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Published: Thursday, 3/24/2011

Lombardo's sister left stage for family life

rosemarie lombardo rogers, 1925-2011

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Rosemarie Lombardo Rogers didn't volunteer that her brother was the famous bandleader, Guy Lombardo. Rosemarie Lombardo Rogers didn't volunteer that her brother was the famous bandleader, Guy Lombardo.
FAMILY PHOTO / HANDOUT Enlarge
Rosemarie Lombardo Rogers, the matriarch of a popular Perrysburg restaurant run by her daughters, who had an early turn in the spotlight as girl singer with the family band -- which happened to be Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians -- died of lung cancer March 16 in her Waterville Township home. She was 85.

She was the youngest and last survivor of her musical siblings. Her brother, Guy, was 75 when he died in 1977.

Mrs. Rogers and her husband, Sidney -- who'd been manager of the Belmont Country Club -- were a constant presence from the 1980s into the 1990s at the restaurant, Syd and Diane's.

"Mom was always there, whatever she could do," daughter Diane Rogers said. "She loved the young people and our young friends, younger than she. So many of our friends confided in our mother."

Mrs. Rogers kept the books in an impeccable hand, but she also peeled carrots. She made guests comfortable. "Or she'd zip home and get dressed because we were always throwing parties," daughter Sydney said. "It was quite a magical place. She was amazingly supportive.

"It was like a home away from home for so many people. My friends would say, 'Your mother is a class act,' " daughter Sydney said.

With the restaurant's open-kitchen design, "everybody knew Mom and Dad." daughter Diane said. "Mom was the matriarch of the restaurant. Mom and Dad were always included in everything we did."

Mrs. Rogers in conversation would not volunteer that her brother was a famous bandleader, let alone one whose rendition of Auld Lang Syne meant New Year's Eve for generations of revelers. Yet even her name and that heritage were entwined.

She was born Nov. 22, 1925, in London, Ont., the daughter of Angelina and Gaetano Lombardo. The couple asked their son Guy for help in naming their seventh child.

A Cleveland radio station was broadcasting a performance of the Royal Canadians.

"My father called Guy," Mrs. Rogers told The Blade in 2006, "and Guy said, 'Listen to the radio station tonight and we'll give you a name.' So I was named on the radio. They picked 'Rose Marie.' It was the musical hit of the day."

She preferred the spelling, "Rosemarie,' to avoid being called "Rose," a name she didn't like.

The brothers' success allowed them to move their parents to an estate in Greenwich, Conn. She became friends at Greenwich High School with fellow student Truman Capote.

Her brothers Guy, Lebert, Carmen, and Victor urged her to join the band.

In 1941, at the age of 16, she became the Royal Canadians' first and, by some accounts, only female vocalist. In September, 1942, she and the band came to Toledo for a performance at the Trianon Ballroom on a bill with bandleader Vaughn Monroe.

Mrs. Rogers was with the band for its appearance in the film, Stagedoor Canteen.

Her rich tone was featured on a few records with the band. One specialty was the song, "Stormy Weather," but she told her daughters that she mostly sat on the bandstand and waited her turn while the Royal Canadians played instrumental numbers for dancers.

Being on the road with her four much-older brothers was like being with four fathers, Mrs. Rogers told her daughters. She eloped at 17, marrying a soldier twice her age. She had an apartment in Greenwich Village.

"She just had an amazing interesting life," daughter Sydney said.

She abandoned the rigors of touring to spend time with her husband, but was coaxed back periodically. With one exception -- New Year's Eve, 1955, for the Royal Canadians' annual broadcast from New York City -- she left the band in 1948. But when the band performed at the Masonic Auditorium or another local venue, "we had parties at the house for them," daughter Diane said.

Mrs. Rogers and first husband, Hank Becker, divorced after eight years.

She married Sidney Rogers on Nov. 22, 1953, and the couple ran an inn at Westhampton on Long Island, N.Y.

"She would help keep the books. She was at the switchboard," daughter Diane said.

Mr. Rogers took over as manager of the Belmont Country Club in 1969, and the family moved just outside of Whitehouse.

She was a skilled seamstress and enjoyed interior decorating. Mrs. Rogers spent "absolutely no time at Belmont whatsoever," daughter Diane said. "Mom was at home in Whitehouse. Mom had her hands full trying to keep track of us."

She accepted that long hours were part of her husband's job.

"She always had dinner ready for Dad whatever time it was," daughter Diane said. "She was supportive of him."

She remained friends with singer Perry Como, and she liked singers as different as Frank Sinatra and Harry Nilsson. She sang to her children as they grew up, but she'd left her performing days behind.

"When you have a musical ear, you can't turn it off, [but] her life became about her family," daughter Diane said.

Mrs. Rogers was especially close to her late brother, Joe, the only brother not in the band.

Her husband died Sept. 18, 1999.

Surviving are her daughters, Diane Rogers and Sydney Rogers; son, David; a granddaughter, and a great-grandson.

A celebration will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 15 at the Guesthouse, 122 West Indiana Ave., Perrysburg.

The family suggests tributes to the Cherry Street Mission, Toledo.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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