Erma Bombeck’s Centerville Home Named to National Register of Historic Places
NOTES: These photos were in the National Register application. Credit Nathalie Wright for the house photo and Wright State University Archives for the Erma one.
A home built by writer and University of Dayton alumna Erma Bombeck was listed on the National Register of Historic Places last month.
The 1959 ranch home in Centerville (OH) built by the humorist and her husband, Bill, is now owned by UD psychology professor Roger Reeb and his wife Tracy.
“It’s a nice honor for my mom,” said Bombeck’s son Matt, a screenwriter in Los Angeles. “It was a great place to grow up and we really have fond memories of our neighbors and the neighborhood. The nice thing about the neighborhood is that it really hasn’t changed that much since we were there — except the trees are bigger.”
The Bombeck family lived in the house from 1959 until 1962, when Erma’s writing fame took off after her weekly newspaper column was nationally syndicated and she published the first of her many books, At Wit’s End.
“Erma frequently referred to those years of occupancy as our family’s maturity. She would always include our hamster and dog, Harry,” husband Bill, who taught at Centerville High School, once said.
Typing on an IBM Selectric, Erma wrote her columns in a cramped bedroom on a makeshift desk– a plank between cinder blocks. Phil Donahue, who later became a legendary TV talk show host, lived across the street.
“We would entertain each other in our homes,” Donahue eulogized at Erma’s memorial service in 1996. “We all had the same house. It was a plat house — $15,500 — three bedrooms, two bathrooms and the fireplace was $700 extra. …The Bombecks had beams in the ceiling. I mean real wood Early American beams, perfectly mitered. You kept looking for Martha Washington. Bill Bombeck made those beams all by himself. I envied those beams so much.”
Current homeowner Reeb says those seven ceiling beams still help distinguish the house from other homes on the street. According to the National Register of Historic Places application, the L-shaped home with its gabled roof has retained its historic integrity, still maintaining its “era of construction” and “sense of scale, time and place, and setting.”
“A lot of family living has taken place on this property. I have a sentimental feeling for this house,” said Reeb, the Roesch Endowed Chair in the Social Sciences at UD. He often sits in the Florida room and writes papers about service-learning and his work with homeless shelters.
“Knowing that she did her writing in this house has been inspirational to me in my career,” he said.
The Reebs moved into the house 20 years ago with their young sons. They built a family room over the back concrete slab that once served as a back porch, and converted the garage into an extra room.
“We were looking for a good house to buy with good schools and a big back yard for the kids to play in,” Reeb recalled. “For a little kid, that backyard was like a football or a soccer field. We’d have cookouts, put up tents and all their friends would come over. It was a nightly event. We have very fond memories of the house because this is where our kids grew up.”
The house, which will remain a private residence, turned out to be a perfect setting for Bombeck’s humorous musings about family foibles.
“The columns spoke to her neighbors, both literal and figurative,” according to the nomination, which was prepared by historic consultant Nathalie Wright. “Erma’s frustration with the notion that homemaking was an artistic pursuit that would forever fulfill women was the touchstone of her writing. She shined [sic] a spotlight on the pressures of social convention, covertly telling women that the notion of a perfect home was not realistic. Her sly insights struck a chord, and readers instantly connected to her in droves.”
The Reebs didn’t hesitate when asked if their home could be nominated for the National Register of Historic Places.
“This was Erma’s roots,” Roger Reeb said. “Why not honor her in this way?”
The University of Dayton and the Washington-Centerville Public Library sponsor a biennial Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop for humor and human interest writers, as well as a writing competition. The next workshop is scheduled for March 31-April 2, 2016. For more information, click here.
Photos courtesy the University of Dayton.
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