This piece appeared in the Dayton Daily News on Sunday, April 22, the anniversary of Erma Bombeck’s death.
Humor mixed with poignancy at the seventh biannual Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, as 350 aspiring writers gathered to celebrate the legacy of the beloved Dayton-born columnist.
Bombeck’s husband Bill and her children Betsy and Andy attended the conference, culminating Saturday afternoon with the dedication of a hoopsi blue spruce near the Bombeck historical marker outside St. Mary’s Hall. “The tree will be here a long time, and I hope her memory will last as long as the tree,” Andy Bombeck said.
His sister reflected, “Hundreds of years from now, the tree will be gigantic, and there will be people here who don’t know who she was.”
Countered Erma Bombeck’s cousin, Dee Dee Moore, “She will be remembered.
Everyone will know who she is, just like Mark Twain.”
“I think that’s true,” Betsy Bombeck said.
Twenty-eight humorists and authors spoke at the conference, which typically sells out in the first few days. Friday night keynote speaker Alan Zweibel, a former “Saturday Night Live” writer, spoke movingly of his friendship with Gilda Radner.
Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist Connie Schultz, whose columns are syndicated through Creators Syndicate, filled in as keynote speaker for the Friday lunch after the death of originally scheduled speaker Jeffery Zaslow — best-selling co-author of “The Last Lecture” — in a car accident in February. Schultz, the wife of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and — until recently — a columnist for The Cleveland Plain Dealer, advised the audience, “The angrier you are, the funnier you must be.”
Schultz kidded about her raspy voice, reminiscent of her husband’s: “When you marry someone they say you start looking like him. Well, apparently I am starting to sound like him.”
Schultz fielded a question from the youngest conference attendee, Bombeck’s 5-year-old grandson, Michael. “Why did the dog throw up?” he asked, referring to one of her columns.
“That’s the best question I’ve been asked in months,” Schultz enthused. “It’s all in the details.”
Like most of the speakers, Schultz lauded Bombeck’s legacy. One of her editors from Parade Magazine recently asked if she knew that Bombeck is from Ohio. “Yes,” Schultz retorted, “and I know the date of Christmas! We are very proud of her.”
Andy Bombeck opened the Friday night session by reading his mother’s famous 1979 column about him, “A Different Drummer.” After the reading, he observed, “My mother would be proud of how many aspiring writers are here who let their voices be heard, just like hers was.”
Friday night’s keynote speaker, best-selling novelist Adriana Trigiani, is a friend of the Bombeck family. “I love Bill Bombeck,” she enthused, “because he had the smarts and the brilliance to marry the funniest woman alive.”
Andy Bombeck said the three-day conference, attended by about 35 University of Dayton students, is the perfect way to honor the memory of one of its most celebrated alumni. “This is something my mom would have loved — to encourage young aspiring writers,” he said.
— Mary McCarty
Mary McCarty, a columnist and staff writer for the Dayton Daily News, has been part of the workshop faculty since 2000.