Sunday, March 7, 2004

They all turned out to hail 'a great lady'

Fans, players, rich, famous came to return some hugs

By Cliff Radel
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Winnie Fraser, one of Schott's sisters, says her goodbyes at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery. Schott was laid to rest holding a rosary that once belonged to Fraser.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/CRAIG RUTTLE
The sun shone one last time on Marge Schott.

After Saturday's early morning mist turned into a nasty mid-morning downpour, the clouds parted. Schott's highly polished cherry casket was wheeled into the sanctuary of All Saints Catholic Church in Kenwood amid shafts of sunlight.

Three of Schott's four sisters, Lottie Unnewehr Crane, Winnie Unnewehr Fraser and Bobbie Unnewehr, placed their hands on the casket.

Schott, former chief owner of the Cincinnati Reds, died Tuesday at the age of 75.

Schott's siblings were gathered to bury their sister. But they were also laying to rest a celebrity who could be called the most famous woman in Cincinnati.

The sunlight helped lift the spirits on a bittersweet day.

On Saturday, the rich and famous stood in line, rubbed elbows and jawed with the average fans who called Schott "Marge" just as sure she called them "Honey."

It was a day when happy memories crossed paths with tales of sadness.

As Schott's parish priest, the Rev. Dennis Jaspers, said in his homily:

They all turned out to hail 'a great lady'
And a red-tailed hawk circled high over her gravesite
Players show up to honor 'a good woman'
Bronson: Marge reflected best and worst of Cincinnati
Radel: Cincinnati can learn a lot listening to Marge Schott

Homily for Marge Schott
Funeral photo gallery
Memorial Section

"Everyone has a Marge story."

It was not a day of long lines and huge crowds. For her last appearance, Schott did not attract a packed house. The church, which holds 750, looked to be half full for her 1 p.m. funeral Mass.

Inside the church, "Ave Maria" preceded the Mass. Outside, a gust of wind rustled a pile of dry leaves.

It felt like a home-run breeze - perfect for the colorful and controversial former ball club owner and philanthropist to all things Cincinnati.

The weather stayed warm enough to get in an inning or two. A Reds all-star team could have been assembled from the mourners.

On hand were Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, Reds captain Barry Larkin and former Reds pitcher Ted Power, first baseman Hal Morris and, baseball's all-time hits king, Pete Rose.

"When I was the manager, the Reds were the 'Pete and Marge Show,' " Rose said. "She loved the team. She loved the fans. And she loved Cincinnati."

Other notables in attendance: financier and Reds principal owner Carl Lindner, attorney Stanley Chesley, Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen, Hall of Famer and Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning, Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken.

Major League Baseball president and chief operating officer Robert DuPuy sat with John Allen, the Reds' chief operating officer.

"I'll always remember Marge at Opening Day, "said the mayor as mist dampened his sport coat.

"She was happiest sounding the fire truck's horn to start the parade."

They came by car, on foot

The names of fame often came and went. Charmaine Buetsche arrived first - at 7:45 a.m., a full 75 minutes before the public visitation began - and on foot.

The Cinergy cashier, and 30-year member of the Reds' Rosie Reds fan club, walked up to the door of All Saints' Marge Schott Parish Center.

She walked over the commemorative brick with the names of Schott and her St. Bernard dog, Schottzie 02.

She walked past the photo of Schott and the Rev. Jaspers hanging in the center's vestibule.

"I walked three miles to get here," Buetsche said.

"I took a bus from Norwood," she added. "I'll take another one to get to the cemetery. Then walk a few more miles to get from the bus stop to the gravesite."

But Buetsche didn't mind the walk.

"I had to be here," she said. "Look at all that Marge Schott has done for the community."

Schott gave millions to good causes - schools, the Boy Scouts and the Cincinnati Zoo.

She also ran afoul of Major League Baseball. Her racially charged comments resulted in her being forced to sell her majority interest in the Reds.

"Sure, she had her faults," Buetsche said. "But we all have our faults. If we didn't, we wouldn't be here on Earth."

While Buetsche waited to pay her respects, Schott's sister, Bobbie Unnewehr, arranged a tableful of her late sister's favorite photos.

There was the picture of Schott with schoolchildren, Schott as an infant, Schott on her wedding day.

Schott with her sisters. Scott with Bob Hope and Perry Como.

Scott kissing two presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Schott with her arm around Muhammad Ali.

"This shows who my sister was," Unnewehr said.

