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BONNIE “RUBY” ROCHETTO
BY CHARLES MCKELVY
Maggiano’s Little Italy
TUESDAY, JULY 11, 2017
Let’s just cut to the chase and call her Ruby, and, Ruby, we all know you liked to say of yourself: “I did not recognize my beauty.”
Ruby, we are here today, ironically on the memorial of Saint Benedict whose nuns gave you almost all straight A’s at Saint John Nepomucene (nehPOMahcene) Catholic School in Bridgeport, to celebrate your beauty, and:
To honor your love of your little brother Joe, who ran into your warm embrace when your parents took you to see him at speech camp, and later for your love and friendship of Joe’s partner, Arthur;
To applaud your brilliance as a fashion designer who tooled the leather for your own shoes;
To give you four stars as the star of a film called Romance that was best your mother didn’t see;
To give you credit as stage actor and stager of your own funeral;
To honor you as a Civil Rights activist who marched in Selma and was not afraid to bring an African-American friend home from Mundelein College to lily-white Bridgeport during the 1960s when they burned an African-American owned home;
To hail you as a brilliant photographer who was at home on both sides of the camera, especially when appearing to give birth to a goat;
To appreciate you as a devoted friend to your personal assistant Michelle and all the home health aides and visiting nurses who tended to you in your final years;
To celebrate you as the free spirit known to fellow free spirits in Mexico as Esmeralda, where a painting of you by a fellow artist still hangs in a bar in Tepotzlan (tay post LAN);
And, yes, to give you straight A’s as a beloved Fine Arts teacher at Wheeling High School.
Ruby you were beautiful.
You were wildly creative.
You were an artist who lived for art, and always found a way to support yourself as an artist. Yes, your financial solutions were often on the creative side, but you did what so many people only dream of doing.
And so many people have so many wonderful things to share about you, beginning with this testimonial from a former student at Wheeling High School named Veronika Meszaros who wrote:
I am totally shattered. This year is easily the hardest year of my life. I’ve lost my best friend, my dad, my grandma, and now I’ve lost my all-time favorite teacher, the only one who believed in me, who respected me and my thoughts, and who was the only reason I made it through high school. Ruby Rochetto, my high school photography teacher/advanced digital imaging teacher passed away June 11th. I have no words for this loss. She was an incredible human being. There aren’t words for what a treasure she was. I’ll never forget you, Mrs. Rochetto. Even when she told me to call her Ruby, I still called her by Mrs. Rochetto.”
And speaking of Mrs. Rochetto, did you know that when Ruby applied for a teaching position at Wheeling High School when she was in her 40s with no real work experience, she was one of dozens of candidates for the job?
That’s right: they all had the creds, but Ruby had something they all lacked—the soul of a true artist and a portfolio to prove it.
And so, after she took her interview, Ruby gathered up her portfolio and headed for home, thinking she didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting the job.
But she hadn’t gotten very far when the interview committee rushed out of the school and hired her on the spot.
So, Ruby, you were beautiful.
Maybe you didn’t see it, but others surely did, and we would surely be remiss if we didn’t hear these lovely poems your friend Mary Ann Rosberg composed in your honor, first this lovely poem:
She refused the deal with Apollo
Not the star of the sea, nor the emerald of the isle,
Nor Blythe Celtic Bonnie, she was the blood of the earth, Ruby.
The elemental placental
Porings forth of the
Dark mother giving birth
In the caves of Cuma (KOO mah)
She created universes
With just the movement of her toe,
She let us glimpse these in her art.
Beware her wrath, hear her laugh
From now throughout eternity.
And this second poem, fittingly titled—
Puffing across the classroom,
Cameras and student projects every
Where and all had to be inventoried
Or critiqued (inspected) or put away for the summer.
She kindly and with temper blessed uncertain student heads
Who took her courses in darkroom Photo,
Where it all was in your hands,
The origin magic of dawning forth the dark and light.
As well as computer art where techno fireworks
Were wielded, photo collage arrayed.
She painted and ceramiced
In and out of college, whose senior show
Displayed the only moose head
In Mundelein history.
After walking across Europe,
Ruby also lived in Mexico, Tepotzlan (tayPostLAN) Artists’ colony
Photographing and playing in wildwoman,
Horned god Productions.
Seamstressed in San Francisco.
Mourned the AIDS epidemic by recording names
On her arms in a one-woman show.
Artist of the ups and downs, of the heart that held all,
The verbal lava that covered Pompeiis,
She privately etched Ruth’s baby’s birth in film
The graphic moment in black-and-white forever.
