Rosetta’s Cheetahs on the Run unveiledPublished 9:00am Monday, September 14, 2009
By all accounts, the well-educated, well-traveled woman who died on April Fool’s Day would have been able to find humor in the surprising twist the unveiling and dedication of her Cheetahs on the Run memorial took Friday, the eighth anniversary of 9/11.
After spending 36 hours erecting an enormous white tent along the Amtrak tracks where a train passed just before Onnolee Van Husan’s “sheetah” coverings were removed, and elegantly appointing tables adorned with sprays of tall grasses from Denise Wierman’s gardens, a catering snafu deposited Dowagiac’s complimentary barbecue luncheon in Valparaiso, Ind.
St. Denys Foundation, which Helen Rudolphi Tremble founded 20 years ago in 1989 didn’t miss a beat.
Her grandson, Dillon “Matt” Dalton, directed hundreds seated in chairs placed across Depot Drive to present their programs at either Zeke’s or Wood Fire Italian Trattoria, averting a public relations “cat-astrophe.”
“Helen managed to get the last laugh one more time,” Matt said. “The caterer is at my home in Valparaiso. I had to laugh and I didn’t tell Denise because I knew she’d fall over.”
St. Denys will add what is supposed to not even exist — a free lunch — to its $2.2 million legacy.
According to closing remarks by James McWilliams of the foundation board of directors, that’s how much economic vitality St. Denys has breathed into the bloodstream of the Grand Old City in the past decade, not only through art, but everything from Little League baseball to the expanded Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital emergency room.
That small fortune was amassed by one of Dowagiac’s iconic industrial families, for the Rudolphis founded the stove company which became Rudy Manufacturing and, by the time Tom Dalton married Lynn Tremble and worked there, Sundstrand Heat Transfer.
Once Dowagiac’s largest employer with more than 1,000 jobs, National Copper Products closed abruptly in 2008.
The Trembles and the Daltons, of course, were instrumental in establishing the public sculpture program 14 years ago which Dogwood Fine Arts Festival Visual Arts Committee has built into perhaps the most for a city its size in the nation. Their St. Denys Foundation followed up with Richard Hunt’s Active Hybrid in Rudy Park near the Mill Pond in 1997.
Tuck Langland, the Indiana sculptor who created the first, Dance of Creation, in Farr Park, introduced Loveland, Colo., sculptor Jan Rosetta to Dowagiac and considers her three cheetahs statues 9, 10 and 11 in the series. He considers the third one he is working the 12th in what Tom Dalton promoted as a 45-minute walking tour. Langland said he and Rosetta admire and collect each other’s work.
Helen Ann Tremble, who died at 96 on April 1, 2003, was born Feb. 21, 1907, the daughter of Arthur E. and Phoebe (Hunter) Rudolphi. They lived at 301 Green St.
Mrs. Tremble was a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, whose rector, Father Rick Swanson, gave the invocation:
“Bless the work of Rosetta’s hands, that her work of hope will be light and joy to the city of Dowagiac as we gather on this day to remember the fallen and the tragedy of Sept. 11. Be with those families who suffered loss, that they may be reminded of Your love and glory.”
“Helen would be humbled and honored to see this type of turnout,” Matt said. “I told Richard Brosnan that after that summer I worked for him, with Helen supervising us, I started looking for crabgrass in this sod over here” on the grassy knoll.
“I truly feel my grandmother was a special citizen of Dowagiac, as this is a special town,” Dalton said. “She attended school in Dowagiac up until her junior year. She then left in 1924 for Wellesley, Mass., where she finished high school and graduated from there. She moved on to the upstate New York area and enrolled at Vassar College for her first two years.”
After her second year at Vassar, Mrs. Tremble in the summer of 1926 sailed for Africa with her family.
“One of the best pictures I have of my grandmother is in a head veil, on a camel, with her mother in front of the pyramids of Egypt in 1927,” Dalton said. “When she came back, 1927 was also a big year because she decided to transfer to the University of Michigan.”
Little did she know, but in Ann Arbor she met a student from Chicago named Sidney B. Tremble.
In 1929, Helen’s senior year of college, her father passed away in Dowagiac. Mrs. Rudolphi assumed the presidency of their company.
In 1930, Helen and her mother drove to Los Angeles in their Stutz-Bearcat. Helen enrolled at and graduated from the University of Southern California. The irony of U of M and Southern Cal figuring so prominently in his family history is not lost on the Notre Dame fan.
