‘HOOSIERS WE’VE LOST’: Entertainer radiated stardom, according to her fans

Editor’s note: This is one of a continuing online series of profiles of the more than 12,000 Hoosiers who have died from COVID-19. The stories are from 12 Indiana newspapers, including The Republic, who collaborated to create the collection to highlight the tremendous loss that the pandemic has created. The series appears daily at therepublic.com.

Name: Marge Dudeck

City/Town: South Bend

Age: 85

Died: Jan. 13

Marge Dudeck always claimed she detested the nickname Club Lido owner Claude Mendell bestowed on her: “Fabulous Marge.”

But for more than 60 years, area listeners agreed with Mendell’s assessment.

Born in South Bend, Dudeck began playing piano at age 5 and got her start as an entertainer as a 17-year-old lip-sync performer on a local TV program.

By the mid-1960s, Dudeck established herself as one of the most popular and hardworking musicians in the area, with her residencies at such supper clubs and lounges as Club Lido, Eddie’s, The Americana, Gipper’s Lounge and Bryan’s Piano Barr.

“You knew when you walked into the room that you were going to have a fantastic experience,” pianist Bryan Barr said about seeing Dudeck perform. “She radiated friendship. She radiated talent. She radiated stardom.”

Even after her retirement in 2015, she continued to perform twice a month as a resident at St. Paul’s Retirement Community, until the coronavirus shut down group activities in March and, several months later, reached Dudeck. She died from complications of the virus.

The supper club and piano bar format played to one of Dudeck’s chief strengths: She knew hundreds of songs by memory and always asked the audience to make requests.

Barr said she taught him what helped to get the audience on the performer’s side.

“‘You may hear nine or 10 songs and not know nine out of the 10, but you do that one, and the people will think you’re going to do theirs next,’” Barr said she told him. “‘Don’t play for yourself. Play for them…Look at them dab smack in the face, and they’ll never forget you did that song for them.’”

During her career, Dudeck released three LP records and a country single, “I’m Too Much Woman to Want Your Man,” a response to the Loretta Lynn song, “You Ain’t Woman Enough (to Take My Man).”

Dudeck’s daughter, Tori, recalled that her mother was much more than an entertainer and loved to cook and garden, cheer for Notre Dame football and women’s basketball teams and watch “Dancing With the Stars” and “American Idol.”

“Her family was separate from her work,” Tori said. “She had two lives, and she gave her all to both.”

At St. Paul’s, Dudeck played twice a month, once for the assisted living residents and once at the weekly cocktail party. On those latter weeks, Community Life Coordinator Ruth Metcalf said, she had to set up extra tables and chairs and purchase extra alcohol.

“As word spread around through the facility, it was like, ‘Did you see who moved in?’” Metcalf said. “It was quite a stir. They all knew her and had to come to see her, even when she wasn’t performing.”

— Contributed by the South Bend Tribune