A concert seemed like a good idea. But this concert?

Mary and Jeff Pardee were beginning to have doubts.

Watching them make their way through DTE Energy Music Theatre last month, so was Gloria Baker.

“I was just observing them,” says Baker, a guest services supervisor. They didn’t look comfortable. And they didn’t look like anybody else.

To start with, they had come straight from a funeral, he in a black suit and a necktie and she in a black skirt and sweater. Also, they’re both 71.

When the headline act is Slayer, that’s unusual. When the supporting acts include Sister Sin, Thy Art is Murder and Jungle Rot, there’s something definitely wrong with this picture.

What Jeff Pardee did to bring them to that moment was loving and thoughtful.

What Baker did to give them a better moment was also thoughtful. And a nice example of simple kindness. And — perhaps most important — good business.

The occasion was Mary’s birthday, plus one day. The Pardees, who live in Grand Blanc, have fond memories of shows at the amphitheater they still call Pine Knob.

Mary particularly enjoyed one evening with Barry Manilow. He wasn’t on the bill, though.

Jeff, whose goal was to take his wife to the nearest show to her birthday, thought maybe he’d bought tickets to an oldies revue. But The Shirelles weren’t on the bill, either.

Instead, there was an Australian metalcore band called Feed Her to the Sharks. At the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, the Pardees were most definitely fish out of water.

‘What brought you here?’

The Pardees met in college, working at an Eastern Michigan University cafeteria. Come December, they’ll have been married 49 years.

She became a teacher, then left the field to stay home with their two sons. He became the director of management and budget for Oakland County, then finance director for the city of Adrian.

On a whim between his high-profile jobs, Jeff went to truck driving school and piloted an 18-wheeler for a year. These days he drives one of those two-front-wheel motorcycles, while Mary favors a 1990 Buick Reatta convertible.

They like to bowl, golf, walk and travel. In short, they are not going gentle into that good night. But a headbangers’ ball featuring a contemporary of Megadeth and Anthrax …

“I’m sure,” Mary says, “that we looked lost.”

Or like somebody’s grandparents. That was one of Gloria Baker’s thoughts: maybe they were doting on a youngster who was performing on the second stage. Then again, in his nice black suit, maybe Jeff was a limo driver.

“I just went up,” she says, “and asked them, ‘What brought you here today?’ ”

Program from Disney

What brought Baker there was a love of music and what seems to be an unfettered joy in helping people.

An accountant by day, she’s worked part-time with Palace Sports & Entertainment for 20 years. She lives in Roseville, she’s 54 (“26 in a good light”), and she’s so naturally approachable that other shoppers at Meijer ask her where they can find the shower curtains.

“Give me a second,” she told the Pardees, and she hustled off to conspire with a manager.

The Palace organization hunkered down with the customer service gurus at Disney a few years ago, and among the initiatives it came away with was something called Elevate.

In short strokes, says CEO Dennis Mannion, “We wanted to create a culture where purpose always takes precedence over procedure.”

Translation: If a child drops an ice cream cone, a housekeeper can replace it without finding a supervisor who fills out three forms.

Similarly, if a well-meaning couple spends $133 on tickets to the wrong concert, Baker can refund their money, offer them lunch, and give them two free seats to see the DSO play selections from “Star Wars” the next night at Meadow Brook Music Festival.

Though the Pardees declined the lunch, Mary says, they were surprised and delighted by the graciousness of Baker and the Palace.

They loved the symphony on a balmy evening at Meadow Brook — and while they did not join the fans who chose to dress in costume, they still felt very much at home.


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