Fifteen or 20 years ago, I had an elderly neighbor who chain smoked, panicked during thunderstorms, and called 911 every few months out of sheer loneliness. One day when I stopped by to chat, she asked me to wait a moment—there was something she wanted to show me. She disappeared down the hall and returned with a framed 8 x 10 photograph of a stunning young woman in a 1930s dance costume. She had smoldering eyes, dark finger waves, and legs as long as a chorus line. It was her—Charlotte Roach. She’d been a dancer (not that kind) before she married in 1941. Charlotte Vierheller—the name I knew her by—worked as a local model for more than a decade after her marriage. The girl in the picture radiated hope, optimism, and youthful promise, but time and disillusionment had extinguished every flicker. I knew only the frail, nervous widow who stood before me, showing me a faded photo as if to prove that she’d once been someone.

Research suggests that a woman’s obit is more likely than a man’s to be accompanied by a decades-old photo. Some observers believe that this tendency to depict women in their youth is sexist and/or ageist. Maybe. But when Charlotte died a few years later, how wonderful if the limelight had shone on that vibrant young dancer for one final, glorious curtain call.

I found this 1939 newspaper clipping (above) showing Charlotte auditioning for a Muny Opera production in St. Louis. She’s the third young lady from the left in the group photo. And guess what? She made the cut.

I don’t have a copy of the studio photo Charlotte shared with me that day, but if I did? That’s the one I’d choose for her obituary. Call me sexist.

So here’s to you, Charlotte. Take a bow.

In 1955, Charlotte Vierheller (third from left) was hired to serve cake at the 65th anniversary of Germania Savings & Loan, 617 N. Broadway, Alton, Illinois (now Germania Brew Haus). It was probably one of her last modeling jobs. Note that both women are wearing aprons.