Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian recently spent their fifth wedding anniversary the way they marked the first four -- eating lunch with their friends and other residents at Dale Commons retirement complex in Modesto.
You no doubt know the story of how the Broadway star and the former Modesto councilman reconnected after years apart. Carol mentioned Harry as her first true love in her 2002 memoir, "Just Lucky I Guess." When Harry heard of his junior high sweetheart's comments, he contacted her. A whirlwind courtship and marriage followed in 2003.
After three years of performing to make sure the once-nearly broke Channing has enough to live out her days, the couple turned to promoting the arts in schools throughout the state and nation. Harry spoke about their passion at the recent lunch.
"It's time to give to our kids -- the 6½ million kids in schools in California," he said. "They have no idea what arts are because the government is taking away all the arts. We have a 30 to 50 percent dropout rate. That's an absolute disgrace. How are our kids going to compete in the world? They're not.
"We found that research points out that without the arts, students don't learn. With the arts, they learn better, have better attention. We have a job to do -- we have to tell people why arts are important in school."
Carol added her agreement, saying her first exposure to the arts came when her mother took her to museums and theaters in San Francisco, where she and Harry were raised.
"I was able to talk to dropout students," she said. "They were tough-looking. I told the students achievement is greater than sex, greater than drugs, better than anything. And do you know, they believed me."
The star of "Hello, Dolly!" and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" also recalled a quote by Winston Churchill during World War II. When a general said, "We have no money for ammunition; we have to do away with the arts," Churchill reportedly responded, "Then what are we fighting for?"
Carol, who has won numerous awards, including a Tony, an Emmy and a Golden Globe, has put her own money up to fund an effort to promote the arts. She has established arts scholarships at several colleges, including California State University, Stanislaus. And she recently called Modesto City Schools board President Belinda Rolicheck to urge the board not to eliminate music instructors during an $11.6 million budget cut.
Carol also has performed for free at area events, such as the MoBand summer concerts and at a fund-raiser for CSUS, and drops in on friends and strangers who need a dose of her cheerful, funny personality.
She and her husband have set up the Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian Foundation for the Arts, which is funded in part by the sale of her CDs and DVDs.
At the end of their lunch at Dale Commons, Carol was asked to sing. She broke out in one of her signature songs, "Hello, Dolly!" At age 87, her vocals are still strong and the appreciation from the residents still heartwarming.
They are so glad to have her in Modesto, where she belongs.
Do you have a story about someone who has helped others or is a terrific role model? Send a brief item to Sue Nowicki at P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.