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Issue Date: August 2004 Issue


Where Are They Now?

They were Cleveland's famous and infamous -- our stars and our also-rans, our crooks, coaches and kid-show hosts. Some burned as lifelong beacons while others flashed in the pan.

We picked up the threads of their stories to discover what happen


Barbara "Miss Barbara" Plummer, 73, still resides in the same South Euclid neighborhood where she, husband Gordon Plummer, now a retired TRW executive, and their two children lived when she began hosting "Romper Room" in 1958. After WEWS-TV 5 replaced the locally produced children's show with a taped counterpart in 1971, the Norwalk, Ohio, native and Wellesley College grad "jumped into the volunteer world," most notably to develop a fine-arts appreciation program that was implemented in several area schools.

 

"I did some commercials, stuff like that, after [the show]," she says. "But after a while, I really wasn't interested anymore."

 "Miss Barbara" is still a member of the Cleveland Play House Women's Committee and the Museum Advisory Council of the Western Reserve Historical Society (which includes her "magic mirrors" among its collections). She is also president of The Children's Guild and active in the Town & Country and Four Corners garden clubs.

After leaving her gig as WOIO-TV anchor in 1998, Gretchen Carlson made it big, landing the role of co-anchor of "The Saturday Early Show" for CBS.

"It's why I worked so hard," the former Miss America says. "I always wanted to host a show like this."

(In a case of "It's a small world," on the day we caught up with Carlson, she had just wrapped a segment featuring former Cleveland Magazine editor Liz Vaccariello, who now works as an editor for Fitness Magazine in New York City.)

Carlson, who has a 1-year-old daughter, says the best thing about her time in Cleveland was meeting her husband, a baseball agent. The second-best thing, she adds, was the excitement of Jacobs Field.

When she's not hosting "The Early Show," Carlson serves as a correspondent for other CBS news programs. "It's really great," she says. "You do something new every day."

The 13-year marriage of former WKYC-TV television personalities Doug Adair and Mona Scott  ended in 1992. Adair, 75, retired eight years ago as an anchorman for NBC affiliate WCMH-TV in Columbus, the station he and Scott left Cleveland for in 1983. He and wife Jean, a former nun, now divide their time between a home in the Columbus suburbs and a condominium in Venice, Fla.

"We've been giving some very serious thought to moving back to Cleveland," the Xenia native reports. "The times that I had in Cleveland were really special." Adair's hobbies include harness racing — he currently co-owns a 2-year-old horse, Medoland Carter.

Mona Scott retired from CBS affiliate WBNS-TV in Columbus in 1998. She writes a grammar column for News Blues, a daily Internet newsletter for those in the TV news media produced by her husband, former WKYC-TV reporter/ anchor Mike James, in their rural Reddick, Fla., home. She emphatically declined our request for an interview.

"I'm not looking for anything to be written about me," she replied in an e-mail. "I thoroughly enjoy my life out of the public eye."

WMMS-FM's onetime morning drive-time team are leading relatively tame lives compared to the days when they hosted the rock station's top-rated "Buzzard Morning Zoo."

Jeff Kinzbach, 51, lives on a 150-acre ranch an hour's drive east of Dallas with wife Patti and 8-year-old daughter McKenzie. He and his brother rehabilitate and resell single-family homes; their own construction company does much of the work.

"We really were looking for a new adventure," Kinzbach says of the decision to move from Medina County a couple of years ago. "We liked living up north, but we were just getting so tired of the long winters. You don't have to shovel heat."

Ed "Flash" Ferenc, also 51, is a public-information officer for Cleveland Municipal Court. He moonlights as a public relations consultant and host of "America's Workforce," a talk-radio show devoted to unionized labor issues on WERE-AM from 7 to 8 a.m. weekdays. "In today's radio climate," Ferenc says of his work situation, "this is perfect for me." Home is in Independence with wife Debbie, daughters Jackie, Rachael and Stephanie, and stepdaughter Joy.

Many viewers who watched Marty Sullivan recounting the day's top headlines on Channel 43 probably wondered if the suitcoat-and-tie persona extended below the news desk. The truth can now be told: From the waist down, Sullivan was indeed still attired in the baggy blue tights and size-13 sneakers of his alter ego, Superhost.

From Nov. 8, 1969 (when he debuted with a showing of the so-wretched-it's-funny Zsa Zsa Gabor clunker "Queen of Outer Space") until 1989, Supe entertained kids, teens and adults with a Saturday-afternoon sci-fi movie, goofy shtick and gentle wisecracking. The character made loads of personal appearances, rode in parades, signed autographs and delighted fans with his trademark giggle.

Before retiring in 1993, Sullivan spent 24 years at Channel 43, working variously as cameraman, audio technician, floor director, booth announcer, news reader "and floor sweeper." "Since it was a small operation, they wanted a lot more out of you than just your tonsils," he says.

Today, Sullivan/Supe lives in Brookings, Ore., a few blocks from the ocean. He doesn't regret leaving behind our steamy summers or frigid winters, but does miss the people of Cleveland. "It's Middle America at its best," he says warmly.

Television pioneer Linn Sheldon might not hoof around a stage so spryly these days, but his humor is still pretty quick.

Now 85, the longtime Cleveland television fixture — known to generations of Cleveland children as Barnaby — has suffered two strokes in the last couple years, has diabetes and skin cancer that is in remission and has undergone open-heart surgery.

"If you can think of something I haven't had," he quips, "you win a prize."

The strokes, particularly the most recent one, left Sheldon with what he says is an impaired memory, but that's hard to detect as he recounts a television career that began 56 years ago and includes 20 different programs, stints on most Cleveland stations and 32 years as Barnaby.

