conley6.gif (2529 bytes)


Play time - Milwaukee style

Photos by Matt Haas

December 2015

Looking for something fun to do with kids in Milwaukee? Pick a card — not just any card, but a Play Milwaukee card.

It’s a new way to find hot spots for family entertainment, invented by two teachers after a conversation in the locker room at a local fitness center. Julie Stephens, who teaches psychology at Concordia University, is the mother of two elementary-age boys, and Louisa Marks, a resource teacher at Milwaukee College Prep, has three daughters who are in college.

"We were talking about places our children enjoyed going to around Milwaukee," Marks says, and the two began exchanging ideas. "We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if somebody could just tell us where are the best places to take children in Milwaukee?’"

So in January, Stephens and Marks decided to pursue the idea themselves, and soon were making lists of their favorite places and asking friends for their ideas. Narrowing the list to 21, they found a graphic artist to illustrate each one and created a prototype deck of playing cards before approaching local businesses with the concept.

Making the transition from teacher to businesswoman was "a gift," Marks says, "because you never want to stop learning." She had to learn how to create a website, for example, and took a leave of absence from her job for this school year to develop the project.

"We went to each and every of the 21 places in the deck and figured out how we could partner with them," Marks says. "We were schlepping all over the place."

Adventure Rock was the first business on board, and of all the companies they approached, Marks says, not one turned them down. Each of the destinations includes some sort of discount, which tallies up to a total of $400 in savings, she notes.

With a retail price of $25, Marks says Play Milwaukee card decks are being sold by area schools as fundraisers, with the school receiving a percentage of the sales. She says they are also shopping the cards around to high-quality retailers, and Sendik’s in Mequon recently agreed to carry them.

Participating Play Milwaukee businesses are located throughout the area, and there’s one card that’s just for adults.

"We included a Neroli Salon & Spa card. That’s our TLC card for the caregiver who does all the driving," Marks says.

For more information on Play Milwaukee, go to


This story ran in the December 2015 issue of: