I’d like to introduce you to my mother. Long before she was a great-grandmother, she was a grandmother and before that a mother and before that, a beautiful young woman with aspirations.
She was beautiful, both in body and soul, and it showed through her entire life in her every action. She was a glowing presence, leaving no one’s heart untouched. She saved lives, changed lives and loved deeply. She perfected dance, and through it she learned, inspired and taught. Dance changed her life, propelling her into an uncertain, amazing, terrifying future.
I’d like for you to meet that incredible woman, that hard-working professional dancer.
Mom danced tap and ballet in a modern style for the 1930s and 1940s when she was performing. She also sang beautifully and played the piano.
She began with local dance lessons and danced in local recitals long before she turned pro.
I think you’ll like her. Get a cup of tea and pull up your iPads, because hers is quite an incredible story that we’re about to unfold.
Silver Lake, Indiana
This older black and white picture of the house where Mom was born looks somewhat bleak, but the house still stands today. The porch has been enclosed and everything looks better in color and drenched in sunlight. Mom’s bedroom was upstairs in the little roof area that you can see extending over the porch.
Now, don’t laugh, but Mom’s childhood home is a funeral home today. Mom avoided all funerals held here. She just didn’t think she could deal with that.
Mom was born and raised in Silver Lake, Indiana back in 1922 when people used horses and buggies to get from place to place and cars were rare.
Mom began dancing about 1932, when she was 10 years old, after a long painful bout with rheumatic fever, a disease that damaged her heart.
Mother spent months recovering and told me stories about how the weight of her own arms hurt her so badly she couldn’t stand the pain – or stand up. Her father carried her up and down the stairs and laid her on the couch. Her lifelong love of books began with him reading to her for hours to distract her through the characters in the book from her all-too-present unrelenting pain.
Physical therapy didn’t exist at the time, so dancing was suggested by her doctor to strengthen her heart after she recovered. Of course, dancing was vorbotten by the conservative churches in Silver Lake – but mother danced anyway. After all, it was for her health, not her enjoyment.
Dancing apparently worked. Mom lived another 73 years, until 2006 when she passed away at 83 years of age, still carrying the scars of that childhood disease but it did not defeat nor define her. Neither did the conservative churches nor the wagging tongues of the church women. Even her Brethren grandmother, Evaline Miller Ferverda who helped care for mother during the long months of her illness relented and approved. For health only, of course.
Mom danced for years, studying with Violet Reinwald in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a nationally known dance instructor and performer. As mom got older, she began teaching and then performing professionally with Violet’s dance company. They toured northern Indiana, performing in theaters and in colleges. Her mother, Edith Lore Ferverda often played the piano and accompanied the performers.
Marriage, WWII and Divorce
Mom’s life took shape in another way, marked by WWII, graduation from high school, a marriage to her high school sweetheart, Dan Bucher, a child and divorce. All of those things happened quickly, in 1942 and 1943. Mom was all of 19 and 20 years old.
Mother and my brother John lived with her parents as she waited for her husband to return from WWII, but that marriage was destined to dissolve before he ever came home. Let’s just say that he wasn’t ready to settle down.
Divorced with a baby, Mom had to earn more than she could in tiny Silver Lake teaching dancing. There weren’t many options in a farming crossroads town – actually – there weren’t any options.
The divorce decree called for Dan to pay $4 per week child support, and no one could live on that and support a child as well.
The closest big city that sported a professional dance troupe – the only thing Mom knew how to do – was Chicago. Mom told me many years later that dancing, let alone dancing in Chicago far from her family wasn’t at all what she wanted to do. But she had no choice.
Mom wanted to go to school and become a bookkeeper, but her family didn’t believe in spending money on educating a female. Her brother, on the other hand, was sent to college to become a chemist. Besides, they had already spent all that money on dance lessons. So dance is what she did. And how!
Mom always made lemonade out of whatever lemons life served up.
Off to Chicago
Wearing an old borrowed fur coat and a hat made out of a muff, Mom traveled to Chicago with fingers crossed to audition for the Dorothy Hild Dancers.
Mother must have been terrified. Trembling in her dance shoes. What would have happened if she hadn’t gotten the job? Her life would have taken a dramatically different path, that’s for sure.