She took time out to gaze at the 67 floral displays flanking the open casket. Schott wore a red suit adorned with a gold elephant pin.

In her hands, she held a rosary her sister Winnie brought back from Spain after participating in the Special Olympics at Barcelona.

Flowers came from the Reds and the Zoo. From New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

A huge heart-shaped wreath of red roses offered condolences from the Children's Heart Association, one of Schott's favorite charities.

The display next to the wreath took Unnewehr's breath away.

"Oh my god!" she gasped. "These guys were Margie's all-time favorites."

The flowers - surrounding a framed three-dimensional portrait of a mother elephant and her baby - were from illusionists Siegfried & Roy. Their card was addressed to their "Dear Friend Marge."

Outside, the mist turned to rain. And the line grew.

Freddie Cornish was last in line. But he was the first mourner wearing a Reds cap. He's also African-American.

The Silverton man worked as a bartender at Schott's home and at Riverfront Stadium.

"I'm here to pay my respects," he said, "to a great lady."

Asked for his opinion about Schott's racially insensitive comments, he said:

"Remember what she did, not what she said."

By 10:47 a.m., the rain had stopped and Rose had arrived.

For several minutes, he stood in silence, head bowed over Schott's casket.

He looked longingly at the red roses that came from the 2004 Reds team.

Rose stayed in the visitation room for nearly two hours talking with all comers.

Rose fumed over the incorrect comments of commissioner Selig.

When Schott died, Baseball's chief said Schott "inherited the Cincinnati Reds from her husband."

Not true.

"How can baseball be so misinformed?" Rose wondered.

He recalled the last time he met with Schott.

"I was here in January for a book signing and spent 21/2 hours with her at the Montgomery Inn," he said.

"She looked great.

"But I kept telling her, 'Give me them cigarettes.' She smoked too much."

Rose believed Schott lived for the Reds.

"She always hoped for long games," he said.

"When the lights went out, she had to go home."

She lived alone in a mansion called Ambleside in Indian Hill.

Schott's love for the Reds waned with the 2003 season, though.

Steve Schott, her cousin and the Reds' former executive vice president, tried to talk her into going to a game at Great American Ball Park.

She told him she had only been to the new stadium once. On Opening Day.

"And only for 15-20 minutes," he said.

From their conversation, he believed Schott felt that by selling the team, "she had let the fans down."

Nothing could be further from the truth for John Nusekabel.

The Groesbeck man is 27, stands 4 feet, 10 inches tall and has Down syndrome.

He wore a Reds "future star" cap and a sweater with "Play Ball!" and "Home Run!" to the funeral.

He wanted to pay his respects to the woman who "threw out the first pitch at my modified-softball game."

"Marge Schott was a lady," he said. "She cared a lot about us special kids."

'Let's go home, Honey'

Schott fans also lined parts of the route from the church to her final resting place at Montgomery's Gate of Heaven Cemetery.

Employees and customers of the Montgomery Inn tipped their hats and bowed as the funeral procession passed.

PJ's, the restaurant where Schott and her sisters dined every Wednesday night, displayed this sign by the side of the road:

"Farewell Marge! Thanks for the good times."

As the funeral cortĖge stopped at the gravesite, mourners noticed Schott's car. The black Buick Ultra had "MARGE" plates and Schott's initials on the side.

Roberto Rivera stood to one side of the mourners. The Sycamore Township man had been working on his car. Without changing clothes, he drove to the cemetery.

"Can ordinary people go up there?" he asked and pointed to the gravesite on the crest of a hill.

He was assured he was most welcome. The woman everyone was honoring never turned away a fan.

Schott was buried on her husband's family plot under an enormous oak tree.

The last mourners to leave her side were her sisters, Crane, Fraser and Unnewehr.

Fraser touched the casket one last time.

"We'll miss you, Margie," she said. And started to sob.

Unnewehr wrapped her arms around her younger sister.

Turning to the casket, she whispered, "Come on, let's go home, Honey."

After the sisters departed, the gravediggers went about their business.

The casket was lowered. The dirt put back in place.

Overhead flew one last flash of Schott's favorite color: a red-tailed hawk.


Bronson: Marge reflected best and worst of Cincinnati
Homily for Marge Schott
They all turned out to hail 'a great lady'
And a red-tailed hawk circled high over her gravesite
Players show up to honor 'a good woman'
Radel: Cincinnati can learn a lot listening to Marge Schott

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