By robert guttersohn
Raysa Bonow’s time in Youngstown was a flash in the pan of her Emmy- winning, television producing career along East Coast cities such as New York and Boston.
But her roots were here, and it was here where she spent her last years before dying July 6 at 80.
From her early childhood with younger sister Mary Lou Bonow [now Mary Lou Finesilver], she was ready for the busy life of a television producer.
As children in Johnstown, Pa., Finesilver remembered watching her older sister walk hurriedly from the school bus to their hilltop home and trip several times.
“When she grew up, she actually had pebbles in her knee from when she was a little kid,” said Finesilver.
Bonow graduated from West Virginia University, Morgantown, in 1952 and took a job working for the CIA. In 1955, she moved with her family to Youngstown. After working as a copywriter for the McKelvey’s Department Store, Bonow took a job at WKBN-TV. There, she met Clay Cole, who would become a New York pop-music TV-show host. While they worked together, he discovered Bonow’s need-to-know personality.
He wrote in his memoir, “Sh-boom: The Explosion of Rock’n’Roll,” that Bonow once asked how many cigarettes he smoked a day. When he refused to answer, she pressed him about his sex life.
“Sometimes it got a little annoying,” said Finesilver, who stayed in the Mahoning Valley and now works at the Jewish Community Center on Gypsy Lane. “She wanted to know everything about everybody.”
In 1957, Bonow and Cole moved to New York. While working at the WNBC studios in Times Square, the two rubbed elbows with burgeoning pop and rock stars. But that never stopped her from keeping in touch with her Youngstown family.
“She called my parents four to five times a day,” Finesilver said. “She was very nurturing as a daughter.”
Also in New York, she met her 30-year significant other, Richard Taylor from Detroit.
In the ’70s, Bonow made her mark as a pioneer feminist in Boston. There, she produced the all-female “Sonya Hamlin Show,” which sought to provoke thought from the daytime, female audience, according to a February 1972 Boston Globe article.
After a stint in the real-estate business, she and Taylor moved back to Youngstown in 2005. He died only months later, and she faced several health setbacks. Eventually dementia set in, causing the memory of her career to disappear, Finesilver said. When Clay Cole died in December 2010, she had no recollection of their time in New York.
“It was very sad,” Finesilver said.
But she found friends and happiness in the Heritage Manor senior center where she lived out her life.
“The people there were just crazy about her,” Finesilver said. “She could be very bossy even then, trying to tell people how to do their jobs.”
A nurse “said she was glad she wasn’t there the day she died because she couldn’t have made it.”
Despite her Emmy and two Iris Awards for program excellence, she preferred the background. She even refused a memorial service. Her biggest reward came in seeing young talent bloom.
“She liked to see the people she worked with blossom,” Finesilver said. “She liked to see people get ahead.”