, you’ve got the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower and the Trump Tower right next to them,”
While he acknowledged the “romantic aspect” of leading the tours, Galasek believes all the volunteers signed on primarily to learn.
“We’re all lifetime learners,” he said. “And we like to share what we’ve learned with people.”
Fellow docent Mary Ludgin agrees.
“I love the architecture and I’m a talker,” she said. “I love to explain things to people, so it was a perfect fit.”
Ludgin, director of global investment research at the Heitman real-estate investment management firm, and the owner of a Frank Lloyd Wright home, said she developed a love for architecture in college and took it further by assisting in research on Chicago architecture as part of her political science/urban public policy doctorate.
While she understands the way politics, policy and finance have influenced the history of Chicago architecture, she said, she still has a passionate interest in its aesthetic side.
“I’m fascinated by the elements of architecture that move people,” she said.
And she also gets a charge from having to think on her feet in front of a live audience.
“It’s a high-wire act, because at any moment there could be something that changes your tour,” she said. “If there’s a barge sticking out and the boat can’t go around it, there’s a pause and you’ve got dead air to fill. Then you have to compensate because the captain is going to go faster to get back on schedule — and
you have to come up with five-second
descriptions of buildings that usually
takes 30 seconds.”
The 2012 season of the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise continues with hourly cruises from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. through Nov. 18. Advance individual tickets are $35 per person. Call (800) 982-2787 or visit www.ticketmaster.com/rivercruise.