A New York City trip helps her identify a theme for her 75th year: “Spunk and sass!”


Mary solo - CROPPED for header.jpg

DES MOINES, Iowa, Jan. 19, 2023 — I love celebrating my birthday. And I like the pivot point of a birth date, giving me reason to reflect on the past year while dreaming about the year ahead.   On my birthday in late 2021, there was absolutely nothing, not even a distant glimmer, about marriage or romance on my radar screen.   

Fast forward to January 2023.  I’m a newlywed septuagenarian and just spent a glorious week in New York City with my husband Chuck Offenburger, on a tour that was his gift for my 75th birthday. 

It turns out that many of our experiences included sassy women with a dose of spunk. Those are traits that kept an ear-to-ear smile on my face for five straight days! 

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Coffee at mid-afternoon at Times Square, in the middle of it all.

We had great seats at two Broadway hits, “Music Man” and “Funny Girl,” and explored four amazing museums.

Mason City, Ia., native Meredith Willson might be best known for his Broadway mega-hit “Music Man,” that opened in 1957 and won five Tony Awards, back then, beating out “West Side Story” for Best Musical.  But as an alumna of the University of Iowa, I’m partial to the “Fight Song” Willson composed for our Hawkeyes. 

The revival of “Music Man”that just closed at the Winter Garden Theater was the third, and its star Hugh Jackman called playing Professor Harold Hill his “dream role,” in an early interview.  I’ve been a longtime fan of Jackman’s talent, and I thought he was dreamy in this famous part.  He and Sutton Foster, who played “Marian the Librarian” Paroo, had extended their contracts through January 15, 2023, and we timed our trip so we could see them in their final week.  The show finished after more than 45 weeks of breaking weekly ticket sales records. 

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Bliss at “Music Man” in its final week at the Winter Garden Theatre.

I enjoy any performer who appears to be enjoying him- or herself on stage.  And I swear I could see the twinkle in Prof. Hill’s eye as he charmed Marian – and everyone in the audience.  I found him irresistible. 

Foster, playing Marian, the spunky up-tight (for good reason) town librarian, was an equal match in this role, with her singing, dancing, and acting.  I’ve been a big fan of hers since she performed at the Civic Center in Des Moines in 2016 with our Symphony.  She oozes personality, and together with Jackman, they made magic. 

I loved everything about the choreography, the sets (reminiscent of Grant Wood’s work), an animation of the Wells Fargo wagon on a large screen backdrop, followed by an actual wagon and anatomic Clydesdale horse galloping on stage! And, oh! The orchestration, the tap dancing, the singing, the four-part harmony of River City’s School Board on their barbershop quartet numbers, the acting, and the showstopper finale of “76 Trombones.”   I’m tapping my toes and humming as I type these words.

And it took me back. Long ago, as part of “rush week” for my Alpha Delta Pi sorority at the University of Iowa, I sang Willson’s song “Ya Got Trouble,” although we changed the lyrics to “Ya Got Fun, right here in Iowa City.”  (If you want more of this story, send me an email.)

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At “Funny Girl” in the August Wilson Theatre.

Seeing “Funny Girl” on our trip was a dream come true for me.  This classic opened on Broadway in the spring of 1964, and “always a little show girl myself,” I immediately bought the LP album – the first I ever purchased – and then I also bought the show’s songbook for piano.   I was a huge fan of Barbra Streisand, who played the famous show girl Fanny Brice.

I liked the spunk Streisand brought to the role and thought her voice was out of this world.  I almost wore out the album; I still play and sing from the piano songbook, and “Don’t Rain on my Parade” remains one of my all-time favorite songs, though I also like the ballad “Who Are You Now?”

Current star Lea Michele, who now plays Brice, is sassy and spunky at Broadway’s August Wilson Theatre.  I first became a fan of her voice on the TV show “Glee.”  She’s now getting rave reviews from the critics for “Funny Girl,” even though there was initially bad publicity about how she had replaced Beanie Feldstein, who first had the Brice role in this revival. 

