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Author and humorist Erma Bombeck portrayed as history festival returns to Milan

By Michael Harrington • Jun 12, 2019 at 4:00 PM

MILAN — Milan’s second go as host to Ohio Chautauqua started just as well as the first.

The township was chosen to host Ohio Chautauqua — a five-day event combining performances of historical figures, lectures and live music — by Ohio Humanities after the success of the event in 2017.

“Milan always shows up with a crowd,” said Samantha Chase, the program coordinator for Ohio Humanities. “But it also has a great planning committee that organizes events for throughout the week, so we knew we wanted to come back.”

Milan was able to host the event again after receiving a grant from the Lange Trust. This year’s theme is Modern Legends.

Susan Marie Frontczak — who portrayed Marie Curie and Mary Shelley at Chautauqua in 2017 — recreated the humorist and Ohio native Erma Bombeck on Tuesday for a crowd of hundreds.

“Many figures from the 20th century had an important message that still resonates today,” Frontczak said. “But in a week-long event it’s also nice to have some levity and I got to do that with Erma Bomback.”

Frontczak remained in character as Bombeck — who was best known for her column “At Wit’s End” — to deliver a speech highlighting the writer’s career.

She touched on her education, her struggles to become a writer and her eventual rise to a best-selling author and the writer of a column syndicated in about 900 newspapers across the country.

The audience roared with laughter as Frontczak displayed the famous wit which made Bombeck one of the most popular writers of the 20th century.

“I remember my mother reading the column and just laughing,” Sandusky resident Tom Aylward said. “She perfectly inhabited the character.”

“She was able to show a different side to Erma Bombeck that you never got to see in her columns,” Alwyard’s wife Marilyn said.

Bombeck wasn’t just comedic relief. She became an advocate for women’s rights through her support for the Equal Rights Amendment and let every overwhelmed parent who read her column know they weren’t alone.

Frontczak stepped out of character at the end of the show to answer questions about Bombeck that went beyond the scope of the writer’s life.

“It was fantastic,” Sandusky resident Carl Henson said. “She had Erma down to a tee.”

Chautauqua is free to the public and goes until Saturday with programs planned during the day. Each night, a live musical performance takes place at 6:30 p.m. followed by the reenactment at 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday’s re-enactment spotlights General Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the Tuskegee Airman commander and the first African-American Air Force general, as portrayed by J. Holmes Armstead, PhD.

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