I recently got the pleasure of sitting down to talk with a very phenomenal Black woman. Her talents and historical feats to me are astounding and her continual strides in life are perplexing. Sharon Risiner is beyond ordinary, on the contrary her extraordinary life and talents has dropped headlines and inspired many to move ahead and delete the words “no” and “can’t”, from all vocabulary.
Growing up Sharon Risiner had a life unlike many other young black women in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. At a time when segregation and racism was an everyday thing Sharon Risiner was moving mountains and overcoming feats that most women of color couldn’t or wouldn’t dare. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin then one of the country’s most booming, influential, industrial cities Sharon Risiner knew the value of work and proved it by excelling in every job that she ever had. She was always focused on moving up the ladder and was certainly a movement by herself.
No matter what job she took she always became either the manager or supervisor. Sharon Risiner was the first Black woman in Milwaukee to gain the rank of Manager of Jewel-Osco Supermarket, a known grocery store chain at that time then only local in the Midwest region. She was and continues to be a constant professional.
Her leadership skills, ambition, talent and determination have opened up countless opportunities. After quitting work at the Post Office she heard of a glamorous opportunity to become a waitress at Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. It was a remarkably glamorous way to expand her horizons.
Hugh Heffner started his magazine in 1953; it was and still is a publication that celebrates sex. At that time many Americans were not willing to talk so openly about this subject but it went on to become a smashing success. Hugh Heffner began opening nightclubs in the 1960’s and 70’s his first club opening in Chicago, his clubs featured scantily clad women known as ‘Bunnies”. Sharon Risiner happened to be one of those “bunnies” and historically one of the first Black Bunnies in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Sharon Risiner was hired in 1971 at the age of 27 she was the oldest bunny at the club and was nicknamed Granny as most girls where 21 when they start at the club. Her out-going personality and excellent interpersonal skills doubled in making her the most well-liked, well-tipped and most popular bunny on site not to mention her being a favorite of the Bunny Mother, which was the head of all the bunnies. As a bunny waitress it was all about glamour serving clients and making money. In addition to being one of the highest paid bunnies in Lake Geneva Sharon Risiner loved the experience of meeting new and interesting people and planned on getting residency, but since Lake Geneva was a resort she was unable to at the time because there was no vacancy. Sharon was offered by Hugh Heffner himself to work in the Bahamas Club however, the Bunny Mother wouldn’t let her go because she liked Sharon and thought she was right for the Lake Geneva Club and of course because she was the only Black woman there.
Life at the Bunny Club was something very familiar to a college dorm. Each bunny had roommates, and like every roommate situation a lot of the rooms where dirty in fact bathrooms were close to unbearable, they would often go through cleaning staff like water. However, Sharon kept her room clean as she was a stickler for being tidy and clean. The maximum they could work was four hours a day however; they could swap out hours with each other.
They had many different names and areas at the Playboy club. They had the Bunny Hutch, The Penthouse and the Steakhouse just to name a few. Sharon loved working at the Steakhouse because of the hours. On her spare time she went horseback riding and skiing. While on the premises they couldn’t be seen onsite with a male, at which Sharon didn’t mind and you couldn’t date a key holder which was a member of the club without consent from the Bunny Mother and she would look the person’s background up to make sure they were safe.
Whenever bunnies would have birthdays they’d get together and go to the penthouse and for Sharon’s birthday she had Tiny Tim come by to celebrate with her and the other ladies. Sharon had only been at the Playboy club a year. When she came home for a short break she ended up gaining 10 pounds and due to the glamorous status of a bunny being slim and fit to wear their personally tailored suits she was unable to return unless she lost the weight. She had planned on a continued career but because of the commute and at that time she had a baby and many obligations she chose to pursue an alternate route. All in all the experience although short lived was historical and to this very day this talented lady as continued to venture on into the road less traveled.