Mom aced the audition, got the job, and began the next chapter of her life in Chicago. That sounds glamorous and seductive, but the reality was much different. She worked at least 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and lived in a hotel room with another dancer as a roommate with Dorothy Hild acting as both the house mother and the warden, enforcing strict rules.
According to the Chicago Tribute whose posh entertainment columns covered the Dorothy Hild Dancers’ every move, shows were offered in the Marine Dining Room at the Edgewater Beach Hotel daily at 8:30 and 10:30, except for Sunday when the dinner show was performed at 7:30.
The challenge in show business, of course, was to keep up and stay one step ahead of the competition. Acts couldn’t get stale.
An article on March 11th, 1945 mentions that the Dorothy Hild Dancers in the Marine Dining Room at the Edgewater Beach Hotel would offer four new routines; Arabian Nights, a swing novelty, Paper Dolls and Spangled Bolero. The dancers were accompanied by the full Wayne King Orchestra. At other times by Emil Vandas and his orchestra.
The Dorothy Hild Dancers’ reviews were glowing, such as, “the dazzling production numbers staged by Dorothy Hild who is doing the sort of work that should make some veteran producers search their souls and see if they haven’t been resting on dusty laurels.”
I even found a Thanksgiving dinner ad in the Chicago Tribute for the Marine Dining room, so we know what Mom was doing on Thanksgiving Day 1944 – and it wasn’t eating turkey with her family.
She was smiling through the pain of knowing that her family was gathered together and she was not there with them and her 17-month-old son.
Judging from the reviews in the Tribune for just 1944 and 1945, it looks like the dancers prepared for at least a new set of 4 shows every other month, so 24 new complete shows each year – plus the renowned Christmas Extravaganza. On some of Mom’s clippings, the dates indicate that a particular specialty show only ran for 3 or 4 weeks. No wonder they were known as the most ambitious and the best show in Chicago.
What a grueling schedule. Learning the next set of shows while you were practicing and performing the current shows.
Mother’s birth surname was Ferverda and her married name was Bucher. Neither name made a good stage name, so she became Barbara Boucher or Bouché, with a French flair and a stage presence that belied her humble conservative Brethren roots in small-town Indiana. It may have only been 139 miles from Silver Lake to the Edgewater Beach Hotel, but show business was another world entirely.
This photo of Mom, one of my all-time favorites, was taken at the height of her dancing career when she was dancing in Chicago in the early 1940s. She always told a funny story about this picture, which was one of the marque slicks outside the theater.
Apparently in her haste to get to the studio in time for her photo shoot, Mom forgot her dance trunks. Trunks are like shorts that cover underwear. Costume skirts are short and you’re really not seeing anything risqué underneath.
She had a running tug-of-war with the photographer (Maurice Seymour) who kept exposing more of her legs for artistic purposes, and mother kept readjusting her skirt more modestly.
Based on the final photo, mother won. If you knew my mother, there was never any doubt about that.
As beautiful as mother was, and as glamorous as her life seemed, she missed her family, and in particular, her son desperately.
Dorothy Hild Dancers at the Edgewater Beach Hotel
By July of 1944, John had just celebrated his first birthday and Mom was in Chicago performing with the Dorothy Hild Dancers at the esteemed Edgewater Beach Hotel.
This was during the heyday of grand hotels who each tried to outdo the others with their Hollywood big band type shows. The Edgewater Beach was Chicago’s finest luxury hotel, on the waterfront with its own private beach, catering to the rich and famous including several presidents of the United States. One of their claims to fame was that they offered seaplane service.
The hotel was surrounded by a private park and gardens which you’ll see in some of the following photos.
Below, one of the lounges at the Edgewater Beach hotel.
A rare aerial photo at the time shows the massive structure on the lake.
Today, all that remains of the Edgewater Beach hotel built in 1916 and the apartments built in 1928 is the apartment building, now upscale condos with a pink façade.
Mom faithfully kept scrapbooks, at least for the first couple of years she lived in Chicago.
I think that the scrapbooks of yesteryear were much like today’s resume. If you were looking for another dancing position, or side work, you took your scrapbook along. Not to mention my grandmother loved it!
Mother didn’t always use her stage name.
