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Swapping stories about that one time

  • Jane Thul and Peter Yarrow swap stories of celebrity encounters.

  • At OLLI’s Mug ‘n’ Muffin event, Ed McMongle shared a story of meeting Arthur C. Clarke. Courtesy of Jacki Fogarty

For the Monitor
Published: 12/6/2018 11:07:44 AM

Potential members look to OLLI at Granite State College for a broad variety of educational programs. But, inside OLLI, we know that there is much more learning to be had than in the classroom. After more than 50 years of active living, OLLI members have accumulated quite a collection of personal experiences which they are willing to share.

To that end, last week OLLI in Concord hosted a Mug ‘n’ Muffin – Celebrity Encounters. Members sipped coffee, munched on muffins and entertained their colleagues with stories of meeting celebrities.

Gary Gordon, a man of many interests of which sports is not one, spent a summer in physical therapy after a major knee injury. He struck up a conversation with a fellow patient and they enjoyed weeks and weeks of discussions on many topics. When his newfound friend was ready to leave, he stopped by to say good-bye, shook Gary’s hand and thanked him. “For what?” Gary asked. “Well, you know, for not asking a million questions about baseball.” That’s when Gary learned that he had been rehabbing next to Concord’s own Bob Tewksbury (and shortly after he even learned who the all-star pitcher was!)

Ed McMongle, fortunately, was not bluffing when he told Arthur C. Clarke how much he enjoyed both the book and the movie he had written. Clarke, who visited Ed’s college science club to speak on geosynchronous orbits for satellites (the beginning of telecommunication and GPS), sat down with a small group around a café table. He began quizzing Ed on elements of the productions and Ed was quite knowledgeable and perfectly capable of spending a whole conversation discussing 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Peg Fargo boarded the sailboat Clearwater to join Pete Seeger and a group of young people in cleaning up the Hudson River. After pulling up to the shore, Seeger noticed an old tire floating in the water and yelled at Peg to go get it. So she waded in, retrieved the tire and rolled it up the hill to the disposal area. Seeger never learned her name, but when he saw her again, he sure did remember Tire Girl.

Peter, Paul and Mary featured in two members’ recollections. Janet Cerat was a great fan and received tickets to a concert for her birthday. She and her friend loved the concert and, at the end, her friend said, “Wait, I have another surprise,” and led her back stage. She met all three, but, when Paul and Mary were called away, Peter said to her, “I understand today is your birthday,” and proceeded to sing a very personal happy birthday to her.

Jane Thul, also an avid fan, along with a group of friends, attended concerts whenever they were held in driving distance throughout the midwest. In 1979, they made their way to a concert in Rochester without having tickets in advance. Waiting in line to buy them, they were delighted when Peter came out holding a note and asking, “Did anyone write this note?” “Wish I did,” answered Jane, and a conversation ensued. After the concert Peter sought them out, noting that he could see them in their front row seats singing the words to ever single song. Dubbing them the “Rochester 7,” Peter invited them to seek him out any time they attended a concert. In short order, Jane had become a good friend, sharing letters and pictures over the years. “I’ve played his guitar; he’s played mine. And we’ve sung together. You know, he’s just real people.”

Richard Frye boarded a crowded commercial flight from D.C. to Manchester. As luck would have it, a window seat was open next to a good-sized man who was obviously crippled. He made it as easy as he could for Richard to climb over him to his seat and they each spent the flight immersed in their own thoughts. But Richard was certain he had seen the man’s distinctive bearded face before and it bothered him the whole time. It was only after deplaning that Richard realized he could have spent the hours in flight talking to C. Everett Koop, the former surgeon general best known for his warnings about smoking.

Phyllis Benoit was an enthusiastic volunteer for the John F. Kennedy campaign (and others) resulting in meeting several prominent politicians in the ’50s and ’60s. But it was when she and a friend found their way into a rowdy pre-inaugural party, the noise forced Bobby Kennedy to leave his office. The Secret Service moved in to escort Phyllis and her friend out of the party, but not before Bobby and Lyndon Johnson shook their hands, thanking them for their service. The girls’ claim to fame came when the incident was included in Theodore White’s book, The Making of a President.

While in an Army hospital in Okinawa recovering from pneumonia, Dan Fogarty received a visit from Gold Glove shortstop, Jim Fregosi. As other players made their rounds in the ward, Fregosi, not a member of the Boston Red Sox, spent a good 10 minutes sitting on Dan’s bed praising Carl Yastrzemski and talking about games he played against the Boston Red Sox.

Chris Pappas (not that one) described an elevator ride with Ringo Starr. Joyce Prowse cleaned Ricky Craven’s teeth. John Walker met Navy pilot Ed Asner. Marcia Gray sang with Brenda Lee. Gary Gordon shook hands with Haile Selassie, King of Ethiopia. And the stories kept coming ...

Special guest, Paul Brogan, author of Was That a Name I Dropped, and frequent OLLI presenter, shared several celebrity stories. His first celebrity meeting came after a Beatles concert with his unimpressed father. As they were waiting for their car, Paul McCartney was too, and they had a chance to chat. Little did he know that would be the first of decades of celebrity interactions. Having interrupted Joan Crawford in the middle of cleaning her bathroom to pick up an autographed picture for a friend, Paul went on to describe her as a warm, gracious and unpretentious woman. As was Jackie Kennedy Onassis who dropped in at the Concord Theatre and was invited by manager Theresa Cantin to be her guest. Mrs. Onassis’s smiling reply as she paid for her ticket: “Why no, you have to make a living.”

OLLI at Granite State College is a member-driven organization dedicated to providing cost-effective, nonacademic courses, social events and talent-sharing opportunities to active, engaged adults over age 50. Information about OLLI can be found on its website,

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