Monday, June 03, 2002

Beverly Hills staff reunites

Ex-employees gather 25 years after horrific fire

By Stephenie Steitzer,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FLORENCE — Donny Hammond was a young cabaret waiter when he was pulled out of a doorway of the Beverly Hills Supper Club 25 years ago during a fire that killed 165 people. He couldn't handle driving past the charred Southgate, Ky., restaurant and nightclub months after the blaze, so he moved to California.

        But on Sunday he decided to face the past and attend a reunion of the employees of the supper club.

        “It's just like yesterday,” said Mr. Hammond, who is still in the restaurant business in San Francisco. “It is a closure.”

        More than 50 of the 130 former employees filed into the Greater Cincinnati Airport Hilton in a scene similar to that of a high school class or family reunion.

        They may not be related, but the employees feel as if they are part of a family.

        Joyce Fulmer, 69, was part of the “Dirty Dozen,” a group of 12 waitresses who still keep in touch. Another waitress joined the group later on, and she was deemed waitress “12 and a half,” Ms. Fulmer said.

        Ms. Fulmer said unlike other jobs she's had, the Beverly Hills waitresses worked as a team.

        “It was like we were sisters and brothers,” she said.

        If they weren't all friends before the fire, their commonalities brought them together after it.

        Many still deal with quirky fears and all of them say they think about the fire often.

        Mr. Hammond still can't sit in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Ms. Fulmer won't stay in a hotel that is more than two stories tall.

        “It's on your mind a lot,” said Wayne Dammert, who was a banquet captain. “It's hard to forget.”

        Mr. Dammert, 66, wrote a book about the tragedy, Inside the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire.

        He finished the book about five years ago, after taking nearly 18 years to write it.

        “Up there it was a nice place to go, inexpensive and it was very beautiful,” he said.


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