Sheldon was performing in the city's many nightclubs, entertaining between such acts as the Dorsey Brothers and Gene Krupa, when he took his first TV gig: reading aloud the day's programming list as a sort of talking TV Guide. He brought humor and fun to this routine role, which led to "The Linn Sheldon Show," presented by Rogers Jewelry Store on WEWS. He believes it was one of the first sponsored shows in Cleveland. He began "Barnaby" in 1956.

Sheldon retired and, in 1990, moved to Florida. He found that, as a 70-year-old, he was the youngest guy in the state. He told a reporter that a woman came up to him and said, "My God — Soupy Sales!" He returned to Cleveland soon after.

Even now, though he's been off television for more than a dozen years, people recognize him — as Linn Sheldon or, more likely, as Barnaby. "Gray-haired ladies come up to me and say, 'I used to watch you when I was a girl,'" he says.

He still misses the stage, if not television. "While I was on television, if there was a room of more than 10 seats, I spoke to it. I miss that," he says. "I haven't done much since [the last stroke], but I sure would like to. My wife would me to be able to, too." He'd like to do speaking engagements again, but says he can't commit to a date because he never knows if that will be a good day or a bad day.

He stays close to home, an apartment on the Gold Coast he shares with his wife of 12 years, Laura. Sheldon is working on volume two of his biography (Gray & Co. published the first, "Me and Barnaby," in 1999).

He freely admits to his ups and downs, including a pretty serious drinking problem that he tackled three decades ago.

"They say if you have two drinks a day by the time you're 50, you'll live to be a hundred," he says. "Well, I had enough by the time I was 50 to live to be 3,000."

Liz Richards, the 58-year-old former WEWS-TV 5 "Morning Exchange" co-host, has spent the last decade as an attorney in St. Petersburg, Fla. The decision to move her two children south in 1981 was prompted in part by her bitter divorce from late WWWE/WHK radio personality Gary Dee, and in part by her parents, who retired to Venice, Fla. The career change, however, was inspired by late Plain Dealer society columnist Mary Strassmeyer, who attended Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University while Richards was still in town.

"I had always wanted to go to law school," Richards says. "I thought, You know what? If she can do it, I can do it."

In 1993, Richards graduated from St. Petersburg's Stetson School of Law, set herself up in private practice ("I had trouble finding a job in a large law firm") and began taking family-law cases referred to her by other attorneys. "A lot of attorneys, particularly men, don't want to handle messy divorces," she explains. "I would handle anything that came in the door."

In 2000, Richards bought a "crackhouse" in St. Petersburg's re-emerging Kenwood neighborhood and moved her offices into it after an extensive renovation. The project spawned a new hobby: She now spends her free time buying, fixing up and selling other run-down houses in the area. "You make a mark on the city," she says of the result. "And it makes money." Her Shih Tzu, Truffle, and Maltese, Scrappy, provide companionship at home.

"I wouldn't want to speak for Gary's other ex-wives," she says, "but that marriage was enough for me."

Wayland Boot, Channel 3's sports sensation of 20 years ago, was as much entertainer as anchor. "A little traveling music, please!" he'd say, then read the out-of-town scores as blues tunes played in the background.

"Even Stymie couldn't believe it!" Boot exclaimed over amazing plays, and he'd cut to footage of the "Little Rascals" character Stymie, blinking in shock. Another clip, of a toddler eating a biscuit and grimacing, introduced his "Burnt Biscuit Award" for sports bloopers, "to the team or jock worse off than a plate of burnt biscuits."

"I always wanted to do sports for people who don't really care about sports," Boot explains.

Boot came to Cleveland in 1984 from Portland, Ore., home to only one major-league team, the NBA's Trailblazers. So his years here electrified him.

"I watched pro football all my life," he says. "I always liked the Cleveland Browns because of Jim Brown." Echoes of the Browns' glory years thrilled him. "Going down to the old stadium, walking down the old tunnel, you could just picture how it was inthe '50s," he recalls. He met Marion Motley and Otto Graham. Lou "the Toe" Groza was his insurance agent.

But Boot's star fell here after an Oregon reporter called to do a story about what he'd been up to. "I said all these wonderful things about Cleveland," Boot remembers, "but he asked me to compare the differences in society or lifestyles [between] the Pacific Northwest and the Rust Belt of Cleveland. I said — and I'll never forget it — 'Comparing Cleveland and Portland is like comparing a Ferrari and a dump truck.' "

He didn't mean to put Cleveland down, he says now. "The Ferrari being, it's just a faster pace in the Pacific Northwest; •dump truck' just being a 'roll up your sleeves, go to work' mentality." But word reached Cleveland talk-radio hosts, who tore into Boot for dissing his new town.

Boot apologized twice on the air. Even so, when his contract expired in January 1987, Channel 3 didn't renew it.

Later that year, Boot's old station, KOIN/Channel 6 in Portland, asked him back. He's been sports anchor there ever since.

His segments are "pretty much the same" as his work in Cleveland: "A few more wrinkles, few more pounds," says Boot, 55. Stymie's still a regular and Boot still plays the blues over the scores and gives out Burnt Biscuits.

In Portland, he's known as Ed Whelan, a broadcast name he adopted when he deejayed at an easy-listening station and the manager told him Wayland was too much of a rock-and-roll name.

Boot hasn't visited Cleveland since he left, but he still cheers for the Browns. "I love the city. I'm a better person and a better professional because of the city," he says.

