By Karen Andrew
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Local musician and comedian Ronald Phillip Gratsch, whose stage name was Ron Stewart, emceed the Labor Day 1973 Cincinnati Muscular Dystrophy telethon.
Although the fund-raiser was a success, he decided he needed to know a lot more about MDA. So in 1974, he flew out to Las Vegas to get firsthand training from Jerry Lewis.
But that wasn't enough. He returned home and ran a carnival with his Mount Carmel neighbors to raise money for MDA. He also asked to meet the 1974 Cincinnati MDA poster child, Terry Joe Moore, with whom he and his family became great friends.
This is the way Mr. Gratsch was - he never settled for the ordinary.
He was known as an entertainer, but during his life he attended hairdressing school, worked as an accountant in Costa Rica, sold pianos in Baldwin stores, was an outdoorsman and naturalist, knew Morse Code and was a ham radio operator. He learned several languages; was a photographer, calligrapher and masseuse; and he loved to cook.
He died June 3 at his home in Hamilton. He was 70.
Born in 1932, Mr. Gratsch grew up in Mount Auburn and attended Roger Bacon High School. He was the class clown and learned to play piano by ear from his mother.
When he was 17, he joined the Army to fight in Korea. He was a flight radio operator in the artillery during the 1950-53 war. Although not fluent, he learned to speak and write Korean.
In the early 60s, he began his entertainment career as a piano player at La Normandy downtown and later teamed with local musicians Dave Baney and Red Ash at the downtown Holiday Inn.
He later added a comedy routine to his performances and moved up to nightly gigs and standing-room-only crowds at the Red Dog Saloon in Sharonville. When he finished at the Red Dog, he took his act next door to the Santa Fe. He also worked at The Tropics in Dayton and the Ramada Inn on Pfeiffer Road.
"He was the local Don Rickles," said his wife, Carmen Hood Gratsch, whom he married in 1990. "He had great sensitivity for people, but at the same time he didn't mind throwing the punches out. People would come in with someone they wanted to get even with, bring them to see Ron to get the jabs."
She said he used sound effects and, with his mouth, he made a big tugboat sound. Norwood was a frequent target of his jabs, as were White Castle, the Fisher Body plant and the Avon Lady.
For a short time, he and his wife went on the road together across the northeastern United States. Mr. Gratsch also appeared in local TV commercials, including those for former department store Swallen's and with the "Cool Ghoul," another local celebrity.
Until Jan. 30, when he became ill, Mr. Gratsch was playing piano and being funny at Sorrento's in Reading.
His volunteer work included playing piano at local hospitals and nursing homes, and being a guide and teacher at the Cincinnati Nature Center. In the last few years, Mr. Gratsch became involved with Montgomery Assembly of God, where he taught Sunday school classes, sang in the choir and traveled on two missions to Honduras.
He was preceded in death by a brother, Harold, and a sister, Betty.
Survivors include his wife, Carmen; brothers Jack of Madisonville and Jerry of Price Hill; a sister, Janet of Hyde Park; daughters, Robin Madden and Tracy Stricker of West Chester Township, Piper Mills of Mason, Lisa Gratsch of Pleasant Ridge, Tracy Walker and Susan Lamons of Amelia, Kelley Williams of Batavia, Erin Lawry of Indianapolis, and Robin Schneider and Holly Ray of Liberty Township; and 18 grandchildren.
Services have been held.
Memorials: Hospice of Cincinnati, 4310 Cooper Road, Cincinnati, OH 45242-5613 or Montgomery Assembly of God, 7950 Pfeiffer Road, Cincinnati, OH 45242-5198.
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