Above, a promotional photo of the Dorothy Hild Dancers with Mom second row far right. Look at those eyelashes! On the following page, on the back of the picture, Mom wrote the 10 dancers’ names.
Mary Lou Hai, probably not her real name, was mother’s roommate. Mother recalled that during World War II, Mary Lou’s family was “detained” in one of the detention camps in Arizona where the government secretly sent Americans of Japanese heritage living in this country. Mother said they were always afraid the authorities would come after Mary Lou, so Mary “became” Chinese. The war was very difficult for these young women, especially Mary Lou and mother whose families were affected in dramatically different ways.
Mary Lou couldn’t communicate with her family for fear of discovery. No letters, no calls, nothing. The US was at war with Japan, and Mary Lou couldn’t be exposed as Japanese or she would be sent to the detainment center with the rest of her family. All Japanese at that time and those with Japanese heritage, more than half of whom were US citizens, were suspected of being enemies.
Mother, on the other hand, was dating and then engaged to a man in the military. He was actively fighting the Japanese and would ultimately die in the war – yet these two women shared a room and a bond, dance, that transcended prejudice.
The Edgewater Beach Hotel advertised the shows on theater marquis style billboards outside like the old-time theaters. The Dorothy Hild Dancers opened for the big bands and famous acts like Frank Sinatra, Charlie Chaplin, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Wayne King, among others.
These photos were taken by Maurice Seymour known as “the photographer to the celebrities.” His specialty was theater, dance and in particular, ballet.
These “Maurice” photos, in addition to the one at the beginning of the article have been framed and hanging in my home for decades. He was clearly a talented photographer, catching Mom at her best. I’m so very grateful to have these.
I would love to have seen those larger-than-life marquee slicks outside the Edgewater Beach Hotel, advertising the performances by these lovely ladies. My grandparents and family members were also given copies of these photos. I hope that all those small-town naysayers who gossiped so cruelly about my mother caught a glimpse.
A friend sent me this video of the glitzy Chicago nightlife in 1947.
I believe mother was still dancing with the Dorothy Hild dancers at that time, and the Dorothy Hild Dancers are featured at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in the video. I think Mom may be the dark-haired woman in the front beginning at about minute 6:14. The Dorothy Hild group begins at minute 5:45 but the dancing horse received more coverage than the humans. I was so excited to see this – transporting me back 75 years in time – allowing me a brief glimpse into mother’s world.
Regardless of whether this is actually mother in the video, it’s the vibrant Chicago that mom knew.
The great news about being a dancer is that photos were taken. In fact, lots of photos.
If you’re wondering why I’ve included so many photos, that’s all I have left now. Photos and memories, and oh yes, her DNA. But as time creeps on and I pass from this earth and join mother, eventually, no one will have the memories to share, and fewer still will carry her DNA. The only thing I can pass on are the photos and the stories so that she isn’t forever erased.
The following pictures found in Mom’s scrapbook were taken in order to provide photos to the newspapers and for other publicity purposes. As I worked with these photos, I do believe we have an entire photoshoot here. How many people are that fortunate!
The above two photos were also pressed onto wood about one-quarter inch thick. Then small statues approximately 6 inches high were cut in the shape of the outline of the dancer from the wood. The feet of the cutout were placed in a small wooden base. When I was a child, these two “dancers” stood on the table in the living room. Eventually, the extended hand broke off. I surely wish I had these mementoes today.
Mother had beautiful legs even into her 80s. She wore heels and skirts her entire life.
At one point, mother became almost skeletally thin. There are photographs of her where her cheeks are sunken and she looks virtually anorexic, although anorexia had not been defined as a disease yet at that time, and I know that she did not have an eating disorder. She had a dancing disorder!
I also know mom missed a lot of meals, both due to scheduling and finances. The Dorothy Hild Dancers were regularly performing two shows per evening, plus one practice daily, and Mom told me she would lose 9-12 pounds a day during this time. She couldn’t keep weight on.
The metabolism she acquired during her dancing career would stay with her for the duration of her lifetime and would successfully see her through many years of 3 desserts, chocolate Hershey bars and plates of homemade fudge without gaining an ounce. I didn’t get that from her either.