 

When Cleveland's belovedly decrepit Cleveland Municipal Stadium died at age 65, it received an honorable burial at sea. Today, a quarter of the concrete from the former stadium rests peacefully at the bottom of Lake Erie, split up into three reefs: one near the Cleveland-Euclid border, two off Edgewater State Park. Each lies in about 30 feet of water. You can't see them from land, but you can from an airplane.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources built the reefs to give fish spots to rest, feed, take shelter and lay eggs. Perch, bass and walleye are especially fond of the old stadium. Vitas Kijauskas of Discovery Dive Charters and Tours in Wildwood State Park takes scuba-diving students to the reefs for diving practice. He used to see pieces of the bleachers among the concrete, he reports, but scavenging divers (violating state law) have taken them as souvenirs.

For the record, Joe Charboneau never did know the words to "Go, Joe Charboneau," which reached No. 3 on the local music charts back in 1980. "I still don't know them," he claims today.

"Super Joe" Charboneau can still swing the bat, though, and he's teaching other pro wannabes tricks that catapulted him to stardom in that one phenomenal year in the major leagues. As the owner of Charboneau Baseball, he travels all over the country teaching hitting: holding clinics, teaching at camps, giving private and group lessons. He also serves as hitting instructor for the Windy City Thunder Bolts of the Frontier League.

After his 23 homers, 87 RBI and .289 batting average made him the American League Rookie of the Year in 1980, Charboneau spent just half of the 1981 season in the Bigs; back surgery forced him to split time between Cleveland and Charleston. He played 22 games for the Tribe in 1982. His big-league career was over after one incredible year and pieces of two others.

Charboneau says he has let go of some of the more colorful habits that made him a fan favorite. Opening beer bottles with his eye socket? Drinking beer with a straw through his nose? Dying his hair outrageous colors?

"Nah, I've retired from all that," he says. "My head's shaved now for summer, but when I let it grow out, it's a natural gray-brown color. Doing all those kinds of things isn't unusual anymore; all the kids do stuff like that. I had to become conservative to be different now — that's the only way you stick out."

But Charboneau's son Tyson, who is 24, got the old man's genes: He's a body piercer. "He took up just where I left off," Charboneau says.

Ted Stepien, the former owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers is — just ask him — doing the same thing he's always done. "Work, work, work," he says. "I didn't disappear. I'm still here."

Stepien owns Classified USA, with offices in the Cleveland, Toronto and San Diego areas, and he's owned Brook Park Softball World for 20 years. Stepien, who built Nationwide Advertising before he owned the Cavaliers, calls the former, not the latter, his proudest achievement. "I started an ad agency from zero and took it to 60 offices and $93 million," he says. "But if I walk down the street, nobody says, 'There goes the guy who owned Nationwide Advertising.' They say, 'There's the guy who owned the Cavs.' "

That's probably because during his three-year reign as Cavs owner, he became hard to forget. He was publicly described as "unpredictable," "disastrous" and "notorious." He traded away so many first-round picks that the NBA voided some of his deals and drew up a rule that no team could trade first-round draft picks in two consecutive years. It still stands today as The Stepien Rule.

He's unfazed by all that now. "A lot of things looked different back then," he says.

 
No one in the Cleveland Cavaliers front office seems to know exactly what happened to Whammer, the white polar bear (suit) that was the NBA team's mascot for the 1995-'96 through 1999-2000 seasons, long before current mascot Moondog was a glimmer in the marketing department's eye. But vice president of communications Tad Carper believes Whammer went to that big basketball court in the sky shortly after he was retired. "It's common practice in professional sports that when a mascot's life is finished, the costumes are destroyed," he explains. A number of people, he adds, could be responsible for the fake-fur critter's demise, including the manufacturer. "They really are creations," he says of the suits. "They are intended to be unique."

 

The last time any of us saw Kevin Mackey, he was in a spot of trouble. Riding the strength of his Cleveland State hoops success — the Vikings were 142-69 in his tenure and 29-4 in that magical Sweet-Sixteen season of 1985-'86 — Mackey staggered out of a Cleveland crackhouse with a prostitute and was arrested shortly after he drove away -- on the wrong side of the road. His fall was swift — shortly thereafter, he was relieved of his duties and sent to rehab.

It's been 14 years since Mackey left Cleveland. You're not the only one who hasn't been able to keep up with him through the dense underbrush of his self-described "Alphabet Soup League" experience, during which he coached in the USBL, the IBL, the CBA, the IBA and the UPBL, to name just some of them.

But he's back in the big leagues now, working in the league with the only three letters that matter: the NBA. After 13 years of desperately wanting a second chance, Mackey was given one by Larry Bird, who hired him as a scout for the Indiana Pacers. Bird said he'd always admired Mackey's hoops knowledge. 

So far, Mackey has drawn high praise from his bosses and seems settled into his new surroundings. "I'm very happy and grateful to be in the NBA," Mackey says. "Since I was a 7-year-old kid dribbling a basketball, I wanted to be in the NBA. I'm very grateful to Larry Bird for opening the door for me. I couldn't ask for more than that."

Mackey still wants another shot at head coaching, but he's learned to take great care of the opportunity that's right in front of him right now. "Sure, whatever [other] opportunities might present themselves, you look at that, but right now, this is a dream come true for me," he says.

It's a far cry from the nightmare of the double life he lived in Cleveland, which ended when his two selves, coaching whiz and drug addict, finally crashed into each other. He still believes he has the coaching whiz in him, but that he's excised the addict from his life.

"That time has passed. It's over now," he says. "I loved Cleveland. The people there were great to me and we had a wonderful love affair. Whatever mistakes that were made there were my fault."

These days, Mackey drinks a lot of Diet Coke. "They've taken all my drugs away, and caffeine is all I have left," he says in his still-thick Boston accent. "I used to smoke cigars, but I lost the taste for that, too. One day, they just didn't taste good anymore."