Most people know the song “People” from this show, and I read an article suggesting the music allows the singer to “let loose” – which Lea Michele did over and over.  By the time she sings “My Man” in the finale, I was a puddle of tears.  (So was my husband!)  The audience was certainly responsive to Michele; there were two standing ovations for her during the show, and the one after the finale went on for several minutes. 

We also had tickets to four museums: the Whitney Museum of American Art; The Morgan Library & Museum; the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, and the Neue Gallerie New York. 

Our museum tours featured many notable names, some of particular interest. 

We learned about a notable librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, and a Priestess, Enheduanna, the earliest known author in world history to have his or her name on an article or book.  There was Piano, as in a person – not the musical instrument which played a key role (forgive the pun) in my little girl dream to be a show girl.  And Vanderbilt, as in the family, its legacy, and Chuck’s alma mater. 

Let me elaborate.

Renzo Piano, the Italian architect whose firm Piano Renzo Building Workshop (PRBW) designed the Krause Gateway Center in Des Moines, also designed New York city’s Whitney Museum of American Art and the new entrance and space for The Morgan Library & Museum. 

Two Vanderbilt women, one by birth and one by marriage, had important connections to both the Whitney Museum and the Neue Gallery.  In 1914, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney established the Whitney Studio and began collecting work by American artists.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art declined her collection of more than 500 pieces, so she set up her own institution, and the Whitney Museum of American Art was founded in 1930.  I like that kind of spunk.  And when it’s combined with wealth, in this case, it led to something good.  Or great, like the Whitney has become. 

4 With Hopper's Automat painting from DM Art Center at the Wilson in NYC CROPPED.jpg

With Edward Hopper’s famous “Automat,” which is showing as part of a huge feature on all of Hopper’s work at the Whitney Museum of American Art.  “Automat” is on-loan to the New York City gallery from the Des Moines Art Center, its permanent home.

Today’s Whitney opened on May 1, 2015, in the former Meatpacking District and West Village neighborhoods of lower Manhattan.  This great location sits between the High Line, an elevated walking that used to be a railroad, and the Hudson River, with a picture-perfect sunset from the Whitney’s 8th floor café.

Seeing the Des Moines Art Center’s Edward Hopper painting “Automat,” currently on loan for this exhibit at the Whitney, was a highlight.  I enjoy most of Hopper’s work because his paintings draw me (sorry for another pun) into the mood of the story I’m creating in my own mind as I view his work.

Seeing the Morgan Library and Museum was at the top of my museum list, because I’d read the historical fiction novel “The Personal Librarian,” about a very real person, Belle da Costa Greene (1879-1950).  She an American woman in her 20s, living the secret that she was Black and posing as White, when she was hired as business tycoon J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian.  I admired Belle’s courage and spunk, and her intellect and expertise, which gave her the credentials to expand Morgan’s collection.

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Mary Riche in the elegant personal library room of J.P. Morgan

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Mary with a sculpture of Belle da Costa Greene, “The Personal Librarian” for J.P. Morgan and director of his exceptionally good library and museum.

The Morgan’s collection is immense, and it’s the only institution in the world to possess three copies of the Gutenberg Bible — one on vellum and two on paper.  It was the first substantial book in the West that was printed from movable type.

I was in awe of Morgan’s special exhibit “She Who Wrote:  Enheduanna and Women of Mesopotamia, ca. 3400-2000 B.C.“

Enheduanna is recognized as the earliest-named author in world literature.  This woman appeared to have intellect and spunk that led to an appointment by her father as his emissary between two divisive conflicting religions.  Her name was discovered on a disk during an excavation in 1927, and most of the exhibit is on loan from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology – commonly known as the Penn Museum. 

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One of the three copies of the Gutenberg Bible held by the Morgan Library and Museum.

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum commemorates the 9-11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people and injured thousands more at the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., and in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. 

The outdoor memorial – an area around the sites of the Twin Towers that collapsed after terrorist-piloted jet airplanes crashed into them – is free and open seven days a week.  The September 11 Memorial Museum is underground and requires tickets, many of them “timed” to control the crowd numbers.  It includes “footprints” of the towers, with a collection of monumental and authentic artifacts “presenting visitors with personal stories of loss, recovery, and hope.” 

