When legendary ballad songstress Patti Page died at age 85 on New Year's Day at her home in Encinitas, Calif., just north of San Diego, it included a connection to our region, in addition to the many Times readers who enjoyed her performances over the years.
Fred and Sharon Schultz of Munster were nice enough to share with me the remembrance program given to friends and family who attended the funeral for Patti last month.
"We didn't attend, but our friends Bill and Eileen Connelly, who are formerly from East Chicago, were Patti's neighbors and Eileen did attend, and wrote us with the details," Fred told me.
Though Bill passed at age 79, Fred and his wife still remain close to Eileen, who originally hailed from Chicago.
"It was a beautiful service," Eileen wrote to the couple in her letter dated Feb. 8.
"Over the years, it was fun living next door to a true celebrity."
Bill Connelly's name is likely familiar to many region readers. Bill graduated from Catholic Central (now known as Bishop Noll) in 1952 and, according to Fred, Bill had the honor of having the late, legendary Hank Stram as his first football coach.
Bill, whose brother was Mike Connelly, the city attorney for East Chicago in the 1980s, worked with Pfizer and later owned his own large pharmaceutical distribution company. The couple moved to Del Mar, Calif. (which is next to Encinitas) to raise their family.
Eileen said she and her girlfriends had a weekly luncheon tradition with Patti Page, at least when the singer wasn't touring with concert dates.
"Eileen always said that while they would be out to lunch with Patti at a restaurant, fans would notice her from across the dining room and make their way to approach Patti for photos and autographs," Fred said.
"Eileen said she and the other ladies would ask Patti if they should intervene and ask them to not interrupt while the group was dining. But she said Patti was always so nice and down-to-earth, and would always say, 'Please don't. It's perfectly okay. I'm just glad they remember me and enjoy my music."
Eileen also explained in her letter while at the funeral, she enjoyed meeting Patti's sister Peggy Layton, who still lives in Oklahoma.
Born Clara Ann Fowler in Claremore, Oklahoma, before Patti changed her name, she never minded sharing in interviews that she was born into "a large and poor family." During her youth, while her father worked on the railroad, she would join her mother, Margaret, and older sisters, picking cotton. (She also said their rural family home was often without electricity.)
It was when Patti became a featured singer on a 15-minute radio program on radio station KTUL in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at age 18, that she changed her name. The program was sponsored by the Page Milk Company," so on the air, she was dubbed "Patti Page," after the dairy sponsor. Soon, audiences also knew her as "Patti Page, the Singing Rage."