Starred in her own nursing home drama
Where she was the daring woman on the royal swing
Attended by pain and three-staffed retinue.
Queen Lear grander than life, leaving a titanic hole
When she decided to die, June 11, 2017.
And decide to die, she did, for Ruby was calling the shots to the very end. And she would certainly call on each and every one of you to share a memory—or two or three—of her at the conclusion of this eulogy. And she would want us all to hold her in our hearts and ask for her guidance and direction when life requires us to think like true artists.
True artists like Ruby.
Here is a remembrance of Ruby by her cousin, David Justin:
The little girl who grew up upstairs. She was smart and always ready to assert herself. She really liked Christmas and got into everybody’s presents. But she really got excited when Santa came, with loving parents who made sure she pretty much got what she wanted.
After completing her education, Ruby first gave back to society by doing social work. Next she migrated to the West Coast, and I can’t imagine the experiences she had out there (or, should it be trouble she got into). She blended in well and enjoyed the lifestyle of the many friends made there. She became Ruby and was able to live her talents and dreams in the environment of the 70s.
Returning to the Chicago area, she began teaching photography and art to high school students, which was her true calling. She earned the respect and admiration of her students over the years. She also willingly passed her knowledge and talents to younger family members.
Ruby’s later years were difficult, but she maintained her sense of humor and did not complain to the friends and relatives who came to see her.
And now this from Ruby’s aforementioned friend Ruth who wrote Ruby the following letter:
Dearest Bonnie-Ruby Rochetto, I really thought I would beat you into the after-life last November. I was sent back to Mother Earth, and you are now enthroned in indigo inifinity, free from physical constraint, big as the night sky, your smile like the crescent moon! Now you know the Radiant Darkness in which we are conceived and to which we return. Bliss!
Ruby’s friend and fellow Mundle Bundle, the poet Betty Grudzein (GrewZeen), tracked the arc of the artist named Ruby from the time she was known as Bonnie at Mundelein College to her emergence as Ruby in Mexico. Betty says Ruby began her career as a photographer after a trip to Paris, and she offers this poetic tribute to her friend from this poem by John Berryman titled,
She died in June. She must descend
Somewhere,vague and cold, the spirit and the seal,
The gift descend, and all that insight fail
Somewhere. Imagination one’s one friend
Cannot see there. Both of us at the end.
Nouns, verbs do not exist for what I feel.
Nouns and verbs do not exist to express what any of us feel at the passing of the life original known simply as Ruby.
But Ruby’s friend Robert Croonquist managed quite well when he shared the following memory of Ruby in writing:
After a career in social work in Chicago, Ruby arrived in San Francisco and delighted in the blooming, vibrant, radical genderfuck universe of creatures that awaited her. She found a home in the feminist, goddess mysticism of the radical women and gay men of the time, reveling in Arthur Evans and Assuna Femia’s explorations into pagan theology and gay spirituality, in the radical street theater and activism of our household at 529 Castro.
Robert says that the star in the galaxy of creatives who influenced Ruby was photographer Marshall Rheiner. Marshall, who died of AIDS, inspired Ruby and steered her toward the outer limits of photography. Imagine what distant corner of the galaxy those two are photographing right now.
And right now I must yield to those of you who wish to share memories of Ruby.
So, in closing, the only thing for me to say is simply this:
RUBY, YOU WERE ONE BEAUTIFUL HUMAN BEING!
Now: who would like to begin sharing memories of Ruby?
When my buddy Ren Bartlett and I were little boys, in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago in the early 1950s, our mothers, Lu Bartlett and Hannah McKelvy, bought us stuffed panda bears that we, and countless baby boomers like us, instantly dubbed Pandy. In fact, when I set out to go and live out my days at the Lincoln Park Zoo on the North Side, I departed from the South Side with my Pandy in my little red wagon. I was all of four at the time, but I knew I would be fine as long as I had my Pandy as my constant companion. Alas, I never made it to the zoo, and I lost my Pandy as I got older, but I never forgot him. And then, lo and behold, my old pal Ren Bartlett does an on-line search and finds a vintage Pandy for me. Wonder of wonders: Pandy arrived in Monday’s post by USPS. Who says the mail doesn’t get through? Now Pandy is my desktop muse as I write these lines of appreciation for my childhood friend, Ren Bartlett, and for having my Pandy back.
Travels with Charley:
Travel by Two
by Charles McKelvy
We are not meant to walk alone.
