Nick Clooney's Cincinnati Post Columns

Nina had big hand in Rosie's river home

October 5, 2005

It was one of those weekends. A scheduling buzzsaw that leaves no time to breathe. Who in the world was it that stuffed 10 pounds of events into a 5-pound bag?

Oh. Right. Never mind.

This was the weekend of my sister Rosemary's music festival in Maysville, but things actually began the morning before in Augusta. It was the formal grand opening of the Rosemary Clooney Museum on Riverside Drive in the house she called home for more than 20 years.

Steve and Heather Henry have poured a lot of sweat and treasure into making the house a repository of Rosemary memorabilia while keeping the flavor of the home she loved.

Looking at all they have done, I could not help but flash back to the time when my wife Nina took on an even greater task at the same address.

Nina and I moved to Augusta in December of 1974 and only a few months later, Rosemary came to visit. Within weeks she was lobbying for us to find her a new home there, too, on the river if possible.

One place on Riverside Drive we had been told was definitely not for sale. It was an historic house that had fallen on very hard times. A porch had been added to the original Georgian structure, and it had collapsed. Six frame rooms had been tacked on to the original brick house to make it a hotel, and they had fallen down. A two-story crack had opened on the front wall, and daylight could be seen through it. The staircase had pulled away from an inner wall and was dangling ominously. No one had lived in it for years and on the front door was a sign put up by the city, "Unfit For Human Habitation."

Somehow, Nina saw possibilities where everyone else saw only demolition. She located the owner and, over lunch, closed the deal on Rosemary's Old Kentucky Home. I've always thought it fortunate that Rosemary didn't see the house before she bought it. On the other hand, she trusted Nina so much, she probably would have seen the same potential Nina did.

For the next 18 months, Nina and hard-working Darrell Sallee, as well as others, spent long hours on the site. The porch was hauled away, as were the shambles of the six rooms in the rear. Now the home approximated its original shape, dating back to the 1830s.

But what a shape it was, at least to those of us who did not have Nina's optimistic vision. Slowly, painstakingly, the major structural crack was repaired. The original interior trim was restored. The doorjambs and transoms were restored. The staircase was put back where it belonged. The older windows that could be saved, were. All new wiring. All new plaster. Floors buffed and braced. New heating and air-conditioning installed.

Every night Nina came home exhausted but exhilarated. She was doing the kind of thing she loved for someone she loved. She was simultaneously keeping our house in order and looking after two teenage kids.

Her additional touches were pure Nina. She haunted auctions and bought bathroom fixtures from Cincinnati's departed Albee Theater and chandeliers from the Netherland, both of which played large roles in Rosemary's life.

I was with Rosemary when she first saw the finished product. She was so happy she stood with her hands on the wrought iron fence Nina and I had given her and looked from her front door to the river, then to me with tears in her eyes. From that moment, she and Dante came to Augusta any chance they had so they could sit and watch the river. It was home.

After she died, Steve and Heather bought the house and generously turned it into an homage to Rosemary. The 1997 flood had damaged the floors, which had to be replaced, but the Henrys have been remarkably faithful to the place Nina saved and Rosemary called home.

Meantime, they have scoured the country for items associated with Rosemary's career, items I did not know existed, and I thought I knew a lot. It is well worth seeing.

On Friday, I'll tell you about the rest of the weekend.


A weekend of music, ceremony

Friday, October 7, 2005

Let's see, where were we on Wednesday? Oh, yes, I was writing about the Weekend That Was, specifically, the formal opening of the Rosemary Clooney Museum in Augusta, Ky., Saturday morning.

One footnote to that ceremony: Heather French Henry was wrapping up the inaugural activities. She introduced my sister Rosemary's hit recording of "Bless This House" just before the doors opened. That took a couple of eye blinks and gulps to get through, and the weekend was just beginning.


Still to come was the seventh annual Rosemary Clooney Music Festival in Maysville. It is impossible to overstate the importance of the support of the people of Maysville, where Rosemary, our sister Betty and I were born. It has been particularly evident in this music festival, which certainly discombobulates downtown Maysville traffic for a week or so every fall.


Nina and I, our daughter Ada and The World's Only Grandchildren, Allison and Nick, along with Rosemary's husband Dante DiPaolo and other family and friends drove to Maysville Saturday evening in the midst of "Rosemary weather." For the seventh straight year, Mother Nature had cooperated for this outdoor event at Third and Market in downtown Maysville.


Lundy's catering again presented scores of elegant white-tablecloth dinners. Jerry Lundergan and his family - particularly his daughter Abby - also produced the show itself. The Limestone Chorale did Maysville proud, and so did the show troupe from the University of Kentucky.


Then came the star of the evening, Rita Coolidge. Her big hits from the 1970s proved to be only prologue to the jazz performer she has become. Rosemary admired her work and we all learned why under a clear Kentucky sky. It was a fine evening of music.


There was a lot more to the festival weekend, much of it including Dante and our kid sister Gail Darley, but Nina and I spent Sunday morning driving to Akron, Ohio, for the best of reasons.


In fact, I declare unequivocally that last Sunday night I became the 300th person inducted into the Ohio Radio and Television Broadcasting Hall of Fame. Of course, any of the other 15 men and women who were honored at the same time I was could claim the same thing, but let them get their own column. If my count is correct, the 16 of us made a total of 301 broadcasters inducted since 1983, when this event was inaugurated.


