Some folks approach retirement flummoxed by a blank calendar when their employment career reaches the midnight hour.
Not Trudy Backus, 64. When she wound down her 31-plus-year career at Ohio National Financial Services in 2009, she started walking.
"I always said I wanted to give tours of the city," says the creator of Architreks /CincinnatiWALKS walking tour program, now in its 10th year of introducing out-of-towners and hometown folks to the architecture, history, personality and peculiarities of the city.
The slim-line dynamo can rattle off the price of a ride up the Gilbert Avenue streetcar, tell you where Mark Twain spoke in 1898, where the bowling alley was in Mount Adams, the location of Yeatman's Tavern and locate the five pyramids of Cincinnati to boot. She walks backwards with the ease, if not the panache, of Michael Jackson, deftly sidestepping obstacles as she peels back the years to reveal the stories of yesterday and the promises of tomorrow. This sixth "walking" sense, developed from leading more than 300 tours since the first in 2002, is second nature by now.
"It becomes easy, actually. I just watch for raised eyebrows in the crowd if I'm about to kill myself . . . and I don't walk backwards on ice."
"Trudy's long involvement in Architreks — setting up the tours, recruiting volunteers, seeking sponsors, writing tour brochures — is a labor of love," says Margo Warminski, preservation director of the Cincinnati Preservation Association.
Enthusiasm for City
Her enthusiasm for the city, especially its architecture, was ignited by a trip as a 10-year-old with her father to the Alexander McDonald house on the corner of Clifton and McAlpin avenues. "It was scheduled to be demolished to build a school and was made of blue limestone with a slate roof, hand-carved cherry staircase, crystal chandeliers. My 10-year-old heart broke. It was destroyed, and I think, in my heart, that's when I became a preservationist."
A chance encounter with Cincinnati architecture master Walter E. Langsam led her to the Cincinnati Preservation Association where she was a board member from 1997-2003. When the first visitors' center opened on Fountain Square in 2001, she saw a need for the tours and gave herself a history lesson on the city with information from the Cincinnati Historical Society, library, and books on-hand to launch two downtown tours in 2002.
"Cincinnati has matchless historic architecture celebrated throughout the country," says Warminski of the tours that evolved year-after-year since then. "The Architreks' carefully-researched walking tours, with their abundance of information about buildings, great and small, bring that legacy to life."
An Over-the-Rhine East tour started in 2003, followed by Findlay Market in 2005, Mount Adams and Clifton in 2006, Over-the Rhine West in 2008, Northside in 2009, and Walnut Hills and East Walnut Hills in 2010. Volunteer guides, about 15 in all, have grown from preservation association members to include those with special interests in particular neighborhoods who have created tours, as well as customers who have gone on multiple tours then joined the ranks. Jim Steiner of Mount Adams, a retired dentist, started the Mount Adams tour, which became part of Architreks/Cincinnati WALKS program and contributes neighborhood tidbits at www.mtadamstoday.com. Guide Dan Becker researched Civil War tours, which started this year, and a Vanishing Cincinnati tour is based on the drawings by Pendleton artists David and Barbara Day, of sites that live on only in memories like the Albee and Schubert theaters, inclines and the Wesley Chapel.
Volunteer guides each add their own personality to the tours, instead of following a strict script, says Backus. "I tell the guides at each site to give basic information but from that point on I give them lots of study material, and the tour ends up being what excites the guide and that's what they'll deliver.
"I find connections to be interesting so that's what I talk about. But another guide, for example, loves statistics so her tour was all about the statistics. Others might be well versed in construction techniques and be able to give the evolution of construction on Fourth Street buildings, for example. You could go on the same tour twice with different guides and come away with very different things each time," she says.
As Architreks grows up, its experts have realized they need to operate more like a business and have benefited from marketing and management experts, including LPK for branding and Brooks Brothers for their signature red shirts.
Passing the Baton
Management of the program is transitioning to some of the guides and Backus welcomes the infusion of new ideas and direction in the next year. "I see it going in a new direction defined by new people. That will be good for the program. It needs new ideas. I've loved every minute of it and feel like we've gotten off to a good, solid start, but it needs new impetus."
But even after a management shift, Backus will still be walking backwards on the sidewalks. "After 2012, I'll be a guide or a trainer. I'll be a guide until I drop."
The highlight of any tour for the guide is "when a customer says, •Wow, I didn't know that.' That's what we're after," she says.
"There's been so much interest, assistance and appreciation," says Backus. "It's all very gratifying. It's extremely rewarding that customers are very appreciative, guides are so enthusiastic and that the merchants along the way know us and are very helpful." -
One architectural tidbit that never fails to elicit a "wow" or "I didn't know that," says Trudy Backus is the story of Carew Tower. Until this year, it was the tallest building in Cincinnati, and it provides a knock-out 360 degree view of Greater Cincinnati from its rooftop. "It was built in about one year. The Emery Industries' family member sold all his stock to build it to support his mixed-use (office-retail) concept. He had money and jobs right after the market crashed and people needed jobs. So up it went."
ARCHITREKS The Details
What: Ten guided, regularly-scheduled walking tours plus four "special interest" tours of the city.
Who: Sponsored by the Cincinnati Preservation Association and the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati.
When: May-October and by special request.
Tickets: $15 adults, $5 children, $120 groups up to 10.
Information: Tours, times, locations at www.cincinnati-walks.org or (513) 421-4469.