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Docent Spotlight: Susan Osborn

Posted on October 18, 2016

Meet Susan Osborn, one of more than 100 volunteer docents for the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) River Cruise aboard Chicago's First Lady Cruises. This year marks Susan's 13th year as a CAF docent (12 years spent on the River Cruise!) If you see Susan at the dock or aboard our vessels, be sure to say "hello"!

Why did you become a CAF docent? 
I grew up near the Jersey Shore, and one of my favorite things to do was to drive up and down Ocean Ave to look at vintage homes. They absolutely fascinated me. Once I moved to Chicago, those drives became el rides into the city to look at skyscrapers. A friend who recognized my love for architecture suggested I look into becoming a Docent for the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Once I trained to be a docent, I opted to become a river docent as soon as I could. I grew up around water, and I couldn’t think of anything better than talking about architecture while cruising up and down this amazing body of water. 

What is your professional career? 
I am a pianist and teacher. I teach Keyboard Skills classes to music majors and Northwestern University. I also teach private and group lessons at Northwestern University Music Academy (the community division of the university) and during part of the summer, at Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan. 

As a child, what did you want to do when you “grew up”? 
I wanted to be a musician, but a combination of Vladimir Horowitz and Joni Mitchell. I took piano and knew I would like to be a pianist, but I also taught myself guitar and wrote songs. If you ever heard me sing, you would realize why the latter part of my aspirations ended fairly quickly. I also loved drawing and photography, so at one point, I thought I might be a visual artist. I insisted I would never be a piano teacher. 

Which building on the tour is your favorite and why? 
I have developed so many favorites since becoming a docent. When I interviewed to become a docent, I was asked to speak on my favorite building in Chicago. I chose the Wrigley Building. I find it elegant, statuesque, with just the right amount of ornament, and unique because its shape changes depending upon the angle from which you look at it. It has such a beautiful vantage point on the river. I have to say that it is still my favorite, and I am always happy when I am looking at it. 

Tell us about a memorable experience on one of your river cruise tours. 
I enjoy doing charter tours, because it provides an opportunity to meet interesting people, and there is more time to actually talk with passengers. During one tour, a man approached me, and in our conversation, I found out he owned the barge company that transported the landfill materials for the “lakefill” of Northwestern’s campus in the 1960’s. His last name was Hannah, and he told me that his barges were named after his daughters; when he mentioned the name Daryl, I immediately stopped him and asked, “is that the actress, Daryl Hannah?” It was. You never know who you will meet on these tours. 

Besides architecture, what are three passions of yours? 
Music, photography, and swimming. Obviously I love music, because I am a musician. But I am also constantly taking photos and have shown/sold them in several venues. Chicago is so photogenic, and I can’t seem to put my camera down. I am currently working on a book of my Chicago photography with commentary, which I hope to eventually sell. I also love swimming in Lake Michigan, because it feels like one gigantic swimming pool with a view. I mostly swim with my head above water so I can look at the surrounding beauty. 

Where in Chicago is your favorite place to…. 
Unwind
I love to unwind at home, because I can see the river and lake; it’s so peaceful and always interesting. I also love the Riverwalk, and coffee houses. 

Experience the great outdoors
Swimming in Lake Michigan or biking the lakefront paths. Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan are wonderful, too, and I experience those when I teach at Interlochen. 

Grab a great cup of coffee/tea
Julius Meinl on Ontario. It is a branch of the original coffeehouse on Southport. It is small and cozy, and I feel quite European when I am in there! 

Enjoy a delicious dinner
I am pretty happy eating anything, but Chicago has too many great places to chose just one. I love D4 on Grand; it is an overblown Irish pub with great comfort food. 

Play tourist for a day (besides the CAF River Cruise of course!)
During the past 5 weeks, this is exactly what I did. When I have time off in the summer, I practically never go away, because I love being a tourist in my own city. I visited four museums (Art Institute, MCA, Chicago History Museum, Field Museum), the Lincoln Park Zoo, Daley Plaza and MCA farmer’s markets, took a Tall Ship Windy ride, and a Mercury Fireworks Cruise ride. And I did a ton of photography, so I probably looked like a tourist! 

What is something about Chicago (restaurant, activity, destination, etc) that is a “hidden gem” of yours? 
Definitely Puck at the Midway Club in the Gleacher Center. I can’t believe more people don’t know about this. It is on the 5th floor overlooking a spectacular river view. The food is reasonable and absolutely delicious. Plus, it’s quiet, never crowded, and there is classical music playing in the background. It is only opened on weekdays between 11:30 and 2. 

What is the next destination on your travel wish list? Barcelona! I saw a Rick Steves special on this city, and it really inspired me to see it. I spent time studying music in Paris, so I always love to think about returning there. And I would love to see Ireland or the Lake District in Great Britain.