As the Slidell news guy in this town for many years, I have so many wonderful friendships I have developed over the years and it leads me to hear some really neat stories.
One of my very good friends is Rosemary Clement, who proudly told me the other day that she is 85 years young.
For those of you who know Rosemary you know this is a woman who won’t let a few advancing years slow her down. She is currently part of a dance team that makes the rounds in the Slidell area, putting on performances at nursing homes, local charity events and more.
So I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised when I heard that Rosemary tried something new recently—ice skating for the first time in Rockefeller Center in New York City.
Rosemary’s professional life was built through Slidell Gymnastics, her own business that was probably the first of its kind in what I call “little girl dance classes.” She taught gymnastics for the most part and I know that young girls love that kind of thing, but they also taught the girls up through high school.
Rosemary used to love the newspaper coverage I gave her at the former Slidell Sentry-News. I was kind of a go-getter myself when I was the sports editor and I tried to cover every sport there was. Rosemary hooked onto me when she noticed I would come by the club virtually any time she said “we went to a competition and have the girls ready for pictures.” Nowadays I tell people to take the picture themselves and e-mail it. But back then I did it all and I became good friends with Rosemary and her daughters Mary and Gwendolyn who all worked there at the club.
Rosemary is a smart lady and she liked the coverage I gave them—all for free, mind you.
To keep me coming to the club to get the pictures Rosemary used to show up at the paper periodically with a box of sweets from the old McKenzie’s Bakery. She usually brought petit-four’s and snappy turtles and man did everyone love them.
But back to Rockefeller Center.
One of the young students Rosemary taught several decades ago was a fellow named Roger Hayes. Believe it or not, I do remember him as one of the few boys who took gymnastics. But apparently the teaching Rosemary and her daughters gave to Roger paid off. He went on to become a cheerleader at Tulane and for the Saints, then moved to the Northeast and has had a tremendous career in dance and choreography. When I looked up his bio I was stunned at the many things he has headed up—productions at Disney World, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (14 years), St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Ireland, London’s Grand Christmas Parade—and believe me, I’m barely scratching the surface.
The humble start at Slidell Gymnastics was the stepping stone for a great career for Roger, but clearly he did not forget where he came from. Rosemary, along with Gwendolyn and Mary, were invited by Roger to this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.
Roger owns and heads a company called Spirit of America Dance and he not only invited Rosemary and girls to the parade this year, but paid all their expenses, gave them the VIP treatment to be in the reviewing stands for the parade, and honored Rosemary at a special event where she was given an official costume his dancers were wearing for the parade.
And of course, there was Rockefeller Center. Rosemary said they made a visit there and 85 or not, she had to give ice skating a try, which she successfully did according to the posts on Facebook from Gwendolyn.
Over the years in Slidell there became a friendly competition between Rosemary and our now dearly departed Viola Cocran—two longtime Slidellians who unashamedly loved to have their picture in the local paper. Rosemary said that she and Viola used to kid each other about who was in the most.
“I would see Viola and she would say to me. Rosemary, I was in the paper this week and I did not see your picture,” Rosemary related. “We had such fun with it all.”
I actually did a front page feature story on Viola several years ago here in the Independent, about the numerous times she was in the paper, as well as her record volunteer hours for Slidell Memorial Hospital.
For now, Rosemary believes she is catching up on Viola since she continues to send us the pictures of her local dance team performing around Slidell. And while she can’t count this column as a picture, I think it should be worth double on the totem pole.
As for her weekend in New York City, it was a dream come true, she told me. And kudos to Roger Hayes for never forgetting where he started.
Kevin Chiri can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.