But his taste for the game has not faded. If he hadn't loved basketball so much, he would not have fought his way back this far. "Don't get me wrong, I had a great time coaching in the minor leagues," he says. "We worked hard and our success was tremendous. But there's always that element of instability in the minor leagues — in the NBA, you know that every second Friday, the eagle is going to fly. In the minor leagues, you're never really sure about that. In the minors, you're always saying, 'Where's our next gig?' "

Mackey, who is unmarried, has three children and five grandchildren. His time in Cleveland ended abruptly, but he still holds fond memories.

"I think the people of Cleveland knew that I appreciated them, and that's why they appreciated me so much. Now I'm in Indianapolis, and I've got a job to do here. It's a different job, but it's in the NBA, and this, being in the NBA, is terrific."

They toppled a General, but couldn't sink the Admiral. Oh, what a run Coach Kevin Mackey and the 1985-'86 Cleveland State University Vikings basketball team had in the 1986 NCAA tournament. After their stunning triumph over Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosiers and then St. Joseph's in round two, the Cinderella Vikings lost on a last-second shot by Navy's David Robinson. Now, 18 years later, the team still ranks on many experts' lists of biggest upsets in tournament history and holds a place in our city's heart.

No. 23, Hersey Strong: (Ohio) Works as a broker for Great Lakes National Mortgage Co. Still plays basketball for recreation.

 

No. 42, Patrick Vuyancih Jr. : (Ohio) Teaches seventh-grade world history at Euclid Forest Park Middle School and is the summer-school principal for grades 7 through 12. He also directs Big City Hoops Instructional Basketball School and coaches teammate Hersey Strong's child.

 

No. 31, Tyrone Kingwood: Unknown

 

No. 24, Clinton Smith: He was selected by the Golden State Warriors in the fifth round (No. 97 pick overall) of the 1986 NBA draft. Smith played 41 games for Golden State in 1986-'87, five games for the Washington Bullets in 1990-'91, and spent several years in the CBA, most recently with the Fort Wayne Fury from 1995 to 1997.

 

No. 22, Vincent Richards: (Ohio) Works in human resources and financial services for Staffing Solutions. Previously, he worked at the Greater Cleveland Automobile Dealers Association and the Cuyahoga County department of employment services.

 

No. 33, Eric Mudd: (Kentucky) A production supervisor of Ford Kentucky Truck Plant. He played basketball in Europe for 11 years.

 

No. 50, Elgin Womack: Died Nov. 14, 2001, of an apparent aneurysm, in Queens, N.Y. He was working as a teacher and studying for a master's degree.

 

No. 4, Shawn Hood: After six seasons as CSU basketball assistant coach, Hood became an assistant coach with the University of Wisconsin and then the University of Rhode Island in 2001. He was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at CSU that same year. He resigned after being charged with assault and battery, but in 2003, a court found him not guilty on all charges. Hood is currently out of coaching.

 

No. 40, Bob Crawford: (Maryland) A juvenile corrections officer and youth counselor in Washington, D.C., where he still plays pickup hoops.

 

No. 5, Edward Bryant: From 1987 to 1998, he worked at the Cuyahoga County Treasurer's office.

 

No. 32, Warren Bradley: (Ohio) Currently works as a corrections officer at the county jail of the Cuyahoga County Corrections Center.

 

No. 34, Ray Salter: Unknown

 

No. 30, Paul Stewart: Died April 30, 1986, of a heart attack during a pickup game in Woodling Gym. He was 19.

 

No. 44, Clinton Ransey: From 1991 to 1998, he worked at the Ohio Turnpike.

 

No. 21, Steve Corbin: (New York) Worked for his father's construction company, then subcontracted with Con Edison electric company while owning his own business, Scales Contracting Ltd., before taking a full-time post with a labor union in New York state. He played basketball until last year, when he suffered from a blood-clot condition that is now under control. He has a 25-year-old daughter, a 2-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old grandson.

 

No. 12, Martin Sweeney: (Ohio) Cleveland's Ward 20 councilman and majority leader, Sweeney still plays basketball every Thursday at the West Side Family YMCA.

 

No. 10, Ken "Mouse" McFadden: (Ohio) Currently works part time in marketing for National City Bank in Cleveland. After graduating, he spent time playing basketball in Australia, the USBL and the CBA. He also worked in marketing for CSU's sports department.

 


Doing what he loves best is still a way of life for World B. Free. In his four years with the Cavaliers, he was a freewheeling, always-confident guard who never met a shot he didn't like; from 1982-'86, Free averaged 23 points per game and was about the only thing going for the team until the glory years of the early '90s.

Now, he's the Philadelphia "Sixers Ambassador of Basketball." As such, he conducts the 76ers' Summer Hoops Tour, a two-month series of free clinics throughout the Delaware Valley that preach and teach basketball fundamentals to children.

One era's hero can be another era's villain. So The Cleveland Clinic discovered in the late 1990s, when its celebratory bronze of Art Modell suddenly seemed out of place.

The bas-relief sculpture/portrait, which honored The Cleveland Clinic Foundation's former president and benefactor, remained on display in the Clinic's Heart Center for four years after Modell infamously spirited the Browns away to Baltimore, though the Clinic had to post a guard to protect the bronze from the backlash. It finally retired Modell's mug when it remodeled the center's atrium. The timing — late summer 1999, just as the new Browns were about to debut — was supposedly coincidental.

Today, the Modell bronze "remains in storage," says Clinic spokesman Cole Hatcher, who wouldn't say exactly where it's being kept, or allow us to photograph it, or reiterate the reasons it was taken down, or say whether Modell still donates to the Clinic. Sometimes, when you're caught between loyalty and public opinion, keeping quiet is the best strategy.

No, he isn't sporting the famous afro these days, but Oscar Gamble is still in the business of baseball. He owns Oscar Gamble and Associates, a sports management firm in Montgomery, Ala. And yes, one of his clients is son Sean, recently drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies out of Auburn University.

