By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Apr 06, 2004 at 5:40 AM

{image1}In the '70s and '80s, Milwaukeeans said the names "Howard and Rosemary" as if it they were one. And the couple, who were married very young and parented eight children, were indeed a unit, both on and off the small screen.

The inseparable lovebirds co-hosted "Dialing for Dollars," a local talk show that received record-breaking ratings and launched the couple into local fame within weeks of the first program.

To this day, Howard and Rosemary Gernette are one of Milwaukee's most famous married couples. Sadly, Howard passed away six years ago, leaving Rosemary to cope with the devastation of being alone.

Although the two grew up in Waupaca, and later moved back to their hometown after the show ended, they were always smitten with Brew City.

"Howard and I fell in love with Milwaukee the moment we got here," says Gernetzke.

This is a very special segment of Milwaukee Talks, the first interview to bring the still-familiar face of Rosemary Gernette back into the limelight after six years of living without her other half. Somehow, she still has a sense of humor.

OMC: Why did you change your television name from "Gernetzke" to "Gernette?"

Rosemary Gernetzke: Our general manager decided that was the way he wanted it. He later admitted it was a dumb idea, but it was too late. It was always very confusing to us; with Milwaukee being so ethnic, we thought it was stupid.

I later did (television) commercials for a chain of grocery stores, but was forced to go by "Rosemary Ross" because the commercials ran on all of the stations, not just our channel (channel 12).

This confused a lot of people. Howard once got a letter from a woman who thought that "Rosemary Ross" and "Rosemary Gernette" were two different people, and that Howard was carrying on with both of them. She said, "How can you carry on with that blond when your wife is at home with your eight children?"

OMC: Eight children. Wow. How many boys and how many girls?

RG: We have seven girls -- Mary, Margie, Karen, Beth, Sara, Clair and Amy -- and one boy, Mark. Each baby got better and better. It's as if they instinctually knew how busy we were.

The children were always our priority. We would do the show at noontime, and then I was done for the day and Howard didn't have to return until six to do the weather, so in the summer we would go home and bask around the pool with the kids all afternoon.

OMC: Didn't one of your children pass away?

RG: We lost our daughter, Margie. She was one of the twins. She suffered a birth injury and a stroke that left her disabled for all of her life. Actually, I lost Howard, Margie and my mother six years ago around the same time.

OMC: I'm sorry. How did Howard pass away?

RG: He had esophagus cancer. On January 8 I took him to the clinic and on February 6 he was dead. He never knew he was sick and didn't suffer until the last week. We were back in Wausau, but he wanted to see Milwaukee one last time, so we drove to see how the new stadium was coming along and drove along the lake. I was in total denial. It all seemed very unreal.

OMC: How did you cope with such a painful situation?

RG: I don't know that I have. You think that it would get easier, but some days it's worse than it was in the beginning.

OMC: How many years were you and Howard married?

RG: 45. We were married on December 28, 1953.

OMC: How would you describe your marriage?

RG: It was really wonderful. I met Howard when I was 16 and he was 20, in Wausau. We both liked to hang out in the same tearoom. I married him four years later.

OMC: When did you move to Milwaukee?

RG: In the late '60s, someone from the channel came to Wausau, scouting for a weatherman and saw Howard on channel 7 and offered him the job in Milwaukee. He later started Dialing For Dollars at noon and I was asked to join him six months later.

OMC: Did you have any formal broadcast training?

RG: No. I had done some commercial work in Wausau.

OMC: Why was the show called "Dialing for Dollars?"

RG: It was a franchised show. During the program, we would call someone in Milwaukee, and if they were home, they would get $45. When we started the show we were told it might take six months to reach someone who was actually watching the show when we called, but we got our first caller.

OMC: How did you like that job?

RG: It was a wonderfully fun show. It really preceded "Regis & Kathy Lee." We had anyone important (on the show) who came through Milwaukee.

OMC: Such as?

RG: Bob Hope, Shelly Winters, Tony Bennett, Joan Rivers.