The photos are stunning and jaw-dropping.  A special room features video of those killed, as family members tell stories about their loved ones.  A large wall displays 8-by-10 photos of everyone killed in this tragedy.  Chuck located the photo of John Michael Moran, a New York City fireman who was a regular on RAGBRAI in Iowa.  Another large gallery wall features dramatic photos of K-9 dogs that participated in heroic rescue and search efforts.

We left September 11 Museum arm in arm and silent.

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RIP for one of everyone’s favorite RAGBRAI’ers.

Our final museum visit was Neue Gallerie New York, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.   Grace Wilson Vanderbilt, widow of Cornelius Vanderbilt III, lived here when it was the William Starr Miller House.  (She called the 28-room home “the gardener’s cottage” because she had moved into it from an 85-room mansion.)

Now, as the Neue Gallerie , it is home for the fabulous and widely-varying art collection of Ronald S. Lauder, the 87-year-old son of make-up magnate Estee Lauder.  The calling card of the Neue Gallerie has become a portrait “Woman in Gold” by Gustave Klint.  The Austrian artist’s greatest work, which portrays a woman named Adele Bloch-Bauer, was stolen by German Nazi soldiers in the pillaging that started World War II.  It was later recovered and for decades was essentially held hostage by lawsuits over who should be its owner today.  Ron Lauder managed to buy it in 2006.

Klimt’s portrait was the basis for the film “Woman in Gold” starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds.  Mirren plays Maria Altmann, the elderly Jewish woman with enough sass that she could have been the first woman to utter “Nonetheless, I persisted.”  Altmann’s many years of attempts to reclaim her family’s possessions, which were left behind when they fled the Nazis in Vienna 60 years earlier, required the intervention of the US Supreme Court, which ruled in her favor. 

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Mary with a replica of the “Woman in Gold” at the Neue Gallerie New York.

We also visited the famous and historic landmark Strand Book Store in Lower Manhattan’s East Village with its rare, used, and new books.  This was my first visit.  Now owned by Nancy Bass Wyden, wife of Oregon’s U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, the Strand was started as a small store for used books gathered by her grandfather Benjamin Bass.  It was subsequently operated and greatly expanded by her father Fred Bass.  He gave it the slogan that it held “18 Miles of Books.”  Ms. Bass Wyden prodded her dad to add the elevator and air-conditioning. She also started the sale of merchandise like T-shirts and tote bags, stationery and miscellaneous items.  Of course, we found books and stationery note pads to buy!

There was so much, much more to our adventure.  We were brave enough, maybe foolish enough, to use the subway system to move around the city, and it turned out to be fun.  We discovered that if you look and act like you are 75-year-olds from Iowa, New Yorkers will fall all over themselves trying to help you! 

We loved strolling the vast Central Park, watching the ice skaters and having coffee at the newly-renovated Tavern on the Green in the park.

We also shared wonderful meals with old friends. 

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After dinner with James Healy, a hometown guy doing well in New York City.

One was dinner with James Healy, 33, the talented singer and actor originally from our town of Jefferson, Ia.  James is now living in Brooklyn and performing as a “supernumerary” at the Metropolitan Opera.  He is also working for actress Bette Midler’s non-profit New York Restoration Project, which is focusing on cleaning and enhancing the city’s environment and ecology.

And we had breakfast with Henry Hecht, Chuck’s friend and fellow Vanderbilt University graduate, and his wife Sally Wasserman, who have an apartment in the East Village and a home in nearby Stamford, Conn.  Henry was a noted sportswriter for the New York Post, serving as the paper’s beat reporter covering the New York Yankees in their wild “Bronx Zoo” years of the 1970s and early ’80s, and later wrote for Sports Illustrated, The National and Long Island Newsday.  He is now a writing coach.  Sallly is an attorney working in her family’s property management business.

The Hecht-Wassermans are classic New Yorkers.  “You asked the things I loved most about New York City,” Henry wrote later. “I said the theatre.  But the big picture is the city’s energy.  It was made for me.  Or rather, I was made for it.”

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A lively breakfast with Henry Hecht and Sally Wasserman.

