April 10, 2024

George Eifler, center, talks with visitors in the Dorothy Fratt: Color Mirage exhibition at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo: Brian Passey.

George Eifler is turning 88 on April 11, and he’s chosen to celebrate that numerical repetition by adding a third—an 8-hour shift at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA).

George is a Protection Services officer at the nonprofit Scottsdale Arts, which operates SMoCA, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Canal Convergence, and other arts endeavors in Scottsdale. In his three years at Scottsdale Arts, George has developed a reputation as a gregarious gallery attendant, greeting museum visitors and sharing the knowledge he has gained about the exhibitions.

“I keep my mind active here by talking to the patrons when they come in,” George says, adding that he often asks where the visitors come from. “If I’ve been to that country, I’ll say, ‘What city are you from?’ And a lot of them are surprised that this old man has been to their country at one time or another. That opens up a lot of opportunities to talk about their culture, their differences. That adds interest and excitement to me instead of just standing around being bored.”

George’s interest in other countries and cultures came from his career in the computer industry, which took him to dozens of countries across the world, including extended assignments in Germany and Singapore.

Born in Mattydale, New York, on April 11, 1936, George was raised in the Syracuse area and later obtained a degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Following graduation, he began a career with General Electric, first in his home state and later in Oklahoma. While working for GE, he decided to pursue a master’s degree, which helped him transition from designing disc and tape drives in the 1960s to marketing and sales, opening job opportunities that took him to California and New Hampshire in the 1980s before moving to Germany—his father’s home country—in 1987, where he lived until moving to Singapore in 1994.

“It took me to 77 different countries on business,” George says of his career. “It got me to travel a lot and gave me views of other cultures, cuisines, value systems. It was a whole doctorate degree, as far as I’m concerned, in society, in human relations.”

China has been among his favorite destinations; George has spent more than 180 days in the country on business and pleasure through the years. Among the Chinese traditions that intrigued him was the significance of the number 8, which is recognized as a lucky number by many Chinese people. Several eights in the same sequence is viewed as even luckier.

So, with his 88th birthday on the horizon, George approached his manager with a special request. SMoCA is only open for six hours on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, but on Thursdays it stays open late, until 7 p.m., creating the opportunity for Protection Services officers to work eight-hour shifts.

“It’s an eight-hour day, so I can clock another eight to match the eights of the birthday, making three,” George says. “So, I maximized the number of eights I could get that day.”

Many people prefer to not work on their birthdays. But George views it as an opportunity to do what he loves.

“Because of my curiosity, which I think stems from the engineering basis, if I see something, either about an artist or a location, I’ll write a note down, and I’ll go home and Google it. I’ll research it,” George says. “If it’s interesting enough, I’ll share it with the patrons.”

The research challenges his mind and gives him an opportunity to share his knowledge with Museum visitors. Sharing information with visitors helps keep him active.

“For six-hour shifts, for eight-hour shifts, I don’t sit down,” George says. “I stand up outside the garage door in the back to eat my lunch. I walk around in the galleries. By doing all those things, I think it’s kept my outlook younger. I think it’s helped me be able to enjoy life longer with less pain, less disabilities or moping around. Yes, I’m not as flexible. I’m not as fast. I’ve got a few aches but not enough to slow me down.”

George’s father taught him the value of hard work, which is why he continued to work after officially retiring in 2000. He had stored up a bunch of projects to complete after retirement, but after six months he had completed all of them. Then he said, “Now what?”

While volunteering at an outdoor festival at Scottsdale Civic Center, he noticed a worker in a purple shirt and George’s curiosity struck again. The man worked for PRO EM National Event Services, a company that often contracts for Scottsdale Arts events. The next Monday, George was at PRO EM’s office to apply for a job. That was the beginning of a two-decade stint with the event services company—a job that took him to everything from Spring Training to the Scottsdale Arts Festival.

Cheh Eifler talks with visitors in the Dorothy Fratt: Color Mirage exhibition at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo: Brian Passey.

After a few years working for PRO EM, George’s wife Cheh joined him with the company. The couple met in 1995 while George was living in Singapore. Cheh’s parents had moved there from China before she was born. She and George married in 1998, and Cheh joined George in Phoenix, where George had moved after returning to the States because his oldest son was living in the Valley. Not only did Cheh move to the United States in 1998, but it was also her first visit to the country.

When she was legally able to work in the United States, Cheh joined her husband at PRO EM and, eventually, as a Protection Services officer for Scottsdale Arts.

Cheh says working at both organizations helped her feel more comfortable in the culture of her new country. While she admits she’s not as outgoing as her husband, this type of work has given Cheh a reason to interact with patrons, building her confidence for talking with strangers.

“It’s fun,” Cheh says of the job. “I don’t know anything about art, so that’s new for me.”

Art was also a new subject for George when he started working at Scottsdale Arts. As an engineer, George says he couldn’t even draw stick figures. But through his travels in Europe and Asia, he often visited the famous museums, from the Louvre in Paris to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg,

Yet George recognizes there can be major differences between classical art and contemporary. That’s why you’ll often find him researching the exhibitions at SMoCA.

Among his favorite exhibitions was Squidsoup’s Ocean of Light in 2017, which he worked as a PRO EM employee. A more recent favorite was 2022’s Beverly McIver: Full Circle. But he’s able to find something he likes in every exhibition, and working around art is helping the formerly left-brained engineer open up the right side of his brain “a little bit late in life,” which he says is “better late than never.”

He notes one piece currently on view in the Fratt exhibition that uses sumi ink—a material with which he was not familiar. So, he looked it up, and now he can share that knowledge with Museum visitors, just like he’ll be doing for his 88th birthday.

“I tell people this is the perfect retirement plan,” George says. “It’s like a three-legged stool. One leg is you get out of the house and keep your mind and body active. The second leg of that stool is that you keep your social skills active. Number three is that it can provide income to fund our travel because you don’t know which runs out first: your life or your money. For me to travel relaxed, I have to have the money set aside, know how much it’s going to cost, have it ready, and not touch the savings that help fund retirement.”

Cheh and George Eifler work as Protection Services officers for Scottsdale Arts, which includes gallery attendant duties at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo: Brian Passey.

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