On Dec. 28, 1931, at the family home on Green Street she married Sid. Her husband and “soulmate” died in 1986 at their home on Dutch Settlement where Helen enjoyed weeding and gardening.
The 1970s and ’80s meant passionate global travel to the Trembles, including a couple around-the-world trips, a return to Africa, India and Southeast Asia.
“In 1981,” Matt recalled, “Helen was so worried about the fact that a large party such as this” might be thrown for their golden wedding anniversary that “she decided to pack up the whole family, including her two grandchildren, my brother and I, who were 10 and 11 at the time, to go to Africa. ‘That way,’ she said, ‘no one will find us for our 50th wedding anniversary,’ so we had the privilege of experiencing Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania for the first time. It really was an experience I remember as if it was yesterday, as does the rest of the family.”
That trip even yielded a cheetah story.
“The only time we saw a cheetah was right after a fresh kill. It laid there like it belonged on a couch. The tongue was hanging out. We were as close as we are right now and it didn’t move for half an hour.”
Being widowed didn’t end Mrs. Tremble’s travels.
In 1993, she visited China at age 86. She also explored Ireland with Matt’s other grandmother, now 103. Her last international travel took her to St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1996.
Dalton also revealed that his grandmother “hated to dance,” which made it all the more special in 1997 when they danced at his wedding.
She enjoyed “wonderful neighbors” in her final years, such as Bruce and Barb Laing.
Matt also mentioned the private ceremony at Riverside Cemetery where Dusty sprinkled Kitty Litter on her grave — and has continued the tradition every April Fool’s Day since.
“It was so appropriate for her to pass on that day because she loved to joke and to give you a hard time when she could.”
Richard Brosnan and Kathy Cobb helped unveil Rosetta’s sculptures along with Dusty because “they worked with and looked after Helen for more than 20 years. They were very special to her and they are very special to us.”
“What makes Rosetta special to me is that she is a woman with vision,” Wierman introduced the sculptor. “She sees elegance in form. She sees strong lines, she sees the contrast between the line and the curve. Look at how exquisite those really are. She sees the bold shadow that’s passed from her forms. I don’t know if you can see the shadow, but it’s as wonderful as the beast. Her forms are symmetrical, balanced, powerful and they have a unique combination of realism and abstraction. That should make everyone in Dowagiac happy. Even my husband (Dr. James Wierman) isn’t going to say, ‘I don’t get it.’ Rosetta, your vision of form delights our senses.
“Through Rosetta’s vision, our own seeing is enriched and our own spirits are enlarged. She’s also got a missionary zeal for her subject matter. Her affection for the animals she spends her life creating: ‘In my heart, I cannot understand the insensitivity of so many to the treasures we have in the animals. To do them justice, I must make each sculpture a treasure, a jewel, an inspiration to others.’ Rosetta, you have succeeded. Each of our cheetahs is a treasure. Each one is a jewel. And together, they most certainly are an inspiration.”
Rosetta said, “An opening is very emotional for me, and it’s such a thrill to be back in Dowagiac. I’m so impressed with this town … Dowagiac has the most public sculptures per-capita in the country for a town of 6,500. It’s pretty amazing. I’m so grateful to everyone who had anything to do with this, but it was Thelda Mathews who called me when the Dalton family decided to donate a sculpture to the city in honor of Helen. I didn’t know Helen, but I wish I had because I know I would have loved her. She sounds like the most wonderful and fun person. I understand we do share two passions — art and cats. I am grateful to the Dalton family and St. Denys for entrusting me with the job of coming up with a fitting tribute to this wonderful woman and this wonderful town. I have just enjoyed this project so much. It’s been almost two years since we first started talking about it. I had a small version” of the cheetah closest to Division Street. “We started by enlarging that one,” then crafted the other two from scratch. “We realized early on that this was going to be an absolute perfect spot for running cats. And if we were going to do running cats, they had to be cheetahs, the fastest land animal on earth and absolutely legendary for their running style,” which she depicts as a series of leaps.
“And they can turn on a dime running this fast. I was interested in Dillon’s story about the cheetah which had just made a kill. It’s such a burst of energy they can only keep it up for a brief amount of time. I really missed them when we had to pack them up and ship them out here, but I’m just thrilled that they’re finally home where they belong. I do hope Helen would have been happy with them.”