With a pitch like hers there was no way Bonnie Romniak could be denied an appearance on “Wheel of Fortune.”
The retired teacher and librarian, who lives with her husband, Bob, at The Lodge of Northbrook, appeared Tuesday on the classic ABC 7 game show as part of its “Great American Cities” week, highlighting Chicago.
Along with an online application and virtual audition, she and her two fellow contestants had to submit a video explaining why they’d be good guests.
“They tell you, don’t tell us what’s on your bucket list, don’t tell us you’ve watched all your life. Tell us something unique to you,” Bonnie said.
One of the Romniaks’ three adult children, Christopher, inspired her submission.
“In the mid-’90s came out a toy by Tiger (Electronics), a ‘Wheel of Fortune’ handheld game. Christopher plays that game all the time. We probably own four of them because if one breaks we need to have another in reserve,” Bonnie said.
“When I did my video I held up this game and I told them that, and I said my son plays this game every day. Wouldn’t it be great if he could see his mom on ‘Wheel of Fortune’?”
The decision-makers thought so, too, especially since Bonnie would donate any cash winnings to Misericordia, where Christopher has lived for the past 11 years.
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Developmentally disabled, the Romniaks said, he’s a veteran Special Olympics athlete who’s worked multiple jobs within and outside the large Misericordia campus, a charity of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Among other things Christopher has served as a fan greeter at White Sox games and worked in the charity’s on-campus recycling and coffee-packing programs.
He did get to see his mom on the “Wheel of Fortune,” with his friends in a watch party at Misericordia. The Lodge of Northbrook also held one, though the Romniaks picked up Bonnie’s mother, Ann, and watched the program from the Homer Glen home of their other son, Brian, so 1-year-old granddaughter, Clara Rose, could stay put. Bob and Bonnie’s daughter, Katie, joined them.
Bonnie Romniak, joining Gina Evans of Chicago’s Calumet Heights neighborhood and Bartlett’s Jake Barrutia on the “Wheel” episode taped Sept. 2 in Culver City, California, ended up winning $9,800.
She could have earned a $7,500 trip to Mexico, but Barrutia got there first.
“I was ready to pounce on the ‘Prize Puzzle.’ I knew the answer (flame broiled sirloin steak), on my second or third turn I knew what it was, and the fella next to me beat me to it,” said Bonnie, an infant preschool resource teacher at Bright Horizons at Northbrook before retiring in 2018.
Bob Romniak — “Bodacious Bob,” Bonnie called him on air — retired in 2010 after 30 years with the Department of Streets and Sanitation in Chicago, where they lived until moving to Northbrook in 2015.
COVID-19 did impact the normal “Wheel of Fortune” guest experience. Contestants were required to provide a negative COVID test in order to get on the program, and no other family member was allowed to attend. The audience was composed solely of contestants from the six “Wheel” episodes taped in the Culver City studio on Sept. 2.
“We clapped really loud so it sounded like 150 people,” Bonnie said.
Rather than a green room, a portion of a parking garage was roped off and appointed with socially distanced tables and chairs. Eventually the contestants were brought into the “Jeopardy” studio prior to the taping.
“As we were sitting there waiting for things to begin, walking by was this lady in a jogging suit and a pony tail,” Bonnie said. “It was Vanna (White). She said ‘Hi’ to everybody, ‘I’m glad you’re here, have a good time,’ something along those lines.”
Romniak didn’t remember exactly what she said to host Pat Sajak, which had her feeling a little “scary” before seeing Tuesday’s show.
“The whole experience was extraordinary,” Romniak said. “They took good care of us in the studio. But the wheel was very hard to spin. It felt like it needed a little WD-40 on it.”