Alta May Steinke
She might not own the place, but her name is right up there—front and center.
For those who wander in to Alta May’s Place in Janesville, it doesn’t take long to figure out who the bar’s namesake is. She’s most likely the one sidled up to a gambling machine, grinning ear to ear when she pulls herself a winner.
At 92 years old, Alta May Steinke has been around Janesville for a while. A Bower City native and Janesville High School graduate, she has also created some strong local roots as the matriarch of a brood that includes six kids, 15 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
But Alta May is much more than just “Grandma.” She’s also a former pro roller skater, a late-life skydiver, a high-end automobile driver, a feature film extra and a killer-whale-shaped blimp navigator. She’s certainly got some stories and, if you’re around the bar at just the right time, you might even get to hear one or two.
To learn more about Alta May’s Place, visit the bar at 708 S. Jackson St., Janesville, or check out the its Facebook page.
1. You are the namesake for Alta May’s Place, a bar owned by your daughter, Suzanne Hamilton. How do you feel about having your name attached to a tavern? My daughter (who also owns Hammy’s Roadside Bar in Janesville) bought it and used my name. I was so excited that I cried. It was the best thing anyone could do for me. My name will live on.
2. As namesake for Alta May’s Place, what are your official duties? I would love to bartend, sweep the floors, pull the weeds. But I am 92, and I can’t see or hear. It’s tough aging.
3. I would assume since your daughter owns the place, you can play any music on the jukebox you want. What would be the first song you’d want to hear? “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles. Myself and my three girls sang it at the grand opening. It’s our family’s karaoke song.
4. Do you collect anything? I collect watches. I have 65 of them. My favorite was very expensive—$350—and I have a SeaWorld watch from Texas that I got for $50. I also have pins from all over the country to put on my Hard Rock Cafe coat. My coat is very heavy.
5. Name the one item you own that you would not want to live without. My dog, Doovey. I got him at 80 years old. He brought so much joy to my life, and it’s been difficult to live without him. I had him for 12 years. I miss him so much.
6. People would be surprised to find out that I: Drove cars at Manheim Auto Auction in Orlando, Florida, until I was 91 years old. I also jumped out of an airplane at 91. Skydiving at 80 was the best thing I’ve ever done. I would do it again.
7. I understand you appeared in the movie “Jaws 3.” How did that come about and what was your role? I was working at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. I was an extra, and my sister Joyce was an extra, too. My daughter Tamie Steinke Shoener had a skiing-talking part.
8. Have you ever met anyone famous? On the set of “Jaws 3,” I met Lou Gossett Jr., Dennis Quaid and Lea Thompson.
9. You went skydiving when you were 80 years old. What made you try that, and would you like to do it again? It was very exciting. President George H.W. Bush went when he was 80, so if he could do it, so can I. I would have gone again at 90, but my family said no. I’d go once a month if I was strong enough.
10. For a time, you were a professional roller skater. How does one become a professional roller skater, and what makes someone a “professional”? I got paid. I was a roller skater as a performer at my school and at a roller rink in Delavan. I liked to be around people.
11. You used to drive the “Shamu blimp” at SeaWorld in Florida. How did you end up doing that? It was for an advertisement back in the ’80s. I just told the SeaWorld ambassador I wanted to drive that blimp. What an honor.
12. You used to drive for Manheim Auto Auctions in Orlando, Florida. What was the nicest car you ever drove? Manheim is the biggest car auction in the United States. The nicest car I ever drove was a Maserati.
13. I understand you perform music. When did you start, and what do you play? I started at age 5, and Marshall School (in Janesville) also had an orchestra. I have five violins, and I also play the cornet and drums. My kids and grandkids have my instruments now.
14. I understand gambling is one of your favorite hobbies. Got any good stories about big wins? I love it, love it, love it. My advice is don’t put too much money in at once. Also, get out of one game and go back later. I won a big amount 20 years ago and threw $100 bills all over the house. The grandkids thought they were rich.
15. What is your worst habit? Gambling.
16. You’ve got six boys and six girls. Where did you find the time to do so many things with so much family responsibility? I did everything with my kids. I went to all of their events and got bleacher butt. I was a chaperone regularly. We lived on the river, and the Rock Aqua Jays was a big part of life for our family.
17. Some people don’t believe Elvis Presley really died in 1977. What do you think? I saw him in Madison once when my son Steve was in college. At the time, Elvis was big and fat, and it was one of the last concerts before he died. I’ve seen his grave in Memphis. He’s dead.
18. What was your first car? I drove a 1927 Chevy that was my dad’s car. He was a mechanic in Janesville.
19. If you won the lottery, what would you do? Gamble, because I love to gamble. I’d also buy an island for my family and friends so they don’t have to work.
20. Share one thing you haven’t yet done in life that you wish you could try. I love the Orlando Magic (NBA basketball team), and I went to a lot of free games because my boss at Manheim Auto Auctions liked me. It always came with a free buffet. I would love to meet (the players).
Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.