Tuesday, February 19, 2002

RADEL: Seeking memories

Dancing mom still a mystery

By Cliff Radel
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Bunny's mom lived to dance.

        But she never talked much about her passion in life. Or her career on stage.

        That's usually the way with old-fashioned Cincinnati Germans.

        This tight-lipped bunch believes if you talk about yourself, it sounds like you're bragging.

        Bunny's mom was a true believer.

        She was born Ruth Brocker, married Bunny's father, John Costello, in 1937, and lived in Mount Adams.

        Ruth and John had five kids, all girls. Bunny, the youngest, teaches at Ursuline Academy and lives in Hyde Park. She's married, last name's Peters, with children of her own.

        Ruth Brocker Costello died on New Year's Eve 1998. She was 83.

        Since then, Bunny has tried to find out more about her mom's career and her love affair with dance.

        “I always wanted to know more,” Bunny told me. “But I never got that wish fulfilled.

        “Mom believed you don't dwell on the past. You just look forward.”

        While looking back, Bunny learned a lesson everyone would do well to master: To know someone's life story, ask questions and get answers before it's too late. That's easy to grasp. But, hard to do.

        This is what Bunny knows about her mom: She was a lean 5-foot-8 inches tall. She had dark brown hair and eyes.

        This is what she has to hold onto: one photo, undated. Her mom is in a dance costume and toe shoes.

        “I'd love to have those shoes,” Bunny said. “But, Mom didn't save anything.”

        This is what she wants: “Someone to call me with memories, stories, photos or even newspaper clippings of my mom as a dancer.”

        Bunny always knew that the stay-at-home mom she grew up with once had a dancing career.

        “She had beautiful dancer's calves to die for and a straight dancer's posture.”

        When Bunny and her sisters were little girls, their mother would give into their begging “and put on her toe shoes and do some ballet dancing in the living room.”

        After a short show, she'd take off her shoes and go back to her housework.

        Through family lore, Bunny learned that her mother took lessons as a girl and taught dance classes as a young woman at a place called Hessler's Studio on Monastery Street in Mount Adams.

        That was back in the 1920s and 1930s.

        Two of her mom's students became famous under the names Doris Day and Vera-Ellen. Bunny's mother always said the latter — Rosemary Clooney's co-star in White Christmas — was the better dancer.

        Ruth Brocker had a small taste of the big-time. She went to New York and danced at Radio City Music Hall.

        “But that lasted only three weeks,” Bunny said.

        She returned home, stopped dancing professionally and married the man who would become Bunny's dad.

        Years later, Bunny asked her mom if she could write a book, what would be its topic.

        She told her daughter she would write “about a woman who had to make a tough decision, marry someone or stay with her dance career.”

        These are Bunny's only memories of her mom, the professional dancer. She'd like a few more.

        She welcomes all callers (513-321-5872). She sees any detail, large or small, filling in the blanks for answers never given and questions left unsaid.

        “If someone would call to tell me a story about her,” Bunny said, “I would start to cry.”

        Then she would get up and dance.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340; e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.


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