Rene Mendez offers a distinct advantage to residents at the Grand Ohio Condominiums, where he has worked as a member of the door staff for nearly a decade. In addition to a homegrown regard for courtesy, he brings a well-tested range of experience to the front desk.
“I’m here for the residents,” he said. “When people call on me, I try to take care of them as best I can.”
Mendez spent the early part of his career in the manufacturing industry. First at the Froedtert Malting Company, which supplied ingredients to major breweries, then at the factory of auto parts maker Fuel Systems Inc., where he worked as a grinder, removing the solidified steel that splattered on gas tanks during the welding process.
The experience satisfied a personal interest while also continuing a family tradition.
“I like industrial stuff,” Mendez said. “My dad used to work for U.S. Steel on the south side of Chicago.” It also allowed him to take advantage of the lessons that he had learned from his parents, who raised six sons and four daughters in Englewood.
“I come from a humble family,” he continued. “They taught me to treat people in the same manner that I would prefer to be treated.”
When Fuel Systems shuttered, he faced a significant challenge.
“That’s when the 2008 economic plunge happened,” he said. “I made the choice to pull out my 401k and pay off the loan on my 2009 Toyota Corolla so I could use the car to get a job.”
Following the advice of a co-worker, he pursued a position with the garage staff at the Grand Ohio.
“I didn’t know how to drive stick, but I was honest with Dory from Community Specialists, who interviewed me,” he said. “She told me, ‘why don’t you try to become part of the door staff?’”
After spending several months as a substitute for the regular staff, Rene became a permanent member of the overnight staff in 2011.
“We do the best we can for the residents,” he said. “I try to make their day and to learn about what they do, and I like to think that they learn from me, too.”
When he’s not at work, Rene likes to hang out on the lakefront, spend time with his family and enrich himself by visiting as many museums as possible.
“About four years ago, I took my son to the Babylon exhibit at the University of Chicago,” he said. “When he started learning about history, he saw the value in it.”