Gamble's firm handles mostly baseball players, but he says he's hoping to move into football soon. "We wanted to start with baseball, because I've been through that as a player and we know the business," he explains. "Right now, we're representing a lot of minor leaguers, and we hope that they will stay with us when they get the good contracts in the big leagues."

Gamble didn't take much time to get to the Bigs himself. A promising outfield prospect, he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 16th round of the 1968 draft; by August 1969, the 19-year-old was in the Windy City. Cleveland got him at age 23 and, in his three seasons here, he hit .274 and contributed 54 home runs.

Living in Montgomery with his wife, Lovell, and two young daughters, Gamble says his memories of Cleveland are positive ones. "That's where I got my real opportunity," he recalls. "I didn't play much in Chicago and Philly, but I got to play in Cleveland, and I think I did a good job there. The fans appreciated me because I was outspoken. I had my own ways and I felt like I was free. I did what I wanted to do and if I made a mistake, they booed me, but I understood that. We all knew I was playing hard."

And they loved the afro, which often caused his batting helmet to fly off and which was mimicked by Tribe second baseman Ronnie Belliard during a throwback game this season.

"Well, yeah," Gamble laughs. "They did like the hair, but it's gone now. Well, not completely gone, but let's put it this way, the afro won't be growing back."

At least we'll always have his 1976 Topps "Traded" baseball card to remind us.

David Modell was the president and CEO of the Baltimore Ravens essentially because Daddy owned the team. Now that Art Modell doesn't own the Ravens anymore, what happened to Junior?

Actually, nobody's quite sure.

Ostensibly, Modell still works for the Ravens as a consultant, but that doesn't mean that the Ravens know where he is at any given moment.

"Well, let's see, he's in the Bahamas, I believe," a Ravens' PR spokesman said recently. "I don't know. I'm not really sure, actually. We haven't seen him for a while now. Once we get closer to the season, I'm sure he'll be in touch with us."

Brian Sipe remains one of our most beloved athletes because of his never-say-die attitude with the Kardiac Kids. We loved that he was the NFL MVP in 1980 with a league-best 91.4 QB rating. We loved him because he was never uptight, always loose.

Not much has changed for Brian Sipe. He still lives in the San Diego area and he's still in real estate design and development (an example of his work is Timberfire restaurant in Chagrin Falls). He balances that work with being the head coach of Santa Fe Christian High School, which he calls "the most pleasant surprise of my life, along with being selected to play for the Cleveland Browns."  


 

Toward the end of an illustrious Hall of Fame baseball career, Frank Robinson became the first black manager in the major leagues, playing for and managing the Cleveland Indians from 1975-'77. These days, the Montreal Expos are decidedly worse than the Cleveland teams Robinson led. In Montreal, he is in his third season at the ever-tenuous helm of one of Major League Baseball's sorriest teams.

To a generation of Clevelanders bereft of champions on the gridiron and the baseball diamond, he was the guy who showed that the town could still produce a winner. For the better part of six years, Mariano "Mushmouth" Pacetti reigned as king of the weekly "Pizza Fight" on Channel 8's "Hoolihan & Big Chuck Show."

In the summer of 1971, Pacetti had just graduated high school when he got on "Hoolihan & Big Chuck" as part of a "hillbilly jug band." Hearing that Pacetti had wowed a high-school talent show by downing a Whopper in one bite, co-host Chuck Schodowski recruited him for a  new pizza-eating bit.

Pacetti was a natural. Occasionally defeated, he always bounced back, often hammering his foe in a rematch, stuffing his flexible saxophonist's cheeks full and working the mass of pizza down his throat.

His secret? "I don't have a gag reflex," he explains.

Now living in Fayetteville, Ga., Pacetti teaches jazz improvisation and jazz combos at the State University of West Georgia, as well as running the rental program at a local music store. He still plays the sax, both in a band and as a sideman-for-hire.

He still has family in Cleveland and visits his hometown about once a year. He and his wife have a 5-year-old daughter, but "she barely eats anything at all," he chuckles.

There's a chance the pizza-eating contest might be revived on Fox 8's "Big Chuck & Lil' John Show" this fall. Pacetti has already been approached about an exhibition match to launch it. "I'll do it," he says gamely. "I'm not gonna guarantee I'm gonna win. It doesn't go down so fast anymore. I'm gonna have to practice a new technique, I think."


For 30 years, Shamu, the killer whale at Sea World in Aurora, was a bigger Cleveland star (and we don’t mean just physically) than most local human celebrities. He was Northeast Ohio’s face on tourist brochures, beloved by children near and far. Then, in 2000, our Sea World packed up and moved its Killer whales to warmer climes. Geauga Lake’s new owners brought in their own orcas, but they left this year, after the park was sold again.

Actually, Shamu is a character played by various whale performers. But if your kids miss Shamu, you can always take them on vacation to San Antonio or San Diego. The Sea Worlds there took in the three orcas from the Aurora Sea World.

Sumar, now age 6, resides in San Diego. San Antonio is home to Keto, 9, and Keet, an 11-year-old who was frequently Shamu in Sea World Aurora’s last years. “One of our trainers refers to him as Mr. Popularity. He’s a very easygoing animal,” says Fred Jacobs of Busch Entertainment Corp., which owns the Sea Worlds. All three orcas, Jacobs says, still “perform in our daily killer-whale shows, frequently under the stage name Shamu.”



From 1991 to 1998, Clyde the Wonder Dog used his canine charisma to show off East Ohio Gas’s products better than any human could. The Welsh corgi lit a fireplace’s gas logs by pawing a switch, then lounged by the fire with another dog, like young lovers. He flushed a toilet while his owner was taking a shower to show the company’s hot-water tanks protecting customers from shower shock.

