Humorist Erma Bombeck is one of Dayton’s most celebrated writers. To those who grew up with Erma’s columns hanging on their refrigerator doors, she always felt like she could be your next-door neighbor. Her writing captured the foibles of family life in a way that made us laugh at ourselves. Erma Fiste developed a love for writing early in life. At the age of 16, while attending Patterson Co-Op High School, she talked her way into a job as a copygirl at the Dayton Herald. As a student at the University of Dayton, she found moral support from Brother Tom Price, S.M., who encouraged her to write humor for The Exponent, the school’s literary magazine. One day this English professor told her three words that changed her life: ”You can write.” After marrying college classmate Bill Bombeck, settling in suburbia and starting a family, she began writing a column for the Kettering-Oakwood Times before joining the Journal Herald in Dayton. Three weeks after her first column appeared in the Journal Herald, her column was syndicated. At the peak of her career, ”At Wit’s End,” appeared in more than 900 newspapers, reaching 30 million readers! She also wrote a dozen books, nine of which made The New York Times’ bestsellers list. For 11 years, Erma appeared on ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America.” She was still writing her column for Universal Press Syndicate and developing a new book for HarperCollins Publishers when she died from complications of a kidney transplant on April 22, 1996.
Today, the University of Dayton, her alma mater, and the Bombeck family honor her legacy through the popular biennial Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, which draws 350 writers from around the nation. Founded in 2000, it is the only workshop in the country devoted to both humor and human interest writing and always sells out. It has attracted such household names as Phil Donahue, Dave Barry, Art Buchwald, Nancy Cartwright, Don Novello, Garrison Keillor, Gail Collins, Connie Schultz, Adriana Trigiani, Lisa Scottoline and Alan Zweibel. The University of Dayton also hosts an online museum (www.ErmaMuseum.org), produces a monthly e-newsletter for writers, maintains a blog (www.humorwriters.org) and co-sponsors the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition with the Washington-Centerville Public Library. In addition, an Ohio historical marker on the UD campus, part of an Ohio Bicentennial Commission and Ohio Historical Society statewide effort to highlight significant Ohio people, honors this Dayton Original!