Easter Seals Fashion Show celebrates 40 years

The back dressing room at the annual Angels of Easter Seals Fashion Show event is a sight.

To be accurate – it’s part tornado sight, part kindergarten-class sight and part fashonista sight.

It’s loud. It’s cheery. It’s rapid.

It’s what you would expect if you packed into a two-car garage 30 media personalities, 20 models, 20 children and 10 volunteers.

And it’s very personal, at times.

News anchors in underwear behind this sort-of curtain; bras and undergarments strung on hangers behind that kinda curtain; a diaper change is in that corner and a topless boy is in that corner.

You’re always careful that if you see something you’re not supposed to, you look away quickly.

And through this sea of humanity walks AC McCullough – he of WHOT-FM Hot 101 radio in town.

It’s less a walk and more a stroll.

Humanity kind of parts as he walks.

I laughed the first time I saw it. Then it was that way the next year. And the next year. The next, and the ...

“It’s just a casual walk so no one knows he’s late,” said Kelly Stevens – the other half of the morning radio team that has been together since 1989. AC’s career started in 1970; Kelly’s in 1981.

On Thursday, the 40th Angels of Easter Seals Fashion Show will commence at Mr. Anthony’s Banquet Center in Boardman.

Forty years.

AC might be the dean of the event – not just for his saunter, but for his service.

AC thinks he’s been doing the fashion show for about 30 of its years. He knows one of the first ones involved his daughter and it was at Eastwood Mall exposition center.

“I don’t remember what I wore. But she remembers wearing a red dress,” said AC.

Kelly said what they wear is irrelevant.

“We could wear brown paper bags. It’s about the kids.”

The kids are Easter Seals clients. They have always been the glamour – even though it’s a show mainly about women’s fashion.

That there’s so much joy and glow from children of immense challenges runs tandem to the Angels themselves.

They were created in 1977 amid the crush of economic collapse of the steel industry. In those first events, the 100-plus women were not officially angels.

But in trying to designate the event hostesses, it was suggested to affix hand-made angels to their shoulders.

And the rest is history – 40 years and about $3 million raised.

This Thursday, it will be sold out again – a crowd in excess of 600 people, but missing one.

“I am going to miss Bob Black this year,” said Kelly. “You could always count on Bob having kind words to say. We’d find quiet time together. He was just special.”

Black, the legendary WFMJ-TV news anchor who died a few weeks ago, will have a special tribute Thursday from colleague Leslie Barrett.

Angels Jane Evans and Lynn Mitchell will be present – as they have been for each of the 40 years. Mary James and Joyce Dowell will be present as event co-chairwomen.

And AC and Kelly will be present.

AC admits that after all these years, it’s still nerve-wracking to walk out.

“It’s terrifying in a way. You know you are being watched and judged. And you don’t want to fall off the runway.”

Kelly jumps in: “I always fear I’m going to [fall and] end up as some lady’s centerpiece.”

Last year, AC said he almost tripped down the stairs leaving the stage. Almost.

But he never falls when entering the back dressing room.

He just strolls in like the “Sweetness” he touts to be.

Or, is it hiding the fact that he’s late, as Kelly knows it to be.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. E-mail him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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