Cammy Dierking is one of us. I don't just mean she was born in Cincinnati, and went to Sycamore High School and Miami University.
She was different from the other Cincinnati-area born and bred folks who we like to get our news and information from: Steve Horstmeyer, Rob Braun, Tricia Macke, Kevin Robinson, Lisa Cooney, Dennis Janson, Tanya O'Rourke, Sheree Paolello, Joe Danneman, George Vogel, part of a tradition going back 60 years to Cheviot native Al Schottelkotte.
Cammy was truly one of us, as if our neighbor was delivering the news. She's so human, and relatable – she could burst into a song, or talk about her love for the snow - during a newscast. She is a good journalist and very professional, and at the same time as friendly and authentic as your neighbor.
After she anchors her last newscast at 6 p.m. Friday on WKRC-TV, after 31 years on the air here, she will be missed. Here are a few reasons why:
HER COMPASSION: When I asked about some of her favorite news stories, I expected Cammy to mention the presidents she has interviewed: Obama in the White House, Trump at a local rally and Ronald Reagan. She could have mentioned TV stars Barry Williams from The Brady Bunch and Johnny Carson sidekick Ed McMahon; rockers Davy Jones or Chubby Checker; Reds icons Sparky Anderson and Johnny Bench; or basketball stars Oscar Robertson (who played with her father Connie with the UC Bearcats and Cincinnati Royals) or Larry Bird.
Instead Cammy talked about accompanying veterans on an Honor Flight to see the World War II and other memorials in Washington D.C.
"When we walked through Reagan Airport, everyone stopped and started applauding. People thanked them for their service. I'm definitely going to do that again," she said.
When I pressed her again about favorite stories, she mentioned "Thursday's Child." Years ago she did a feature on the 5 p.m. Thursday newscasts about a child eligible for adoption. She knows that segment – long since dropped – had an impact. She recently received a note from a boy she featured when he was 6. He's now married and a father. He wrote to thank her again: "You gave me a family."
HER INVOLVEMENT: It's common for TV news anchors to be named honorary chairs of various fund-raising foot or bike races or walks. Dierking would do more; she ran the races, too. Cammy has completed 20 marathons, numerous century bicycle rides (100 miles) and 3 Ironman Triathlons (2.4-mile swim; 112-mile bike; 26.2-mile run). She's also been honorary chair or spokesperson for many local charity events including Heart Mini-Marathon, HeartStone Bike Tour, JDRF Ride to Cure, Hike for Hospice, and Thanksgiving Day Race.
She's a fitness freak. So it's no surprise that her next career – as I wrote last week -- will be as a personal trainer at Five Seasons Family Sports Club, where she has worked out for 20-plus years.
"You know me. I can't sit still," she told me in her perpetually upbeat style.
"My passion has always been fitness. After getting these joint replacements (both knees and a hip), I really feel I want to help old people stay fit and active. So much illness and disease can be prevented with lifestyle changes."
HER CANDOR: As she was with viewers, she's always been straight with me. When multiple sources told me last spring that she told her bosses that she wouldn't renew her contract at the end of the year, I emailed her for comment. She didn't deny it.
"Hi John. I’m not ready to talk about anything just yet. But thanks for the opportunity. Hope all’s well with you and your family. Cam"
Two years ago, viewers expressed great concern to me when Dierking was absent from Channel 12's newscasts most of December 2017. Was she fired? Demoted? Suspended?
She gave me this quote for the story: "It's nice to know people are concerned…. Feel free to tell anyone who asks that I had a minor surgery, but I'm doing well and will be back on the air the first week in January. Hope you have a Merry Christmas!"
But that wasn't the whole story. Her email to me actually began this way:
"Hey John. Hope all’s well. Thanks for reaching out. I’m doing great. I had a hip replacement two weeks ago. I didn’t really want to announce it publicly, so I’d appreciate your discretion. Feel free to tell anyone who asks that I had a minor surgery, but I’m doing well…
When we talked over coffee last week, Dierking lifted the restriction. "I don't care anymore. You can say I've had two knees and a hip replaced." As I said, I love her candor.
HER HISTORY: Dierking was the city's first woman to cover and anchor sports in 1988. Alas, her lack of seniority left her stuck in the studio when WKRC-TV sent anchors and reporters to cover the Bengals Super Bowl in 1989, and the Reds World Series against Oakland in 1990.
She was a morning anchor when WKRC-TV moved Good Morning Cincinnati to Fountain Square (near Graeter's), working with ageless John Lomax and meteorologist Steve Horstmeyer.
"We were there for 9-11. Everyone gathered around our TV monitors and watched it," she said.
Dierking also anchored WKRC-TV's first 10 p.m. newscast on Channel 64 in August 2006 with co-anchor Dave Burchell, meteorologist Michelle Boutilette and sportscaster Tara Packmayer.
HER TENURE: Dierking's exit leaves Lomax the lone on-air veteran in the newsroom. In the past 24 months the station has lost Rob Braun (35 years), Deb Dixon (44 years), Brad Johansen (25 years), Jeff Hirsh (40 years, with 21 at WKRC-TV), Joe Webb (31 years, with 16 at WKRC-TV) Larry Davis (45 years, 17 at WKRC-TV); and Dierking (31). That's more than 250 years of Cincinnati news experience which has walked out the door.
"I got to work with two primary anchors – John Lomax and Rob Braun. How lucky can a girl get?" she said.
HER SURPRISES: We never knew when Cammy could burst into song, possibly the theme from The Brady Bunch, Beverly Hillbillies or other TV shows.
"I always had to be myself. It would be hard to pretend. And luckily the viewers liked me as I am. That's pretty cool," she said.
Before the Opening Day parade last March, she surprised me by describing how she bonded with her TV main anchor counterparts – Macke, O'Rourke and Paolello – after a February Heart Association photo shoot. All four are mothers juggling family with their jobs as primary TV anchor working the night shift. They talked for hours. Last week Dierking told me that still text often, and meet frequently.
"They are my sisters. We get together regularly for lunch. And we're always texting back and forth. When we get together for lunch, we just sit and chat. Mostly we talk about kids. They make me laugh so hard. I just cherish their friendship.
"We're all from the Cincinnati area. That's really weird. I'm the old lady of the bunch," she said. They've promised Dierking she can remain a member of the group after she left the TV job which united them.
HER LEGACY: When I asked her if there were things she didn't accomplish, or interviews she didn't get, she surprised me again.
"Honestly, no. I've done everything I wanted to do, and then some. I just pushed myself and I got to do everything that I wanted, and to do it in my home down, for the No. 1 station. I loved every second of it. I don't know how else to say it, because I'm darn lucky."
HER FUTURE: Dierking, 59, starts Jan. 2 as a certified personal trainer at Five Seasons. She and her husband John, a construction supervisor, eventually want to retire to Colorado near one of their three daughters, who is getting married next year.
The Denver area "is our happy place. We're both outdoor people. He's a big skiier. Ultimately we want to retire there. Lots of people go to Florida, but the heat and humidity is not my thing," she said. "John has a couple more years to go (work), so we'll be here for a while."
FINAL SURPRISE: I've interviewed dozens and dozens of Cincinnati news anchors and news managers in nearly 35 years covering television. Dierking told me something I'd never heard before, when I asked about Channel 12's dominance in the news ratings for most of her tenure.
"I never looked at the ratings," she said. "I do what I do every day. I always do my best. I didn't feel any pressure at all."
She's the real deal. And we'll miss her.