When Interra Capital Group bought a single-story office building in Arlington Heights in 2015, the new owners decided to keep the building's oldest fixture.
"Phil came with the building," said human relations manager Karma Shipman, her voice bubbly with excitement about Wednesday's surprise 90th birthday party in the building for longtime building engineer Phil Pecoraro. "Everybody loves him. He's a gem we have."
As he has for the past 28 years, Pecoraro, who drives from his home in Elk Grove Village, showed up early on his birthday for his shift at 2101 S. Arlington Heights Road.
"Phil has been here through every owner. He knows everything about this building," said attorney Ronald F. Wittmeyer Jr., who has an office in the building. "Whether it's part of his job or not, he'll do it."
With full participation from other tenants and Interra Capital employees in Houston, Wittmeyer organized Wednesday's celebration, which features decorations, a table filled with desserts and a 15-minute video tribute to Pecoraro with dozens of people expressing their love and appreciation.
"If it weren't for COVID, we'd have a rip-roaring bash," Wittmeyer said.
Daily Herald photographer Mark Welsh captured the emotional celebration for Pecoraro with photographs and a video.
"My secret is that my doctor, a long time ago, said to me, 'Don't stop moving,' and I haven't stopped," Pecoraro told Welsh. "And that's why I'm still here and taking care of this building."
Pecoraro choked up while addressing the crowd of admirers in the lobby. "You're just terrific human beings," he says, noting they are the reason he loves to come to work.
Dentist Tina Smith moved into the building 15 years ago and was immediately impressed and happy with how helpful and knowledgeable Pecoraro was.
"I'm happy to tell you how wonderful Phil is," Smith saids. "If there was ever an issue we would just go to Phil. I was thinking at the time what a shame he's in his 70s and will probably be retiring soon."
That was never in the plans.
"He would say this job is keeping him alive," said daughter Kim Pecoraro Banks of Lake Zurich. "He's not a person to sit around and watch TV. He's got to be doing something. And he loves those tenants."
For 40 years, Pecoraro worked as a manager with Peoples Gas. His wife, Dolores, died more than 30 years ago, and he never remarried.
"He retired for maybe a year and went right back to work," said Pecoraro Banks, whose sister, Karen Irwin, lives in Arizona. "He loves his golf. He still rides his bike in Busse Woods. He often rides 11 miles a day."
Good with his hands, Pecoraro also makes wind chimes and stained-glass pieces that he often gives to others connected with the building. Shipman said she cherishes the piece Pecoraro made for her.
"I'm heartbroken I can't be there," said Shipman, who helped coordinate Pecoraro's birthday celebration from her office in Houston. She said Pecoraro shows no signs of slowing down.
"I've asked Phil a hundred times, 'Are we asking too much of you?'" Shipman said. "And he says, 'Karma, don't be silly.'"
Jack Polatsek, founder and principal of Interra Capital Group, recorded a message for the video that said in part, "I know you are 90, but you look and feel like you're 19. ... We all love you."
The entire staff at Northwest United Urology, all wearing masks, ended their video with a "We love you!" shout.
"In all honesty, he has not slowed down at all," Smith said. "He's up and down these halls checking in on everyone, climbing ladders, fixing things, throwing away things, replacing things and all with the energy of someone 40 years younger."
Pecoraro knows how to fix the human spirit, too.
"Everybody appreciates the great care you take with all of us here who are tenants in the building, as well as the building itself," Wittmeyer said. "Hopefully soon the snow will leave, and we'll be able to get back out there on the golf course and have some more fun like we did last fall."