Erma Bombeck’s Centerville home, which she built with her husband in 1959 and lived in while crafting many of the witty stories that would make her famous, is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bombeck, an American humorist from the mid-1960s till the late 1990s, wrote more than 4,000 of newspaper columns, published 15 books, magazine articles and contributed to “Good Morning, America,” humorously chronicling the ordinary life of a Midwestern suburban housewife.
The property, 162 Cushwa Drive, in Centerville, remains a private home. The current owners, Tracy and Dr. Roger Reeb, a psychology professor at the University of Dayton, 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 Bombecks lived there until 1968.
Born in Bellbrook, Bombeck grew up in a working-class family in Dayton. She began writing in her junior high school newspaper during World War II. She attended Parker (now Patterson) Vocational High School. In 1942, she began her career at the Dayton Herald, working as a typist and stenographer, then taking on minor journalistic assignments. Bombeck worked at Rike’s Department Store, wrote humorous material for the company newsletter, and began her college studies at the University of Dayton. Of course, she wrote for them, too.
From 1964, she began writing for money. First at the Kettering-Oakwood Times, she was paid $3 for each of her weekly columns. A year later, she began writing for the Dayton Journal Herald, agreeing to write two humorous weekly columns for $50. It took her only three weeks to become nationally syndicated.
More books, columns, magazines followed. Erma’s career was taking off. Her nationally syndicated column had 30 million readers in 900 newspapers across the U.S. and Canada. A compilation of her best columns was published and titled “At Wit’s End.”
In 1975 she began working on “Good Morning, America” and stayed there until 1986. There were other TV projects, some of which failed, including a show based on one of her books, “The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank.”
Erma died in 1996 after complications from a kidney transplant. At her memorial service, former Cushwa Drive neighbor and nationally known talk show host Phil Donahue eulogized his friend. “We would entertain each other in our homes. 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.”
Bombeck made their final home in Phoenix. So when she died, her beloved husband Bill, a former teacher at Centerville High School, had a large boulder brought in to mark her grave at the entrance of Woodland Cemetery.
At the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop last spring, Martha Boice approached Erma Bombeck’s children and asked if they’d be comfortable if she pursued nominating their childhood house for the National Register of Historic Places.
“It was one of my pipe dreams,” conceded Boice, who helped found the Landmarks Foundation of Centerville-Washington Twp. “Few communities can claim so cherished a person.”
The Ohio Historic Site Preservation Advisory Board in December recommended that the suburban home of America’s most beloved humorist and one of the University of Dayton’s greatest graduates be nominated. Earlier this month, it was listed.