OMC: Specifically, what did you like about being on the show?

RG: Everyone flew by the seat of their pants. It was live television; anything could happen.

OMC: So, did anything outrageous ever happen?

RG: Once someone was on the show was holding a cat and it leaped out of her arms and started scratching me.

OMC: Did you write your own questions?

RG: There was no set format with live television, so Howard and I would just wing it every day. Most of the time I'd fill him in about whom we were interviewing in the car on the way to the station.

OMC: How much did you earn on "Dialing?"

RG: We earned a lot less than people thought -- they think because you're on television that you make a lot of money. But I don't know how much we made. Howard took care of all of the finances. It really wasn't as glamorous as people wanted to think it was.

OMC: You and Howard did do a fair share of traveling with the show, didn't you?

R: We did. It got a bit hairy with the kids, but we went to Alaska twice and Hawaii eight times. Mexico, Disney World, Europe. The stations sent us out to do everything; we took our show everywhere. We went to all of the opening days at County Stadium.

OMC: How did you and Howard work together?

RG: We worked very well together. We even had our own little way knowing how not to talk over one another: We would lightly tap each other without anyone seeing.

OMC: Did you guys ever fight before a show?

RG: Oh, of course. Once we got in an awful argument in the car on the way to an interview -- we were not doing the interview; we were getting interviewed about our life -- and I said something like "we're going to make a great interview" and we both started laughing.

OMC: How long did the show air?

RG: From 1967-1982. For the last two years the show's name changed from "Dialing for Dollars" to "At 12." Because the ratings were great, they decided to stop paying the exorbitant franchise fee for the show. We dropped the dialing aspect, too, because the station didn't want to pay any more money and the amount was so little.

We were very dedicated to the station. I wouldn't go to the grocery store without my make-up on because I felt I was always representing the station.

OMC: What did you do after the show stopped airing?

RG: We did talk radio on 1340 AM for a year after. I later did a show in Wausau.

OMC: What was your involvement with soap operas in the '70s?

RG: We hosted a show called "Soap Opera Days" where we would go to a mall -- Southridge or Northridge -- and bring in soap stars and interview them live in the mall.

Howard and I guest starred on "The Edge of Night," a soap opera in the '70s. It was the scariest thing I've ever done. We played Mr. and Mrs. Jordan, a husband-wife (co-anchor) team and we interviewed a puppeteer.

OMC: You and Howard were always very involved with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, right?

RG: Yes, we were both on the board of directors ... We raised a lot of money. I still meet with all the 'big boys" for dinner when I'm in Tuscon every year.

OMC: Where in Milwaukee did you and your family live?

RG: We lived in Shorewood. Our kids went to Atwater School and we were members of St. Robert's.

OMC: Do people still recognize you today?

RG: Oh, yes.

OMC: Do you wish you were still in television today?

RG: No, I really don't. I don't think television has much going for it these days, and there aren't any local shows anymore like ours. I did a Christmas special a couple of years ago for channel 12 and I just did an ad for Dr. Foote's eye clinic.

OMC: What else do you do these days?

RG: I work three days a week at Chattel Changers (a consignment store and estate sale business at 2420 E. Capitol Dr.) I really love it because I get to talk to a lot of people. I'm a people person.

I also spend a lot of time with my children -- they all live in the area -- and I have eight grandsons and two granddaughters.

OMC: Where do you live now?

RG: I live in Thiensville, on a little lake with a lot of ducks and geese. It's a half-hour drive to work, but I don't mind.

OMC: What was it that people liked so much about Howard and Rosemary?

RG: I haven't a clue. Mayor (Henry) Maier called us an "institution in Milwaukee" and I said we should be in an institution maybe.

OMC: What's the hardest part of living alone after a life with so many people and children around you all of the time?

RG: Cooking for one person. I never knew who would be at the dinner table and I was always cooking for an army. But now, my butcher laughs, I order one pork chop, two strips of bacon. It's very different.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.