Case in point: On a splendid fall day last November, Mark Barrett of Battle Creek, Mich., and your faithful Harbert-Michigan-based correspondent, met in Sawyer, Mich. and drove to Chicago for a walking tour of the historic Bridgeport neighborhood. We then planned to ride downtown on the Orange Line, followed by lunch in the Loop and some hoofing about.
Well, our other purpose, and the one that secured us free parking, was to attend an All Souls Day liturgy at the Monastery of the Holy Cross, but I insisted to Mark that we go early and walk often—travel by two, as it were.
Mark thought that was a splendid idea, and so we arrived at the monastery long before the evening’s festivities and set out on foot to explore Bridgeport and beyond.
We headed at once for Palmisano Park at 27th and Halsted for a walk through what had been Stearns Quarry during my childhood on the South Side and had been converted by the Chicago Park District into a 27-acre gemstone. Meaning that the park district had converted a quarry into a fishing pond, prairie, and mound high enough to afford a breathtaking view of the Chicago skyline, in the near distance.
If you haven’t explored Palmisano Park, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to get right on it. And I do mean on it, because the park is crisscrossed with paths and walkways. And you fellow birders should know that Palmisano Park inevitably delivers up some worthy avian species, all within earshot of the Stevenson Expressway.
Okay, so I used those blandishments on Mark, and off we marched as two from the Monastery of the Holy Cross on that aforementioned splendid fall day in Chicago. And, as an aside, Chicago does fall days better than any other city I know.
But, as we marched, we realized that we needed to “use the facilities.”
“Not to worry,” I said. There are restrooms in the fieldhouse in the park right across the street from Palmisano Park.”
Yes, there were restrooms at McGuane Park, but the entire fieldhouse was festooned with bright yellow police tape, of the sort one sees at a crime scene.
“Maybe they’re remodeling,” I opined. “I haven’t been watching the Chicago news lately, so I’m not sure.”Living in Battle Creek as he does, Mark never watches the Chicago news, so he didn’t have a clue.
The only clue I had was that I had to “use the facilities” and there were some bushes that would just have to do. “Hey,” I said, “I was raised on the South Side. This is what you do in a pinch.”
And, I am happy to say, I was not pinched by the police for answering nature’s call in the great outdoors.
Mark said he would wait, but not long, so we quickly crossed Palmisano Park and sought relief at a Chinese restaurant on Halsted Street. We figured we might as well kill two birds with one stone, and eat there as well.
The restaurant staff said they were open for take-out only. “Where have you been?” they asked.
“In Michigan,” we responded.
“Not to worry,” I told Mark, “there’s a service station a block north, on Archer, and I’m pretty sure they have restrooms.”
They did, but the facilities were closed until further notice, in the interests of public health.
So, in the interests of my friend’s bladder, I pointed at an alley across the street and said, “Desperate times require desperate measures; I guarantee you there are no restrooms at the CTA station, on the CTA itself, and I’m sure we’ll find none in the Loop.”
So Mark manned up, and we went on our way to tackle the CTA’s complicated fare system and then take a glorious ride on the Orange Line from Halsted Street to the Loop. Yes, that stretch, in my humble opinion, is the jewel in the CTA’s rapid-transit crown. You soar over the South Branch of the Chicago River and get a dramatic view of the Amtrak and Metra yards south of Union Station. And, of course, a panoramic view of the skyline.
But the Loop was a bust.
We walked from Van Buren and Dearborn hoping to find some interesting shops to explore, but they were all closed or out-of-business. Some businesses were even boarded up in anticipation of more civil unrest.
The only restaurants that remained opened offered only carry-out; there was nary an available restroom in sight.
So we hoofed around the Loop and hopped on an outbound Orange Line train at Madison and Wells. We rode around the rest of the Loop and repaired to Bridgeport to finish our exploration, on foot, of Palmisano Park. That park was open for exploration, and explore it we did, from fishing pond to top-of-the-mound and back again. And, good to see, there were locals out doing the same, including a little boy, who oblivious to the shut-down mentality, happily climbed a rock and surveyed his domain.
We bought our meal at our favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, at 31st Place and Morgan, and took our food to a nearby park where we ate on some sculptured rocks as the sun set and the cold crept in.
We then hoofed it back to the monastery in plenty of time to use their open restrooms before we prayed for all souls, especially those denied restroom privileges, in the interests, of course, of preserving public health.
You knew where this was going to land, right?
Of course, I would conclude my travel triology—Travel by Water, Travel by Air, and Travel by—Land. Yes, Travel by Land.
