If you frequent Charleston performance venues, you’ve surely seen volunteer usher Wilma Maiers, perhaps spotting her cane first, as it’s always adorned with a festive display—plastic ice-cream cones in July, light-up pumpkins in October, Santa hats and dreidels in December. Or, you’ve run into her at the Charleston Farmers Market. Standing out from the crowd for her neon-centric attire as well as for Max, the 14-year-old feline she pushes in a covered stroller, she’s hardly missed a Saturday in a decade. Just in time for Maiers’s busiest season of the year, we sat down with her for a chat.
CM: What brought you to Charleston?
WM: I was born in Iowa and taught junior high in Chicago for 20 years. I visited Charleston for the first time with a friend in 1980, and when I drove over the bridge into the city, my body just went “ahh.” I moved to the Lowcountry shortly after and taught for Charleston County Schools for four years before becoming a union rep for teachers in the South. I had to leave Charleston for my new position but always planned to retire here. In 2005, I finally made my way back.
CM: Where have you ushered?
WM: My first gig, before my bags were even unpacked from the move, was at Piccolo Spoleto. I now usher at the Gaillard Center, Dock Street Theatre, and Charleston Music Hall, and I also volunteer for the Charleston Marathon, Charleston Wine + Food, Historic Charleston Foundation’s Festival of Houses & Gardens, and the Preservation Society of Charleston’s Fall Tour of Homes. Once a week, I work a shift at the Dock Street’s concierge desk.
CM: Why do you volunteer?
WM: I was studying to be a professional tour guide, but my health started declining, making it hard for me to walk for long periods of time. I had two options: stay home and feel sorry for myself or get out in the world. So I decided to volunteer as an usher—I can still socialize without walking too much, and I get to watch some of the best shows in town. Because I live alone and don’t have family in the area, I make a point to go out and visit with people at least once a day.
CM: What’s your favorite part of the holiday season?
WM: There are so many volunteer opportunities, and I really get to dress up. I love going to the market, and the vendors request that I wear my crocheted, light-up Christmas tree hat. When I usher, I have my decorated cane.
CM: How do you fill your time once things slow down in January?
WM: I find out what’s going on around town, then visit event websites and use the SignUpGenius app to volunteer for them. And even though I’m not “officially” a tour guide, I still pull tourists aside on King Street and tell them about the history of a building or side street they’re approaching. Moving to Charleston and becoming so immersed in the city—it’s been a lot of fun.
Lives: In North Charleston with her cat, Max, a leash-trained Siamese and ragdoll mix
Educated: She holds a bachelor’s from Mundelein College and a master’s from Northwestern University, both in Illinois.
Serves: As the president of the Summerville Kiwanis Club, she offers a monthly presentation to children in the Kiwanis Terrific Kids program.
Most treasured gifts: Vendor Elizabeth Curry McConnell, of Charleston Views, takes Maiers’s photo at each farmers market. At the end of every season, all the vendors sign the album before presenting it to her.