INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Four segments every Saturday and four more every Sunday … then the coronavirus hit with a vengeance.
Dick Wolfsie enjoys meeting new people, telling their stories, crafting them into something fun for viewers to see.
After 40 years in TV — three of those decades at WISH-TV — the 73-year-old still consumes news ravenously, as most journalists do. But when he learned he was in that age group most likely to have serious issues if he got COVID-19, he knew he needed to stay home.
After six weeks in a self-imposed quarantine, he realized something else: He didn’t miss the rush to get a story on the air as he always thought he would. He liked relaxing, spending time with his wife, Mary Ellen.
“When the virus hit, I hit the ‘pause’ button not expecting to hit the ‘stop’ button,” Wolfsie said in an interview. “I didn’t miss it.”
Later in the interview, though, he added, “I’ll miss it. Don’t misunderstand that.”
In a column saying so long to TV, he wrote, “It’s weird to get up in the morning now and realize there is little to do on my to-do list.”
So, for now, he’s leaving WISH-TV but will continue writing his columns that appear in a couple of dozen publications, both in print and online.
Wolfsie won’t be remembered for breaking news, crime coverage, or finding ways to make government more responsive. But there’s plenty to remember about Dick.
He’s proud of the Emmy he won as best Midwest host for “Columbus Alive,” a program he did in Ohio. Viewers at home could use special voting boxes to decide if a guest would return, he recalled.
He thoroughly enjoyed doing a morning show for several years from Indianapolis Union Station after its restoration was completed in 1986. That show, “AM Indiana,” tallied over a thousand episodes, Wolfsie said.
The TV icon of Indianapolis also is proud to say he could find stories on the streets that others didn’t see — the town with a barn covered in monkey wrenches — and turn them into something interesting, even in the 5 a.m. hour when many people were still asleep. In recent years at WISH-TV, he did four segments on a single subject — from the newest business in town to the weirdest collections — each Saturday and Sunday.
Some segments that stood out for Wolfsie
The girl who visited the grave of her father at Crown Hill Cemetery. He’d died in the Iraq War. Wolfsie credited his photographer with the suggestion to just let her talk about how her father was a hero, now in heaven, and how she missed him. He interviewed her again six years later as a teenager to talk about the effect that the broadcast had on her life. It’s a story that taught him the value of listening, he said.
The man who sold brooms on the side of the road. Jim Richter for 60 years sold them and developed a special relationship with his customers. After the story aired, a new customer came to visit Richter: then-Gov. Mike Pence.
The organ donors and recipients that he got together to meet for the first time on live TV.
The woman who shared her experiences as a Butler University student with severe facial anomalies.
Some segments Wolfsie described as goofy
The turtle whisperer.
The skunk lady.
His live on-the-air hair transplant.
“I could walk into a room with no idea what I was going to do and do four segments and make them entertaining,” Wolfsie said. “A lot of the fun was no scripts, making it work, and finding the fun when it didn’t work.”
In the later years, recording and editing the segments rather than doing them live made “making it work” a lot easier, he said with a laugh.
Memories of Barney
Now that he’s stopped walking into new places to tell those stories, he says he hopes folks remember him as a humorist and a journalist who told heartwarming stories. Yet he knows some of the best memories Hoosiers have of him involve Barney.
The dog went on the air with him after Mary Ellen said she wanted the mutt out of the house, he said.
Barney became so popular that Hardee’s restaurant put Dick and his dog on a cup for a time.
“He probably made my career,” Wolfsie said of Barney, who died after 13 years while riding in one of the nightly parades at the Indiana State Fair.
The fido with the floppy ears still evokes questions from people on the street who recognize Wolfsie.
“People say, ‘How’s Barney?’ and I say, ‘He’s still dead,'” Wolfsie said.
That’s just another segment of the truthful, sometimes tongue-in-cheek humor Wolfsie brings to central Indiana.