Chuck asked me what I favored most on this birthday tour trip, and the two musicals were my quick response. Of course, my favorite part of the trip was being with Chuck as we continue our “blissed out” state of marital happiness.

Now, a few days later, I would add how much I loved discovering the threads of spunk and sass in the women we applauded, figuratively and literally.  I loved that they were fearless without forfeiting their femininity. 

I’m thinking spunk and sass might be a great theme for my 75th year!

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Mary strolling Central Park.

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With the skyline of Lower Manhattan, maybe Staten Island and New Jersey beyond us.

You can comment on this column by using the handy form below here, or you can write directly to the columnist by email at maryriche@gmail.com.

18 thoughts on “A New York City trip helps her identify a theme for her 75th year: “Spunk and sass!”

    • Thank you. And now, I’m looking forward to the next rainy day when I can pull out my umbrella (like yours) from Funny Girl. Let’s share photos when we put them into action.

  1. Thanks so much, you two newlyweds! Being 75 myself, I am inspired and delighted by your adventures. You make me want to try a little harder, look around a little more, and communicate about life’s surprising twists and turns! The pictures and your personal views are really appreciated!

    Artis Reis, Des Moines

    • Thank you. You are certainly spot-on with your statement about life’s surprising twists and turns. Here’s a toast to you, another 75 year old woman with that great combination of sass and spunk — and great balance and strength as we prove every Tuesday in our “Balance and Strength” class!

  2. LOVED LOVED LOVED your capturing the wonderfulness of New York City, with all it has to offer you blissed out love birds, and the many strong ladies you very eloquently described. How fun to be with Sally and Henry, too! Love to you both!

    Molly Bates, Centerville TN

    • I’m always happy to hear from you, Molly, so thank you for taking time to make a comment. It was a great trip, and we intend to continue our travel adventures. Of course, I’ll be on the lookout for more sassy women with spunk (that includes you and spending time with you) as part of my “theme” for this year!

  3. This is Doug Bates’s sister Anne of the dual college sports loyalties. How I totally enjoy every word you write, Mary. Thank you for taking us to New York in such a fascinating, exciting manner. I feel almost as if I was there with you. I become excited every time I see that you have written a new piece. You and Chuck are the best of the best. Love to both of you.

    Anne Bates Horner, Harriman TN

    • Dear Anne, thank you for taking time to send a comment. Even though we’ve not met, I have a feeling we will have a good time when we meet — and that we’d have a fine time if we were in NYC together!

      Chuck and I were in Iowa City this past weekend. A double-header with both the women and men basketball teams at home. Both won! I was really excited to see Caitlin Clark pay in person and she did not disappoint! What a talent. And the men won, too. I meandered among the members of the pep band, photographing them with their permission, and what a treat! I wrote about it and posted on Facebook (I’m doing much more on Facebook since I’ve been with Chuck) and he’s encouraging me to do a column about my impressions of the campus as a result of this visit.

      Again, thanks for your encouraging words. The trip to NYC continues to emerge as part of our ongoing conversations since our return! Sending my warm regards with the hope our meeting takes place in 2023.


      P.S. — We had a lovely visit to the new Stanley Museum of Art, now relocated to a new building back on campus, finally, after the flood of 2008.

      • City - Des Moines
      • State - IA
    • Suzanna, thank you. I’m looking into the process for having you nominated as the Iowa Poet Laureate.

      BTW, February is as special to you as November is to me. Enjoy!


      • City - Des Moines
      • State - IA
  4. My first trip to NYC was the same time as Chuck’s in 1978, as a 23-year-old law student attending an ABA convention. Three years later we returned as a portion of our honeymoon. How can one not have a love affair with the “city that never sleeps”? My husband and I have returned many times and even had the chance to live in NYC when we taught summer school two years, Jim at Pace and me at Columbia. May the two of you make more trips taking more bites of the Big Apple so we can read of your adventures.

    • City - Austin
    • State - TX
    • Hi Mary Lynn,

      Thank you for taking time to comment on my very very very long column about our 5 days in NYC.

      I can only imagine what fun you and Jim had while teaching there. I look out in my garden, peacefully covered in Iowa snow, and I can close my eyes and picture the frenetic energy that is part of that city. I enjoy it whenever I visit, and I find I’m always plotting in my mind a reason for the next visit! You too?