Clyde also appeared on behalf of gas companies in Massachusetts and Montana. Two animal actors in California, Bud and Cody, played Clyde in commercials. They also co-starred with Kevin Kline in “Dave” and with Kathleen Turner in “The Accidental Tourist” and appeared in the first season of the sitcom “Dharma and Greg.” Bud died in 1998 at age 12, Cody in 2000 at 13.

A corgi named Duke, owned by now-retired East Ohio Gas employee Joe Mezquita, filled in as Clyde in local appearances, including company meetings and a star turn on Cleveland Magazine’s January 1995 cover. Duke also went along when Mezquita drag-raced East Ohio Gas’ natural-gas-powered car on the National Hot Road Association circuit.

Today, Duke, 13, lives with Mezquita in East Sparta, Ohio. “He still thinks he’s a young pup,” Mezquita reports. “He’s enjoying retirement.”



They were almost as hated as Mayor Dennis Kucinich himself. In 1978 and ’79, Kucinich’s Kiddie Cabinet included aides even younger than the 31-year-old “boy mayor.” Like their boss, many were as rude as they were idealistic, and attracted vicious reputations and terrible press.

Reporters, especially Cleveland Magazine’s, made 24-year-old Betty Grdina and 21-year-old Tonia Grdina sound like witches stirring a frothing cauldron of bile. Tonia, assistant to the safety director, once famously told George Forbes, “I hope you rot in jail.” Community-development director Betty Grdina and top Kucinich aide Bob Weissman (who actually came to the administration after 20 years as a union organizer) once got in a scuffle with members of the St. Clair-Superior Coalition that ended with a woman knocked to the floor.

Now that Clevelanders like Kucinich again, and he’s nationally known for pursuing his windmill-tilting presidential campaign with missionary zeal, we thought we’d check in with the Grdinas and Weissman. We wondered what they think of the wars they fought for Kucinich 25 years ago and their reputations back then.

But they wouldn’t return our calls. (Maybe it was the cartoon Cleveland Magazine ran in 1978 that imagined them wearing fascist brownshirts.)

Betty Grdina, now a lawyer in Washington, D.C., took Kucinich’s fight against corporate power to the courts: She became a lawyer and has defended striking UAW members and Teamsters.

Bob Weissman, who worked for a while as a labor consultant for Community Mutual Blue Cross (now part of Anthem), is retired and lives near Los Angeles, according to Cleveland AFL-CIO executive secretary John Ryan.

Tonia Grdina lives near Cody, Wyo., and serves as one of the non-lawyers on the committee that nominates Wyoming Supreme Court justices. This year, she and her husband helped convince their county commission to rename their road Stagecoach Trail, instead of the embarrassing County Road 6FU.



CSX 8888, an SD40-2 locomotive, gained national attention on May 15, 2001, when — with 47 freight cars in tow — it took off on a 66-mile ramble through northwest Ohio with no one at the controls. Two hours after 8888 got loose, another engine managed to couple onto the runaway and reduce the train’s speed with its own brakes. A CSX engineer on the ground then swung aboard the slowed locomotive and shut off the throttle.

 Less than two years later, early in 2003, 8888 got frisky again and derailed in Toledo’s Stanley Yard, damaging itself and several freight cars on adjacent tracks.

Understandably, railfans refer to the loco locomotive as “Crazy Eights” and follow the celebrity engine’s movements. In recent months, it’s operated everywhere from Florida and Georgia on up to Detroit and even the Cleveland area.

To locate 8888, call CSX’s Touch Trace automated tracking system at 1-800-235-2352. To track Crazy Eights, using your phone’s keypad, type in CSXT following the prompts, hit the pound button, then 8888, then the pound button twice.

When we checked, 8888 had been sitting in Waycross, Ga., for more than a week, presumably undergoing servicing in the shops at the CSX terminal there — perhaps after yet another escapade.



If it were not for Karen N. Horn’s gender, no one would have added Union Club membership to her long list of notable accomplishments in the summer of 1983. She’d become president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland two years earlier, at the age of 38, after earning a Ph.D. in economics from Johns Hopkins University and several prestigious titles, including vice president of the Bank of Boston.

 

But a few months later, in January 1984, Cleveland Magazine claimed that a small group of prominent Union Club members secretly engineered Horn’s acceptance to the all-male bastion, even keeping her name off the bulletin board where nominees’ names were supposed to be posted.

The polite and decorous Horn didn’t comment then or and won’t comment today about what really happened, except to say, “If there was anything behind the scenes, they were the ones who could do it.”

Now living in Lyme, Conn., Horn retired in 2003 from her last position, president of global private client services and managing director of Marsh Inc. But she’s still active in the business world, including as a board member of three corporations: Eli Lilly, Georgia-Pacific Corp. and Simon Property Group, and as director of T. Rowe Price Mutual Funds, the National Bureau of Economic Research and the U.S.-Russia Investment Fund.

Although Horn is from the era of outspoken feminists, she is far from preachy or extremist. She doesn’t just talk equality, she lives it. Only these days, her sights are set not on membership in exclusive clubs but on getting women and minorities onto corporate boards. That’s why she’s a founding partner of The Directors’ Council, a private company devoted to doing just that.



Jackie Woods had logged 30 years for Ameritech and its predecessors by the time she retired as president of Ameritech Ohio in October 2000, soon after that company merged with SBC. Since moving to Cleveland from Chicago in 1992, she’d become a fixture on the city’s corporate leadership scene.

 

That didn’t stop her from packing it in and heading south — to Columbus, where her husband had landed a job with Nationwide Insurance. This past December, Cleveland-based Landau Public Relations announced the opening of a new Columbus office, with Woods serving as senior consultant to the media relations, marketing and communications firm.

