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Ron Onesti: Reflecting on my heroes during self isolation

In an attempt to identify somewhat of an “upside” or silver lining to all we are going through these days, I am revisiting all the “Sunday projects” I had hoped to complete over the past couple of years. Half put-up shelving units, stacks of Rolling Stone magazines that need to be read, parachute pants and other goodies that need to vacate my closet.

The stay-at-home order is also providing some badly needed reflection time — time to re-evaluate everything so we don’t just come back, we come back in a stronger and more efficient state.


We can continue to do the things the way we used to and try to get to the same level as we were before, or we can change our processes, philosophies and procedures so we can come back and fortify our existence and get to the next level in our lives, and not just survive.

The other night, while watching “The Greatest Showman,” the film starring Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, it really got me thinking about the “heroes” I believe have helped shape me. Barnum used creativity, passion, a positive attitude and guts to make the impossible, possible. Although his methods may have been a bit questionable, his end result was nothing short of a true taste of good old American entrepreneurialism.

I think it is safe to say Barnum is No. 5 on my five legendary heroes list. His childlike enthusiasm, his never-ending search for ways to entertain the public, his never-say-die business model. These are qualities I have tried to develop in my quest to provide quality entertainment for our beloved customers over the years.

Hero No. 4? Thomas Alva Edison. All through my early years, from about the age of 8 through sophomore year of high school, I wanted to grow up to be only one of two things: a professional baseball player to follow my favorite player, Ron Santo of the Cubs, or a scientist.


Yes, a scientist! When the other boys were getting Hot Wheels cars, Tonka trucks and Lincoln Logs for Christmas, I was getting chemistry sets, a microscope and a telescope!

If you remember “Family Classics,” the WGN-TV Sunday afternoon movie series hosted by Frazier Thomas of “Garfield Goose” fame, you probably remember two films that were annual regulars. “Young Tom Edison” starring Mickey Rooney, and “Tom Edison, The Man” starring Spencer Tracy. After watching those films numerous times, coupled with my own inherent love for science experimentation, I was hooked on “all-things Edison.” His inquisitive nature and desire to find solutions to problems taught me so much about looking at challenges from different perspectives in order to solve problems. Great life lessons.

Hero No. 3: George M. Cohan, the “song and dance man” depicted in the biographical film classic “Yankee Doodle Dandy” starring James Cagney. He was one of the greats for me not just because he was a talented performer. He also wrote, directed and produced his stage presentations himself. He pretty much defined Broadway as we know it.

Cohan sharpened his own creativity and talents, packaged them and put them out there for the public, his way. There is a great scene in the film when the camera pans across the 42nd Street nightscape to show “George M. Cohan Presents” on numerous marquees. His name was in lights all over New York City … truly “Mr. Show Biz!”


So Hero No. 2 was a man that epitomized the power of being a humble visionary, Walt Disney. He was a simple guy from Chicago, trying and failing, trying again, failing again, and then, after many disappointments and a never-ending desire to make his dreams a reality, he became responsible for one of the most American things on the planet, Disneyland, while at the same time entertaining the masses.

My “Numero Uno” when it comes to my life heroes, predictably, was my dad. A World War II hero, his love for his country (plus baseball and Sinatra) was right up there with all the U.S. Presidents, astronauts and military generals combined!

He loved people so. He was sincerely interested in the life story of anyone he spoke to. It didn’t matter if he was a corporate mogul or the shoemaker down the street. He showed me the value of caring for people, and the power of a warm sense of humor.

As an “old-school” clothes designer and custom tailor, he applied artistry, mathematics and creativity to his craft. He taught me about pride in your product … and the importance of being proud of the job you do.

God, I wish you all could have met him. If you would have had the opportunity to really to get to know my father, I am confidant he would have appeared on YOUR Top Five list of life-changing teachers. At least, you would have laughed with him and found yourself sharing life stories with him, while realizing you guys just met at the coffee shop!

I hope this finds you and your family healthy and safely tucked away at home. I beg of you, don’t let this time pass without making the most of it. We WILL come out of this a stronger, more resilient country.

Use this time to plan your emergence from the ashes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Search for that “silver lining.” It is there; it’s just up to you to find it, and use it to be ready for the next big film, starring YOU, entitled “YOU: The Next Generation!”

• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email ron@oshows.com.

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