As a teen, I was incredibly envious of how much Mom could eat. I would gain weight just watching her. She could and literally did make and eat copious quantities of anything and everything and never gained weight. When she passed away, weighing less than 100 pounds, we thought she had frozen prepared meals in her freezer, but the entire freezer was crammed full of different kinds of ice cream. “Second” and “third” dessert she called them.
Mother loved chocolate. That, I did inherit from her!
The War Interferes
Once again, the War would directly affect Mother’s life.
Sometime before the end of 1944, mother met Frank Sadowski, a medical student who had enlisted to serve in the Army in February of 1943.
Frank’s sister, Margie or Maggie, also danced with the Dorothy Hild dancers which explains how they met – especially given that Dorothy’s dancers were not allowed to date nor to go out in the evenings. There would be no rumors about her dancers!
By the end of 1944, Mom and Frank were an item and planned to marry when his military tour was over.
Frank’s military service ended brutally when he was killed on April 19, 1945 on Okinawa, attempting to save another man.
Frank’s body wasn’t returned to the family until March of 1949, just a couple of weeks before Mom abruptly ended her dancing career. I don’t know positively, but suspect those two things are related.
Mother confided that she knew Frank would be killed, in the same way she knew so many things she couldn’t have known. Mom said she cried too long the last time Frank left from the train station, and couldn’t stop crying…because she knew it would be the last time she saw him on this earth. Frank’s death devastated mother – to the point where she was never the same. Throughout the rest of her life, this chapter was extremely difficult for her to discuss. It only closed when she rejoined him across the divide.
In 1945, the war was drawing to a close. Had Frank managed to survive just a little longer…
Victory in Europe Day
Mother was at the home of her voice coach in Chicago when the word of VE (Victory in Europe) Day arrived on May 8th, 1945, via a call from the Mayor’s office requesting a group of singers for a victory celebration in the circle that evening in downtown Chicago.
Her coach hung up and asked Mother if she could perform. Mother said yes, she could, and she did, singing her heart out for America and “the boys” on State Street, along with 20-25 others, many of whom were vocal students at Northwestern University.
This photo from the Chicago Tribune shows the massive crowds. The city literally shut down. In the paper the next day, the following column tells more about the atmosphere.
I never realized until I read this article that lights were dimmed to conserve resources during the war.
Mom said that the VE Day announcement was wonderful and that some of the people she worked with had family in the European theater.
She also told me that she almost didn’t make it through her solo, knowing that while many would come marching home, Frank would not. He hadn’t even been gone a month. I’m amazed she could perform at all. It’s a testament to her strength. She straightened her back and stiffened her spine and that mighty woman simply did whatever was required. If any single moment defines my mother, this is it.
In a 1995 interview with the Kokomo Tribune to celebrate the 50th anniversary of VE Day, Mother said “we were kind of a chorus on a hastily constructed stage.” Festivities began “two o’clockish and the downtown was very, very crowded.“ Everyone was celebrating. Mom said they performed songs that everyone knew, such as God Bless America, the National Anthem and “most everything of a patriotic nature.”
The program lasted about 90 minutes and “I remember I got tired standing.” Her voice breaking, even then, a half-century later, as she recalled “the sad undercurrent. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was VJ Day too?” (VJ = Victory in Japan)
For Frank, and for mother, victory had come too late.
The newspaper article indicated that Mother communicated with two men fighting the Japanese, and she mentioned “underneath the festivities was the fact that there was still war in the Pacific; you couldn’t see any end in sight.”
Mom wasn’t alone. This small buried article tells what was happening in Okinawa on VE Day, and how those men felt.
Mom continued, “I felt kind of lonesome in the crowd…there was no one I knew there. But I did sing…I did what I was supposed to do. I was glad those people in Europe were ready to come home.”
What she never told the reporter was that Frank had just been killed – 19 days earlier. I’m not sure how long Mom had known. Dan had returned alive, but that relationship and her hope of being his wife and raising a family in Indiana was lost to mother just the same. WWII was nothing but one heartbreak after another for Mom – and she danced and sang through it all.
I asked mother if she was excited, and she said that she was, but she knew all of the problems were not yet over. Many of her friends were serving in Europe and Japan, and not all of them would return alive.