But although she’s still on the Landau Web site as ensconced in the Columbus office, Woods’ heart has already headed back up I-71. She and her husband are returning to Northeast Ohio, where Jackie still serves on the boards of numerous organizations, including the Cleveland Foundation. The couple is building a house in Solon, and Woods will continue working with Landau, as well as on projects related to nonprofit organizations, such as the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission as it prepares for this summer’s International Children’s Games.

“I miss Cleveland and the people and the activities,” she says of the move home. Those people and activities include her two daughters, one of whom is planning a wedding with help — more or less — from Mom.



The 95-year-old Euclid Beach Park Carousel hasn’t spun in years except in the fond memories of parkgoers. After the park closed in 1969, a Maine amusement park bought the antique ride, now the second-oldest Philadelphia Toboggan Co. carousel in existence, for $3,000. In 1996, it returned home when Cleveland Tomorrow nabbed it in a public auction for $715,000.

 

      A plan to erect the merry-go-round in Voinovich Park at North Coast Harbor was approved but faltered for lack of funding. The 54 horses and two chariots were restored by Carousel Magic of Mansfield, but have since languished in storage at the Western Reserve Historical Society.

In December 2003, Cleveland Tomorrow merged with the Greater Cleveland Growth Association and the Greater Cleveland Roundtable to form Greater Cleveland Partnership. While Partnership CEO Joe Roman wasn’t at liberty to discuss them at press time, he says new plans for the carousel should be announced later this month.



Whatever became of the Cleveland mob?

 

Long after the days of corn sugar, bootleg murders and speakeasies, boys born during or soon after Prohibition aspired to gangster life. They were students of Moe Dalitz, founder of the Cleveland Syndicate, who helped jump-start the Mayfield Road Mob before seeking greener rackets in Las Vegas; and John Scalish, who made the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s the glory days of the Cleveland Mafia. It wasn’t hard to get connected, especially for boys in Little Italy, where goodfellas played cards on the sidewalks. No, it wasn’t hard to get in, to do a few jobs, to make a few friends.

Then, in 1976, longtime boss Scalish died unexpectedly after heart surgery, and hell became the order of the day.

“When Scalish died and [James T.] Licavoli took over, the mob really was a mob,” says Edward Kovacic, who worked in Cleveland police intelligence and headed its bomb squad in the 1970s. “It went off in all different directions. That’s what caused the violence.”

The power vacuum gave rise to a new alliance between Teamsters bigwig John Nardi, who was passed over when Licavoli became the boss, and Danny Greene, a union leader who fancied himself a modern-day Celtic warrior, driving a green Lincoln and writing in green ink.

Back then, the mob really did have something to lose: profitable gambling rackets. That’s why Nardi and Greene ignited bombs to get them, and Licavoli ignited bombs to keep them. A short list of the casualties: Leo “Lips” Moceri, whose bloodstained Mercedes was found but not his body; Eugene “The Animal” Ciasullo, wounded when a flower pot exploded at his home; Nardi, killed by a car bomb outside his union office; Greene, killed by a car bomb outside his dentist’s office.

Those who escaped with their lives — including Licavoli and his successor, Angelo “Big Ange” Lonardo — ended up in prison, victims of tougher law-enforcement efforts that eventually crippled the Mafia across the United States.

“Prior to Danny Greene, the government didn’t care,” says Rick Porrello, author of two books about the Cleveland Mafia. “When you have bombs going off, it becomes a top priority.”

Licavoli died in prison. Big Ange became one of the highest-ranking Mafia members to cooperate with law enforcement. His testimony helped bring down Mafiosi across the country.

Several ’70s-era mobsters have died since then, including Raymond Ferritto, the hit man who killed Greene. Others, like Ciasullo, are out of prison, declining media interviews. (Porrello says Ciasullo is living comfortably in Pittsburgh, near two of his sons.) Lonardo, now 93, resides in an assisted-living facility, where he watches a lot of Indians games, says his son, Joe.

Lonardo doesn’t talk much about his past these days, except to recount funny stories about the people he used to know. Classy and quiet, Lonardo treated the law enforcement officers who came to arrest him as if they were making a social call, Kovacic recalls, even having his wife offer them coffee. Perhaps Lonardo is the last living Cleveland Mafioso to deserve a romanticized Hollywood incarnation — he did give rare interviews to a filmmaker nephew a few years ago. But Lonardo doesn’t look for his young self in mob TV shows or movies, doesn’t even watch them.

 “He would think they were silly,” says his son.



It’s been seven years since 17-year-old Audrey Iacona gave birth on a weight bench in her parents’ Granger Township basement. Seven years since her baby boy died and six since she was convicted of causing his death. From the moment the public saw her face, her name has conjured opposing images. One, a beautiful monster who expressed an interest in bikini shopping shortly before asphyxiating her newborn in a plastic bag. The other, a confused, troubled girl who denied her pregnancy until she was holding her stillborn son in her arms.

 

Niki Schwartz, Iacona’s attorney, called the case “a Rorschach test for the public.” People either believed that the evidence proved she was guilty or proved she wasn’t, and nothing would change their minds. At her first trial, Iacona received an eight-year prison term. But she was resentenced in 2001 and sent home after spending two years in jail.

Iacona had become a remorseful young woman, the judge believed, as well as a literacy-program volunteer. Her plan for the rest of her life, she told The Plain Dealer, was to “blend in.” So far, she’s succeeded. Medina County chief probation officer Veronica Perry says Iacona “is no problem,” though she must continue to report to the probation office through 2006. Schwartz says the 24-year-old now works for a veterinarian and attends college, where she is studying to become a nurse.

“She’s enjoying her anonymity,” he says. “She really enjoys being able to walk into a McDonald’s and not be recognized after what she’s been through.”