It is remarkable that Todd Taylor, himself a broadcaster, along with his family and the board of directors have continued to do the prodigious work involved in saluting those who have toiled in the electronic wilderness in the State of Ohio. For obvious reasons, the roster is weighted toward central and northern Ohio. The population centers demand that the preponderance of inductees come from the cities where the most people are.


Still, I was happy to see that on the list there were familiar names from southern Ohio, including Gary Burbank, Phil Donahue, Dusty Rhodes, Bill Ridenour, Jim Labarbara, as well as posthumous awards in recent years to Ruth Lyons and Bob Braun.


This year's ceremony drew some national attention, for good reason. One of the inductees was a vivacious young woman named Robin Meade, anchor for the CNN Headline News morning program "Robin and Company." The CNN cameras were on hand to record for posterity this honor. Ms. Meade, a former Miss Ohio, began her career in Mansfield.


In addition to the honor of being selected for the Hall of Fame, a highlight for me was an ad of congratulations in the program taken out by Nina and the kids. It featured an impressionistic painting of me Nina did 30 years ago. I was also touched by a congratulatory ad taken out by Channel 5 News. I worked for Channel 5 only in 1966 and 1967, so their corporate memory is much appreciated.


My short speech may have been a valedictory for my Ohio broadcasting career, so I'm afraid I may have sounded too much like a scold. I hope not. Broadcasting has been, in a way, mother and father to me. I expect as much of it as it always demanded of me.


Unfortunately, I do not see broadcasting battling to be its best, only its most profitable, resulting in a weary sameness. What wonders are out there in the constantly changing electronic world, if we only have enough courage to pursue them?



Rosemary's legacy graces old home

Friday, June 3, 2005

Our annual Clooney-Guilfoyle-Farrow reunion will have a special feature this year. We will be touring my sister Rosemary's refurbished house in Augusta.

Of course, it isn't Rosemary's house anymore, but a part of it will be set aside to honor her career and memory from now on.

That is because of the generosity of two friends, former Kentucky Lt. Governor Dr. Steve Henry and his wife, Heather Renee French Henry, Miss America 2000. As many of you know, Heather was born in Augusta and raised in Maysville, so her connection to the Clooney family was almost unavoidable.

In fact, Heather likes to recount the days when my son George would take on Heather's father, Ron French, on Augusta's public tennis court. She would sometimes, in her enthusiasm, get in the way and would be brushed off by George with some equivalent of "Get away, kid, you're bothering us." George strongly denied the charge, but only after he got a look at Heather all grown up.

The French family moved to Maysville, where Heather could see "Rosemary Clooney Street," and where one of the old fire engines bore the plaque "Dedicated during the term of Mayor Andrew Clooney," the grandfather of Rosemary, Betty and me.

In the meantime, I was on the radio and television and writing in this corner. I had reversed Heather's journey by being born and raised in Maysville, then moving to Augusta. In short, it was difficult for Heather to escape the Clooneys.

She and Rosemary became friends during Heather's run up to the Miss Kentucky and Miss America titles and remained so until Rosemary's death.

The house on Riverside Drive has had an interesting history. When Nina and I moved to Augusta 30 years ago, Rosemary visited us often. Within a few years, she wanted a house here, too, and asked Nina to try to find something, preferably near the river.

The house Nina decided on, one of our oldest, was a wreck. It had been through many transitions since being built early in the 19th century, reportedly by Dr. Bradford, an abolitionist, for his daughter. Six frame rooms were added later to the original brick structure, apparently to make a hotel out of it. By the time we moved to Augusta, those six rooms had tumbled to the ground. The house, in fact, looked beyond repair and had a sign on the front door, "Unfit for human habitation."

Nina didn't think so. A personal contact with the owner let Nina know the property was available and, on her recommendation, Rosemary bought it. She then asked Nina to "fix it."

For more than a year, I saw little of my wife. From dawn to dusk she was on site, learning as she went, doing much of the "grunt work" as two professionals she hired carried out her instructions. Plumbing and electric had to be completely replaced. Brick repair was massive, as was all interior work. Nina salvaged as much of the original as possible. When she got replacement fixtures, they were ones she knew Rosemary would love, including chandeliers from Cincinnati's old Albee Theater.

The result was more than I had or our Augusta neighbors could believe and all that Rosemary had dreamed of. I can tell you that many - perhaps most - of the happiest days of Rosemary's last 20 years were spent there on Augusta's Riverside Drive, watching the Ohio's eternal, stately march to the sea, watching the ferry boat clank from bank to bank. She loved it.

When she died, her children were unsure what to do with the house. They were rescued by Steve and Heather's offer to buy it and dedicate part of it to honor Rosemary. There will also be, I'm glad to say, note taken of Heather's own accomplishments as a very famous Augusta native.

The Henrys have been working hard for months. Nina and I helped all we could, giving pictures and artifacts of Rosemary's career. We did not think the house would be ready until fall. But Steve and Heather wanted it to be at least partially open in time for our family reunion this weekend.

The job is not complete by any means, but Steve and Heather are going to open it tomorrow and keep it open to the public on weekends throughout the summer, so you can see "a work in progress."

I have not been in the house since Rosemary died. Too many ghosts of wonderful gatherings have haunted my memories. But I'll go in tomorrow afternoon and so will family members from near and far. So, perhaps, will some of you.

The first of what I am sure will be many more wonderful gatherings at "Rosemary's house."

The Rosemary Clooney House Museum, 108 E. Riverside Drive, Augusta, will be open weekends 9 a.m.-5 p.m. beginning Saturday. Other times by appointment. Donations requested. Call (606) 756-2603.