Frolicking on the Lawn
Mom continued dancing. At some point in time, a roll of film was taken of her friends in the Dorothy Hild Dancers enjoying themselves on the lawn of the Edgewater Beach Hotel.
Cameras and film were both rare, and many items were rationed during this time in order that the country’s resources could be focused on the war effort. A roll of film was a luxury indeed.
There’s more than one way to climb a slide! Success!!
Mary Tan Hai
Mom at the wishing well. I wonder what she was wishing for.
Mom is sitting second from left in the chair.
I’m glad to see that the ladies knew how to have fun. I suspect Mom took these photos since she isn’t in the ones above.
I love this candid. Mom is so beautiful.
Mom in both photos, above. These photos were taken on two different days because she has two outfits on, and coats are worn on one day and not the other.
Mom and Mary look so happy in this photo. It’s one of my favorites. Two lovely young souls. Sadly, Mom lost track of Mary and her address book, still in my possession lends no clues.
Mom’s and Mary’s two worlds collided head-on. Mom’s fiancé was killed by the Japanese in the war, while she was rooming with Mary. Mary’s family had been incarcerated in the US because they were of Japanese heritage, despite being citizens.
It would have been so easy to blame each other for circumstances neither woman could either influence or control, but they didn’t. They loved each other as sisters and the protective shield that the dancers wove around Mary may well have spared her life. It certainly preserved her freedom.
On the Road
At some point, the dancers began to travel. I know that Mother met my father on a train between Philadelphia where she was dancing and Chicago where the troupe was returning. There are other hints as well in the various newspaper articles in her scrapbook.
Below, she performed at the State Fair at the Coliseum, with Jimmy Dorsey, but it never says what state’s fair.
Mom’s second left from the end.
Judging from the newspaper article, Andy’s was in Minneapolis.
A few of the girls formed their own smaller dance troupe. Mom also performed on her own.
The Club Belvidere was in Springfield, Illinois
At least one of Mom’s engagements was in Cincinnati, Ohio.
I have to laugh. “Slick tap routines.”
1331 Hennepin Avenue was in Garden City, Michigan, which surprised me. I had no idea she had danced in Michigan.
The Silver Cloud was located in Chicago.
Mom performed at the Faust Club in Peoria, Illinois. I see her stage name was Boucha here, or misspelled.
Wayne King was a Big Band leader. This appears to be the gentleman in the dance promotional photograph with mother.
This photo looks like another from the Maurice Seymour studio.
More clippings from Mom’s scrapbook.
I sure wish I had the originals of these photos.
Fencing? Well, I had to admit that’s different!
The Club Hollywood was located at 9000 West Belmont in Franklin Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. Today, this location is the O’Hare Logistics Center for the airport.
There’s a significant gap in Mom’s scrapbook entries. I wonder if she simply got tired of clipping, or if an entire book went missing.
While many of Mother’s engagements were in the Chicago area, some were fairly distant. The program for this event tells us that she was Miss Zenith Radio.
Who knew. It looks like this might have been in 1948.
The event below took place in Omaha, and they thought she was sweet.
The Trocadero was a well-known up-scale club in Omaha in the 1940s. I’m sure mother received lots of propositions and proposals too.
Mom probably developed a second sense about situations like this. However, as a very interesting side-note, George Bentley IS in Mom’s address book with two phone numbers. Four-digit phone numbers no less. Now you know I just HAVE to research this person.
In the 1940 census, George, an electrician is married and 41 years old, if it’s the same George. Of course, by 1948, he might not have been married, although his wife is still listed as his SS death beneficiary in 1972. Or he might have been separated, or not been truthful about being married. I might have the wrong George Bentley too, as the address doesn’t match that of the City Directory or the 1940 census, but there isn’t another George Bentley in Omaha.
Looking at the map today, 1411 N. 30th, the address in mother’s book is a residential neighborhood with a contemporary church on the property, not the type of area where clubs are located. Judging from this and other hints, it appears that mother might have been attracted to older men. My father was about 20 years older than Mom. Hmmm….
Was George another heartbreak that we know nothing about? Is that why his note is in her scrapbook and his name in her address book?