      Our next trip is Dallas, coming home through Bentonville, Arkansas, because I want to see Crystal Bridges.

      “See” you following,


      • City - Des Moines
      • State - IA
  5. Mary, in the spring of 1964, the juniors in my high school publications staff travelled to NYC to the Columbia Press convvention. We had the opportunity to attend classes at Columbia U., and after hours, we had the choice of seeing “Funny Girl” or “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”. “Funny Thing” won over “Funny Girl”. So thanks for your great review of “Funny Girl” all these years later!

    • City - Ocean Springs, MS
    • State - MS
    • Hi Padro,
      What an experience that must have been as a high school junior. Do you remember any lyrics to Sondheim’s music from that show? I often gauge my “review” of live performances and musicals in films by whether or not I’m humming one of the tunes in days following. Thank you for taking time to write!


      • City - Des Moines
      • State - IA
  6. Such fun to read, Mary. This is Joan Hakes, formerly from Storm Lake where were knew Chuck and Carla, but also my husband Dick Hakes is a writer and frequent contributor to the Des Moines Register. We were in NYC to visit our granddaughter, now living there from Sado Island, Japan, with a 4-month stop in North Liberty with us, and Dick wrote a piece on “Music Man.” I hope you can find it and enjoy it, too. You had some similar thoughts and reactions. It was in the Register on January 1. As for me, I will know run away with Hugh Jackman if he asks,but will probably come home to my husband of 52 years in the end. Glad you had fun. I’ll be 75 in two years and will plan a like adventure for us. HBD and keep taking adventures and “Hi” to Chuck.

    • City - North Liberty
    • State - Iowa
    • Hi Joan,

      Chuck’s column on Substack today gave me a reason to re-read that very very long column I wrote about our NYC visit. Thanks for taking the time to read it and then sending this comment. My undergraduate degree may be in journalism… and I’ve written copy for promotional materials and political campaigns for more than 50 years… though writing a column for the web site still makes me wobbly! I’m hoping that wobbliness (is that a real word?) subsides this year as I write more. Even more importantly, I hope to write in fewer words!

      I read Dick’s piece on “Music Man.” Hugh has the same effect on us, Joan, it appears.

      I’m a film “buff” and have attended the Toronto International Film Festiveal (TIFF) four times (and the fifth was planned for 2020 until COVID changed those plans). Hugh was there on my last visit premiering his film about Gary Hart; Hugh had the lead role as Gary. The film went nowhere at the box office which is part of why I can’t remember the title (and my editor/Chuck would tell me I need to find that title as part of this response). However, Hugh was there to premier the film; he stood in front of the curtain and talked to the audience about his performance and then his overall filmography. He answered questions and seemed at ease. Clearly his irresistibility (is that a word?) has been part of his style for a very long time!

      I loved reading Dick’s review and I could picture you at the moments he described — both when you held hands during the love song ballad; and, I had an equally vivid image of Dick recognizing he was surrounded by his wife and daughter audibly gasping at Hugh in his white suit!

      I loved Chuck and Carla’s home in Storm Lake; I am also familiar with North Liberty, your current home.

      I’ll “see” you on the trail of more adventures. Thank you again for writing.


      • City - Des Moines
      • State - IA
  7. Mary, I can soo identify with your adventure in New York. You are spot on with my favorite things to do, although it has taken us a few visits to hit all those high points. My second husband (fraternity brother of first husband) and I (sorority sister of second husband’s wife) are enjoying trips to New York with the Des Moines Playhouse. We see 3-4 Broadway shows and have enough free time to cover a little of the Big Apple. We still have more to see!

    • City - West Des Moines
    • State - IA
    • Hi Malinda, thank you so much for taking time to write. I’m happy to know, based on your comments, that we share much more in common that silver hair! We’re talking about those Playhouse trips, so I’ll hope to chat with you about them next time we’re in church together. Again, I so appreciate you taking the time to share your comment and this interesting personal information.

      Warmly, Mary

      • City - Des Moines
      • State - IA

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