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John Bernhardt

Take the Plunge

By Nate Fisher

“Take risks, take the challenge.”

John Bernhardt’s journey began in Vandalia, where he graduated from high school, recognizing early on the unique charm of growing up in this community. Vandalia, to him, was a nurturing ground for kindness and goodwill. Yet, the allure of travel and exploring the world beckoned him even while he was still a student. His first foray into the hospitality industry was as a bellhop at the once-iconic Sheraton in St. Louis, a hotel that has since made way for the former Edward Jones Dome on Washington Avenue. Those summers spent working there ignited a passion in John: “I worked there a couple of summers and loved it. I got the bug. And I always tell people in the hospitality business: you either love it or hate it. You know right away. There’s no in-between.” Heeding the call to the service industry was a natural step forward for him.

John pursued his education at Eastern, earning a degree in Hospitality with a minor in Business Administration. This degree was not just a formality; it directly aligned with his aspirations, paving the way for a career with Marriott. Now, as a longtime Director of Group Sales at the downtown Chicago Marriott, John has embraced numerous opportunities to traverse both America and the globe. Marriott’s expansive presence, with over 30 brands in more than 139 countries, has allowed John to explore a myriad of cultures and destinations. Among his treasured travel experiences, the Wailea Hotel in Maui and the Ritz Carlton in St. Thomas are highlights. John’s journey is a testament to making the most of the opportunities that come one’s way, underpinned by a dedication to the hospitality sector.

John and his wife, Jodie, themselves high school sweethearts from Vandalia, have been married for thirty-three years. They now reside in Downtown Chicago, with their daughter, Bailey, a Doctor of Physical Therapy, living in Nashville. Between his roots in Vandalia, extensive travels, and family life, John embodies the belief that dreams, fueled by motivation, can indeed become reality. Reflecting on advice for today’s high school graduates, John emphasizes the importance of embracing uncertainty: “I would say ‘take risks.’ If you’re contemplating a job or a move and you’re unsure, go for it. It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t pan out. You can always return home.”

John’s career trajectory hasn’t always been linear, marked by promotions and advancements. “I don’t necessarily always go up the ladder. Sometimes it goes sideways. But hospitality is what I wanted to do, so I chose it,” he shares. This choice was informed early on during his time at the Sheraton in St. Louis, where he discovered his calling, acquired valuable skills, and affirmed his commitment to hospitality. John’s story serves as a reminder that taking risks, as he advises, can lead to fulfilling one’s true calling. Regardless of age or circumstances, responding to that persistent call might reveal that “home” is a concept far broader and more enriching than we ever imagined.

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