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Class Notes Profiles


Navy Pier’s caretaker

Marilynn Kelly Gardner, Jour ’88, is convinced she has the best job in Chicago.

As president and chief executive officer of Navy Pier Inc., she stands at the helm of the No. 1 tourist attraction in the Midwest. Gardner’s role is part operations director, part landlord, part community partner and part tourism promoter, all to ensure the 9 million people who visit Navy Pier annually walk away satisfied.

“What I find most rewarding is knowing that people choose to spend their limited leisure time with us,” she says.

Gardner’s 18-year love affair with Navy Pier began in 1994 when she was hired as a public relations director. Approved by Chicago’s mayor and the governor of Illinois as general manager in 2006, the mother of three says balance is the key to managing her hectic schedule — a skill she learned as an undergraduate in Marquette’s Freshman Frontier Program.

“Marquette taught me to apply myself to all I do but to create balance in doing so,” she says. “We worked hard, relaxed well, practiced our faith and never let the little things get in the way of doing great work.”

Gardner’s current priority is managing the redevelopment of Navy Pier. She facilitated a worldwide search for an architectural firm with a design concept that will create the “pier of the future” in time for the venue’s 100th birthday in 2016.

“Our challenge,” she says, “is to create a pier that’s even more loved than the current pier.” — Lynn C. Sheka

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