When you step off from the Getty Center tram on a Tuesday, Suzanne Ziesmer is there to greet you.
It’s 64 degrees on this particular morning. A perfect spring day in most parts of the country—although Angelenos consider this downright freezing. The tram wraps around the Getty as it inches closer to the top of the hill, then comes to a complete stop. That’s when Suzanne springs to life.
As visitors step off the tram, Suzanne stretches her arms and gestures with both precision and urgency. Airport ground marshallers who guide 747s at the airport would do well to take notes.
Not only efficient, she’s also warm, greeting visitors like old friends she lost contact with a while back. “It’s like inviting them to your place, your home,” Suzanne told me. “I think they enjoy their visit more because they’ve been greeted.”
Suzanne has been welcoming visitors to the Getty Center for 10 years.
She’s one of the 543 volunteers at the Getty Center and Getty Villa who help you while you’re here, from answering questions (“Where’s the nearest restroom?” being the most frequent) to assisting with special events and projects. Often the first to be seen by visitors, volunteers like Suzanne are the face of the Getty.
You can become a volunteer, too; recruitment is open through this Saturday, January 22. Read about the program and get an application here.
“When visitors get out of that elevator or get off the tram, it can be overwhelming,” said Sandy Regan, assistant manager in Visitor Services. “I always tell a volunteer, ‘Someone is coming to your home. How would you make them feel?’”
“The neatest thing is when they ask ‘Where do I pay for a ticket?’ And you say it’s free. I feel so good to be able to say that.” said Ziesmer.
Giving back isn’t anything new for Suzanne. She also volunteered for Meals on Wheels after her husband retired from the film industry. Now both volunteer at the Museum. “Being retired, you can become closed in,” she said. “The Getty gives me a chance to be social and enjoy people more.”
Some of Suzanne’s favorite moments with guests come from children. One seven-year-old told Suzanne he’d been to the Getty once before, “when he was little.” “I’ve heard, ‘Do you live here? Is this your home?’” said Suzanne with laughter.
“The Getty becomes a part of your life, a part of you.” She grew teary-eyed recalling friends who, for age or health reasons, have not been able to continue volunteering. “It’s really a loss. They feel as though they’ve lost part of their life. You feel like you’re losing somebody.”
As more visitors step from the tram, Suzanne raisers her arms over her head and puts a big smile on her face. “Good morning!”
Suzanne’s interest in art began almost accidentally, when she was a college student in Milwaukee. “It was colder than the Dickens,” she says, recalling winters in the Midwest. She stepped inside the Milwaukee Art Museum seeking warmth. Instead she found Van Gogh. “It was so cold. And I got in front of this Vincent van Gogh and it was just radiating. It was so vibrant.”
But even though the Getty has an amazing art collection, that’s not why Suzanne is here. At heart, she’s a people person. “I probably get more than the Getty gets out of the work. Although, I hate to use the word ‘work.’ This isn’t really work.”
If Suzanne isn’t there to greet you next time you come to the Getty Center, you know where you can find her: West Pavilion on the third floor. Visiting Vincent van Gogh.