The above photo is inside the Memories of Omaha folder. I just have to ask myself, what was Mom doing in Omaha and is there a “rest of the story?”
This is also the only photo in existence where my Mom appears to be a bit “chubby.”
The duration of a dancing career is by necessity, short. A dancer’s body just can’t withstand the prolonged abuse. At some point, mother broke her foot, the kiss of death for a dancer.
In 1949, she withdrew her membership in the American Guild of Variety Artists, officially ending her career as a performer just a couple weeks after Frank’s body was returned home and buried. I can’t say for sure that those two things are connected, but I’m willing to bet that they are.
The Scrapbooks End
Mother’s Chicago scrapbook ends between 1945 and 1948 although she didn’t withdraw from the guild until 1949. The Miss Zenith Radio clipping was from 1948 and she was clearly still performing at that time. Mom said that after the war ended, dancing engagements were more difficult to procure, and things had changed. There was less interest in big bands and the clubs were becoming more interested in less clothing, a style of dancing Mom personally did not embrace.
There’s no question that dancing profoundly influenced Mother’s life. Dancing probably saved her life when it functioned as physical therapy to strengthen her heart, but it also cost her greatly in many ways, as she was never able to be “normal.” Mother traveled and performed, a lifestyle not conducive to a traditional relationship. And far from anything she had seen or dreamed of growing up in Silver Lake. This was not in any of the accepted role “scripts” for women of that era.
Because of her nontraditional career, in a time when few women had any career and most women aspired to marry, have children and not work outside the home, she was never a candidate to become a traditional wife and mother. Mom struggled mightily with that dichotomy. It “shouldn’t” have mattered, but it did.
Like other women, mom very much wanted a loving relationship and a family. She was also divorced which carried with it a shameful stigma at that time as well, not to mention that her parents were raising her child. Mother was supposed to somehow fit into a traditional mold, which she clearly couldn’t, and was judged personally by failing at those “traditional” standards. She was trapped between two worlds and didn’t fit in either.
Whether dancing ultimately benefitted her more or cost her more, only she could say.
As I look back on her life, I’m impressed at the incredible bravery and fortitude my mother exhibited. Of course, I had no idea of the challenges she faced when I was younger. True to form, she never shared the negative aspects of her life.
I could not have realized the magnitude of the discrimination faced by women and the stigma painted upon women who worked, especially in the entertainment industry, that many conflated, intentionally or otherwise, with “working girls.”
Mother spent the first third of her life working hard and training to be “good enough” to dance professionally, and the rest of her life trying to leave her showgirl life behind and simply be considered be “good enough,” period. Good characteristics of an outgoing performer weren’t considered assets in a demure obedient wife.
While it wasn’t guarded as a secret, let’s just say we didn’t discuss Mom’s dancing career at the Baptist church after she married my wonderful step-father and moved to a hog farm in conservative, rural Indiana. Her previous career was treated much as a mysterious “famous” past that mother was simply too humble to brag about.
However, that suitcase full of beautiful, glittering sequenced costumes holding their secrets of spotlights past bedeviled the plain “housewife” existence she tried to mold herself into for the rest of her life. Perhaps that was her greatest and most successful act of all, guild actor’s card or not.
After the dancing chapter of her life ended, she found a way to pursue the career she had dreamed of initially – that of becoming a bookkeeper. Her new career, although it paid poorly as all women’s jobs did at the time, ultimately led her to heartland Indiana where I was raised.
Ironically, the life of struggle that she endured stoically and bravely and tried so hard to put behind her is one of the very reasons I’m so proud of her today.
Proud that she broke ground for the rest of us.
Proud of her sacrifice.
Proud of who she was.
Proud that she never let her beauty alter her moral character.
Proud of her humility and lifelong service to others.
Proud that she endured in a period of unending challenges and struggle – and survived.
Proud that she ultimately found a way to follow the dream she had never been able to pursue. She became a bookkeeper for more than 20 years, followed by being an Avon lady for another quarter-century. Mom didn’t retire until she was 82.
Here’s Mom, saying goodbye to her last Avon customer in May of 2005.
Proud of her three careers, spanning more than 65 years.
Proud of that stunningly beautiful dancer who would one day become my mother and infect me with her hard-won tenacity.
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