‘CSI’ STAR RETURNS HOME TO A HERO’S WELCOME
By Jeff Korbelik
Monday, May 22, 2006
NORTH BEND — The white limousine rolls to a stop in front of the two-story house at 12th and Locust streets. The car seems a tad out of place in this tiny river community (pop. 1,213) but no more so than the 300-plus townspeople gathered in the intersection Sunday for its arrival. Inside is North Bend’s most famous former resident — TV and movie actress Marg Helgenberger.
And the house — off-white with olive trim, red shingles, a porch swing and flag pole flying the Stars and Stripes — is where she lived.
The crowd started to gather 45 minutes earlier.
The town invited Helgenberger back to honor her and her family for the recognition she has brought it through her success on the big and small screens.
The ceremony is to begin with unveiling of “Helgenberger Avenue,” the new street sign outside her family’s old house — the one Marg moved into when she was 10.
It’s easy to imagine a young Marg crossing the street to the pool where she worked and taught swim lessons.
Or, as neighbor Betty Coen, remembers, chasing fireflies that filled the night sky in the city park next to the pool.
On a lawn chair nearby sits Carry Harbottle Gerke, who graduated from North Bend Central High School with Marg in 1977. She now owns the house next door and is anxious to see her old classmate. It’s been nine years since Marg’s been back.
“I’m happy she’s successful,” Gerke says. “The best part … she’s remained a real, real person, down to earth.”
Emerging from the car first is Marg’s 15-year-old son, Hughie, whose curly hair is as fiery red as his famous mother’s.
Then comes Marg’s mother, Kay, her husband Lee Snyder, Marg’s husband, actor Alan Rosenberg, with a cell phone pressed to his ear, and finally, Marg, wearing a tan shirt, white jeans, silver-strapped sandals, sunglasses and a grin from ear to ear.
She grabs her digital camera, photographs the crowd and hollers “Hey.”
The 300-plus “Hey” her back.
It’s good to be home. And for Marg it really is.
Later she says she’s overwhelmed by it all – can’t believe so many people have come out to wish her well.
Apparently, she’s forgotten her CBS TV show, “Crime Scene Investigation” is the nation’s top drama and third overall in the Nielsen ratings to the Tuesday and Wednesday editions of “American Idol.”
The townspeople and Nebraskans in general are proud of her. They include family friends, former classmates, former teachers and fans from nearby cities.
Three distant relatives — sisters who share Marg’s last name — made the trek from Omaha. They wear pink T-shirts saying they are Helgenbergers, too.
Six-year-old Devan Buescher has come with his mom and dad from Lincoln, bearing a vase full of daisies. Later, he gets a hug and a autograph from Marg.
After a series of introductions, nice words and such, Marg pulls the brown blanket off the post, revealing the white-lettered, black sign atop the two white street signs.
It’s more than she thought it was going to be.
“It’s spanking new compared to the 12th and Locust,” she says. After a couple of seconds she asks “I guess it’s going to be up for an eternity?”
The crowd laughs.
Town leaders originally had hoped to recognize Marg and her family next month at the community’s 150th anniversary celebration, but Marg had a schedule conflict.
Sunday worked because she was in Nebraska for her niece’s wedding. Younger brother Curt lives in Firth and was on hand with his wife for the celebration. Her sister, Ann, who lives in Minneapolis, was unable to attend. Marg’s father, Hugh, passed away in 1985.
The street ceremony was just the beginning. The day included a tour of her old house with current owners Jason and Tammy Stinemates.
The Stinemates have owned the house for six years, but they didn’t know it was Marg’s old digs until after they bought it. People at the grocery store, post office, etc., kept asking them if they knew whose house they had.
“It didn’t’ say anything in the paper about it being the house of somebody famous,” Jason laughed, recalling the ad.
After the tour, Marg headed to her high school, where she signed autographs, posed for pictures and received tributes from the drama club Class of 1977 and a cancer survivors’ appreciation. Marg is known as much for her work on the breast cancer front as she is for her acting skills. She concluded her visit with a Q & A.
When she spoke with reporters after the street ceremony, she said she immediately agreed to the celebration when North Bend officials contacted to her.
“I jumped right on it because I thought it was the coolest thing,” she said.
And not for just her, but for her family and for the town, because that’s the kind of person Marg is.
Reach Jeff Korbelik at 473-7213 or firstname.lastname@example.org