We are land-based mammals, and our natural means of locomotion is walking. Upright and on two legs.
Our ancestors were hunter/gatherers who would have starved to death had they not been able to walk upright through the forests and grasslands and gather plants and stalk prey.
They didn’t take immediately to travel by water, because that involved making learning to swim and making boats. Not natural activities for land-based mammals. We don’t have fins or gills, and blow-holes like whales and dolphins, so we really don’t have much business in the sea. But to sea we finally we went, and, as citizens of Lake Michigan, we certainly love to take to the big water in the summer, in all manner of craft and swimming all kinds of crazy strokes.
As for air? The lair of birds?
Well, our ancestors certainly must have envied the birds for their ability to swoop and soar above the ear. We got on it, and eventually figured out to lift our heavier-than-air carcasses off the warm embrance of Mother Earth. Up, up, up and away, right?
Right, and so I said last time, but this time, I’m all about our natural proclivity to walk. And I know I took to walking at an early age—3 or 4—because my late mother always said I was such a willful child who was always running this way and that, and even all the way to the zoo.
Yes, when I was probably three years and change I ran away from our apartment in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood and was bound for the Lincoln Park Zoo, where I had been taken many times.
So I knew just how I would go from 73rd and Yates to that zoo at Fullerton and the lakefront, and I was heading north on Yates toward the lakefront when my fleet-footed mother intercepted me and little red wagon bearing the stuffed animal I called “Pandy.” Mom demanded to know where Pandy and I were headed, and when told her I was going to live at Lincoln Park Zoo with my friends in the lion house, she said I never would have made it that far.
“But, Mommy,” I remember myself saying, “I was well on my way.”
And so I have been well on my way, ever since.
I once walked from Lincoln Park Zoo to Evanston, just to say I did it, and, I did some serious marching in 1974 at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center when I was a boy in blue. And, then in late 1975, when I had a fleeting opportunity to land a job at the late, great City News Bureau of Chicago, I quick-marched from my job at a bank at Madison and Halsted streets to the City News office at 188 W. Randolph Street, in less than a half an hour, no less. And, yes, I impressed the managing editor sufficiently to land the job at City News. And, yes, I wore out more than two pairs of shoes pounding the pavement of the Windy City as a police and fire reporter for City News. That was especially true when covering fires, for one did not find parking anywhere near an extra-alarm fire.
In fact, I was hoofing back to the car I had borrowed from the night desk editor when Fire Commissioner Robert J. Quinn himself had his driver pull over next to me and ask if I needed a lift. Hey, it was a bitterly cold night on the West Side, and, yes, I was grateful for the ride and the extra information that Quinn the commissioner offered. Commissioner Quinn is remembered as an innovator and leader, and I am forever grateful to him for giving me a ride on a wickedly cold night.
Oh, and we should remember that I worked at City News in 1976 when there was no such thing as a smart phone, so I was forever walking to and fro from a crime or fire scene in search of a pay phone.
And now that we are pair of gracefully aging septuagenarians, Natalie and I walk all around our hometown of Harbert. Natalie is such a famous walker that she is known in the neighborhood as “the Mayor of Habert.” Harbert, of course, is an unincorporated settlement in Chikaming Township, Michigan, but if it were ever to have a mayor, Natalie would be the one, because she walks up one side of Prairie Road and down the other in search of what she considers the perfect exercise—walking.
Ah, yes, the way we were meant to travel, and I would end this discourse on travel by land by lauding the outing I took in January on my pair of Tubbs Wilderness 30 Snowshoes on the entire trail system at Chikaming Township’s nearby Harbert Road Preserve.
I had the place to myself, that morning after a decent snowfall, and I was up for a walk in the wintry woods and savannah. A human and large canine had preceeded me on the trails, and I followed their tracks, but never did spot them. What I did spot was a flock of overwintering robins. I told them that it was their duty to winter over as they are the state bird of Michigan. “Can’t have snowbirds for our state bird,” I said.
They just flew off, as did some male cardinals in pursuit of a female cardinal.
All that and a close encounter with I-94 where the trail through the mesic savanna brushes up against the busy interstate. But that was all right, because I was enjoying my walk on my trusty snowshoes. Really, folks, if you haven’t tried snowshoeing, all I can say is: Why the heck not?
My snowshoe expedition around the preserve that winter morning was as wonderfully envigorating as all the walks I had taken in my 70+ years. And, now as I look serious at 71, I am thinking maybe I should go back to South Shore and complete that walk to Lincoln Park Zoo. I should do it before my brain clouds over and I forget the way.