After leading Cleveland’s public housing agency, Claire Freeman got to spend some time in public housing herself, first in Texas and then in Connecticut. Freeman was at one time considered a savior of the beleaguered Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, but she fell from grace in a scandal that involved funneling more than $100,000 meant to house poor people into, among other things, interest payments on the pricey Alexandria, Va., townhouse she bought and rented out — a circle of unfortunate irony made complete by her prison stay at the Danbury Correctional Facility, a minimum-security prison that has been mentioned as a future time-share possibility for Martha Stewart.

 

Freeman, convicted in February 2002 of mail fraud, theft of public money and false statements regarding a loan, and sentenced by a federal judge to 18 months in prison, began her prison term in July of that year. The following March, inmate number 38127-060 arrived at the Danbury facility, where she stayed until last September, when she received a good-conduct release to a California halfway house.

On Nov. 5, 2003, a little less than 16 months after her sentence began, and one week before her appeal failed, Freeman was release and placed on two years’ probation. She currently lives in California.



WMMS-FM’s onetime morning drive-time team are leading relatively tame lives compared to the days when they hosted the rock station’s top-rated “Buzzard Morning Zoo.” Jeff Kinzbach, 51, lives on a 150-acre ranch an hour’s drive east of Dallas with wife Patti and 8-year-old daughter McKenzie. He and his brother rehabilitate and resell single-family homes; their own construction company does much of the work.

 

“We really were looking for a new adventure,” Kinzbach says of the decision to move from Medina County a couple of years ago. “We liked living up north, but we were just getting so tired of the long winters. You don’t have to shovel heat.”

Ed “Flash” Ferenc, also 51, is a public-information officer for Cleveland Municipal Court. He moonlights as a public relations consultant and host of “America’s Workforce,” a talk-radio show devoted to unionized labor issues on WERE-AM from 7 to 8 a.m. weekdays. “In today’s radio climate,” Ferenc says of his work situation, “this is perfect for me.” Home is in Independence with wife Debbie, daughters Jackie, Rachael and Stephanie, and stepdaughter Joy.



It was the most famous mauling in Cleveland history. In October 1976, Channel 3 reporter Del Donahoo showed up at the Midway Mall in Elyria for an irresistible story: Huron County lion-tamer Dave Chovanic was showing off his big kitties to a crowd of shoppers. Donahoo volunteered to let Chovanic guide him through lion-taming moves — but one lion, Festor, was not quite tame enough. He attacked Donahoo, knocked him to the ground and bit him in the head. Chovanic had to beat Festor with a pole to free Donahoo, who needed 48 stitches to close the wounds. Photos of the attack ran in newspapers nationwide.

 

Getting chewed on helped make Donahoo famous and beloved in Cleveland. Today, his “Del’s Folks” segment still appears on Channel 3 twice a week. But what about the lion who attacked Donahoo?

Festor is no doubt long deceased, since the average lifespan of a male lion in captivity is only about 12 years. Old press clips show that Chovanic shared his lions with Lion Country Safari, a drive-through wildlife park in West Palm Beach, Fla., but its longtime wildlife director doesn’t recall Festor living there.

Chovanic “was old school. He was a carny guy,” remembers Bill Coburn of the African Safari Wildlife Park in Port Clinton. Chovanic got in trouble with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates lion exhibitors, sometime in the 1980s, remembers Coburn, who once spent a summer working for Chovanic but seems nervous about being mentioned in the same story with him now. A letter to Chovanic’s last known address, a post-office box in Sandusky, received no response.

You might think safety worries chased lions out of shopping malls long ago, but not so. Big cats returned to Elyria’s mall, now known as Westfield Shoppingtown Midway, in 2003, when a wildlife photography shop opened in a former Gap store, offering the chance to get kids’ pictures taken with a white tiger, bear or lion cub. It’s closed now.

Comments:
Sunday, November 28, 2010 11:52:10 PM by Robert Tokar
I am looking for any info on my uncle Alfred The Owl Polizzi.My E-mail is robertangelt@yahoo.com or 304-686-3817
Sunday, March 13, 2011 3:21:31 AM by Anonymous
My mom and I used to watch a show from either 6-630 or 630-700 AM. It had Del Donohue and another older man. Then one day it wasnt not on. What ever happened to that other man? I cant remember his name.
Monday, March 28, 2011 11:25:08 AM by Anonymous
He's dead!!!
Thursday, March 31, 2011 3:55:47 PM by Anonymous
Tom Haley
Thursday, December 08, 2011 3:22:02 PM by Anonymous
Mild mannered reporter "Henry Bookerstein"
Thursday, December 15, 2011 11:07:36 PM by Anonymous
Brian Sipe. Cardiac kids. Great article. Where's mark price and Craig ehlo?
Saturday, March 03, 2012 4:09:01 PM by Anonymous
Still an interesting read more than seven years later (03.03.2012)
Monday, March 05, 2012 6:09:45 AM by Anonymous
Great article. Brings back many a fond memory
Thursday, March 29, 2012 1:52:13 PM by Anonymous
Yes, still interesting. Read an article about Del Spitzer a while back - he is/was quite interesting as well.
Saturday, March 31, 2012 1:19:58 AM by Jon
What happened to Liz from channel 43's Kidsland?
Tuesday, July 17, 2012 11:22:23 PM by Anonymous
Eric Mudd is at John Deere in Waterloo, Iowa. Just saw him on Sunday at the employee 175th anniversary.
Friday, February 22, 2013 4:29:07 PM by Anonymous
Jeff Kinzbach is now in Akron doing mornings on WONE 97.5
Tuesday, July 08, 2014 8:47:48 AM by Anonymous
I think Del Donohue was with Tom Haley

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