Milwaukee Talks: Former Summerfest director Elizabeth "Bo" Black
Elizabeth "Bo" Black, who served as Summerfest's executive director from 1984 until 2003, is a role model for professional women and a Milwaukee icon. Although she now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., health issues and a recent achievement award keep Black in the local media and in the minds of Milwaukeeans.
Black's bleak bill of health started in 2001 -- just a year after she married former Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn -- when she underwent surgery to repair an aneurysm. In February of 2007, Black suffered a stroke caused by a ruptured aneurysm and she was in a coma for two weeks with very little hope for survival.
However, the resilient Black came around, thanks to what she describes as a "miracle" generated by the power of love and music. Today, Black lives with coronary arterary disease and recently battled a devastating case of swine flu, but she continues to remain optimistic. Black says she recovered from the post-surgery depression that made her wish for death and she now cherishes every day.
OnMilwaukee.com spoke to Black via telephone about Summerfest, her health and her recent return to Milwaukee.
OnMilwaukee.com: How is your health?
Bo Black: On a scale from zero to 10, it's about a three or a four. I take so many pills for my high blood pressure.
OMC: Did you have a history of high blood pressure?
BB: Yes. When I was a little girl, about 5 years old, my dad tried to get an insurance policy and he was denied because my blood pressure was high even then. But life went on, and I didn't have issues in high school -- I was an athlete -- but when I was at Summerfest, my blood pressure would skyrocket and I would find myself at Columbia Hospital because of the stress from the job.
That's why it's so important for women, especially women with moderate-to-high blood pressure, to have an echocardiogram. This is so important. I feel like this is my contribution to society now: to remind women to get an "echo."
OMC: After your first surgery, you returned to Summerfest, right?
BB: Yes. My doctor told me to quit my job, but, knowing me, I didn't do what I was told. I kept working. My kids were in college and I was a single mom. I shouldn't have done this. I wasn't always professional because sometimes I had to work from my bed, but I was still successful. I had a lot of creative ideas at this time.
OMC: Your Summerfest career ended in 2003. Were you ready to let go?
BB: Summerfest did not renew my contract in 2003. There was talk of having me stay on as a consultant, but they decided it would be too hard to have me in the background, overseeing whoever took over. So, I didn't consult, and I came out here, to Arizona, to live with Treb (Tom Trebelhorn) because we had been in a -- what would you call it? -- I guess you would call it a long-distance marriage.
OMC: When were you and Treb married and how is your relationship?
BB: I married Treb on Aug. 15, 2000, but I knew him since 1991. We were planning a party to celebrate our marriage, but instead, I had a surgery to repair six aortic aneurysms and two leaky valves. I was told I had a three precent chance of not having stroke during this heart surgery, but I didn't.
Treb is still in baseball. He's in Oregon, managing the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. We couldn't be more different. But we're both Democrats, and we both voted for Obama. We have that.
OMC: You were healthy when you first moved to Arizona?
BB: Yeah, I was doing OK, but then I started having these terrible headaches. I worked four hours a week at a clothing store and I was very dependable. I was there every Sunday, and when I didn't show up for work, (the owner) called 911, knowing that something was very wrong if I didn't show up or call. I would have called.
The paramedics found me at home and I was dead. I had had a stroke and I didn't have a heartbeat or brain function. One of my dogs was sitting on my head and he wouldn't get off. He was crying incessantly. He was so scared. They know more than people know.
I met one of the paramedics many months later who had found me and thanked him and he said he honestly couldn't believe I was still alive.
OMC: Did you have any visions or experiences during your "death" / coma?
BB: I was in a coma for two weeks and I "saw" a lot of people during this time. I sometimes see people now that I think I saw in my coma. I went up to someone at Starbucks and asked, "Do I know you or did I see you in my coma?" I kept thinking about my children and my grandchildren. And I thought Treb was one of my old boyfriends.
OMC: Did anything happen to bring you out of your coma?
BB: My daughters kept singing to me -- Sade, Seal, John Legend -- and a miracle happened. I started to recover. My daughters and the music brought me back. But I didn't know anything when I woke up. It was so horrible. I was so depressed. I couldn't walk. I asked, "Why did you save me?" I was a newborn. I thought the nurses at night were Summerfest security. I was all over the map. I did not want to live.
OMC: Do you still feel that way, Bo?
BB: No. The days aren't long enough now. I cherish every day.
OMC: What do you do with your time?
BB: I go to the doctor's office. I walk around and window shop, but I don't buy anything because of the recession. I laugh as much as I can. I watch "The View" every day just because I think Whoopi (Goldberg) is so funny. I walk around the block with my cane. I water plants. Yeah, I've come down a notch.
And I go to a lot of movies. The first film I saw after my coma was "Once" and I thought that was interesting because it was about music -- it won an Academy Award for one of the songs -- and music has always been such a huge part of my life with Summerfest. And then it saved me. My daughters singing to me saved me. I must really love music. Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)
Summerfest was Bo Black's life. It's merely Don Smiley's job. Best wishes, Bo!
I agree, speakthetruth, Summerfest has taken a definite nosedive since this lady ran it. She knew the pulse of Milwaukee and knew how keep the fest diverse. For my money she is still one of the faces of (and a credit to) Milwaukee. We miss you, Bo!!!
Nice interview. I had the pleasure to meet Ms. Black a couple times in the restaurant below my apt. in The Shorecrest. She's an extremely charismatic, kind, classy, and stunning individual.
Summerfest and Milwaukee have never been the same since Bo Black got run out of town.
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