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Published: Wednesday, 5/25/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

SAYING GOOD-BYE

Local 'Oprah' club will have a big void to fill

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Members of Oprah's Biggest Fans in Northwest, Ohio, including Earlean "Cookie" Belcher, on floor, left, Linda Rodela, on floor, right, and from back left,  Louisa Arce, Brenda McFall, Rose Johnson, Dorothy Clark, and Jackie Arce, gather for a photo at Earlene's home in Maumee.
Members of Oprah's Biggest Fans in Northwest, Ohio, including Earlean "Cookie" Belcher, on floor, left, Linda Rodela, on floor, right, and from back left, Louisa Arce, Brenda McFall, Rose Johnson, Dorothy Clark, and Jackie Arce, gather for a photo at Earlene's home in Maumee.
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Life is about to drastically change for Earlean "Cookie" Belcher.

For starters, the 61-year-old retired financial code consultant with AT&T is about to get her afternoons back.

As an Oprah Winfrey fan and club founder of Oprah's Biggest Fans in Northwest Ohio, Mrs. Belcher has had a long-standing rule not to answer the phone between 4 and 5 p.m. weekdays, when The Oprah Winfrey Show airs on WTOL-TV, Channel 11.

"People know not to call my house between 4 and 5," she said. "Don't call or come by because you will not get a response."

That all changes after Wednesday, of course, as Winfrey is halting production of her popular talk show, ending her 25-year reign as the Queen of Daytime Television. And now Mrs. Belcher isn't sure what she'll do with the hour of free time on her hands.

"Oh, Lord, I don't even know. I guess my TV will remain off until the 6 o'clock news," she said.

Mrs. Belcher was first drawn to Winfrey in her 1985 film debut, The Color Purple. But it was after watching Winfrey's talk show that she felt a connection to the media mogul.

"I just wanted to meet her because she was just so inspirational and gave so much hope and self-expression and the ability for people to change. I was in the process of some positive transformation in my own life," she said.

Mrs. Belcher went to Chicago for a taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1999 and managed to pass along a letter to Winfrey that shared some of her experiences. To her surprise, Winfrey wrote her back two weeks later.

"That's probably the time when I became an avid fan," she said.

Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey
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Mrs. Belcher has spread her love of Winfrey to other friends. She began the Oprah's Biggest Fans in Northwest Ohio club later that year. She returned to the show again in 2000 and met Winfrey, who was surprised at her resemblance to Mrs. Belcher. The Maumee resident still has the photo of the two posing together along with another friend, as part of a massive scrapbook of all-things Winfrey.

Dorothy Clark, a 60-something retired cardiology technician and member of the club, was along for that trip.

"I was just awed to be in her [Winfrey's] presence," the Toledo resident said. "That was what I call a defining moment for me; someone I admired from a distance but I actually got to meet and shake her hand. If I didn't have to wash my hand I wouldn't."

The club of nearly a dozen members plans to meet Wednesday to watch Winfrey's final show. They say they will keep up with their inspiration in her other endeavors, including her year-old network, OWN. But, they acknowledge, it just won't be the same without having Winfrey in their living rooms weekday afternoons.

"I really just started to appreciate her more in the last few years," said Toledo resident Brenda McFall, a 61-year-old retired early childhood teacher with Toledo Public Schools and member of the group. "Now that it's the end, I just thought about how much she's taught us … how to live our best life for 25 years. She's been here all the time, but you know sometimes in life how you don't treasure someone until they're gone."

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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