5 Reasons I Love Milwaukee: Larry Sandler

Larry Sandler and his late wife shared nearly 18 years of Milwaukee memories together, and those pleasant experiences have shaped his favorite things about the city.

We asked writer and January 2018 issue contributor Larry Sandler to share with us the reasons he loves Milwaukee. He chose to share his favorites through the prism of the Milwaukee memories he shared with his late wife. Here are his picks:

The things we love become even more special when we share them with the people we love. That’s why the places and experiences that I love most about Milwaukee are those that I shared with my late wife, Miriam.

Like me, Miriam moved here from the Chicago area. From the first date of our long-distance relationship to her passing from cancer a year ago, we built almost 18 years of Milwaukee memories together. Here are five of my favorites:

The restaurants

Lake Park Bistro. Photo by Kenny Yoo

Sharing meals was always a big part of our relationship, whether on casual date nights, special occasions or  meeting for lunch when we both worked downtown. In Milwaukee we found a wonderful variety of restaurants for all those purposes and more. Whether you’re looking for a four-star dinner, an ethnic adventure or a quiet cafe, you can find it here.

On our first date, we went to Beans & Barley. Almost a year later, I took Miriam to Lake Park Bistro before I proposed to her. As her health deteriorated, we shared our final date night, for our 16th anniversary, at Tre Rivali; I had to help her each step of the way from our car to our table and back, but she told me how much she appreciated the time together. And when she was in the hospital, I brought her carry-out restaurant meals as an alternative to hospital food.

The lakefront

Photo courtesy of Visit Milwaukee

Perhaps the most beautiful part of Milwaukee, the lakefront is the perfect place for lovers to walk hand-in-hand, which Miriam and I did every chance we could. After that special dinner at Lake Park Bistro, I took her out to the staircase that descends from the park pavilion to Lincoln Memorial Drive and popped the question there. From then on, whenever we drove past “our” staircase, one of us would say, “I love you. Will you marry me?” and the other would always accept.

When our son was a baby, we would push his stroller along the McKinley Park sidewalks, where I would tell him we came “to visit the wind.” When it was time to move Miriam’s late mother here, a lakefront view sealed the deal on which senior complex my mother-in-law chose. And during Miriam’s final days, she changed her Facebook cover photo to a picture of the lakefront as seen from her hospital window, commenting, “A room with a view!”

The culture

Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee has an impressive array of cultural institutions for all ages. I took Miriam to the Mitchell Park Domes and the Milwaukee Art Museum for our first date, and later to the Milwaukee County Zoo and Schlitz Audubon Center. As the years passed, we enjoyed those places with our son, along with the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, Discovery World and the Milwaukee Public Museum. He was a big fan of the annual model train garden show at the Domes and the Zoo train in his younger days, but now that he’s 10, he prefers the science exhibits at Discovery World and the Public Museum.

Last fall, I passed the Domes on my way to the cemetery for a ceremony to dedicate Miriam’s headstone. I returned there just a few weeks later to join others whose lives have been changed by pancreatic cancer, reflecting on how that place came to symbolize both the start and the end of our time together.

The arts

Whether your tastes run to music, theater or dance, you can find a show that suits you in Milwaukee. Miriam and I had a tradition of going out to a play or concert as our anniversary present to each other, among other occasions. Over the years we enjoyed top-quality performances by the Skylight Music Theatre, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and others. We also took our son to the MSO’s Family Series concerts, while his school brought him to First Stage Children’s Theater on field trips and hosted visits by artists from the symphony and the Florentine Opera Company.

The people

With almost all of our family members living out of state, Miriam and I appreciated the friends we made in Milwaukee, whether they were co-workers, neighbors, fellow parents or members of our faith community.

But it was in our times of need – particularly her brush with ovarian cancer more than a decade ago and then her final struggle with pancreatic cancer – that we truly saw how many were there for us. They visited her in the hospital and brought meals to me and my son. At her funeral, my son’s former principal walked in with all of his current and former teachers, from four-year-old kindergarten through third grade; several of his friends’ parents also pulled their kids out of school in the middle of the day to attend the funeral and show their support for him. And in the days since her passing, our friends and our few Milwaukee relatives formed an invaluable support system as I navigated the difficult and unexpected transition to single fatherhood.

More than anything else, the kindness of Milwaukee’s people is what makes this Chicago native feel at home here.

Larry Sandler is a contributor to our January 2018 issue, writing “Last Stop.” Read the rest of our Reasons I Love Milwaukee series.