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Bucket Lists

'Wheel of Fortune' dream comes true

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Being head cheerleader at St. Helena High School from 1943-1946 was a life highlight for Rutherford native Alice Abruzzini.

Throughout her 87 years, she has often broken into cheers that she performed with her fellow cheerleaders in those days of World War II and taught the routines to her three daughters, who also were head cheerleaders for three years each.

Since 1983 when a new TV show debuted called “Wheel of Fortune,” Abruzzini began cheering in her family room between 7:30 and 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, when contestants were invited to spin the wheel and guess the correct letters.

Friends and family know not to call the octogenarian weekdays during that half-hour or they’ll get this curt answer: “Sorry I can’t talk right now because I’m watching ‘Wheel of Fortune.’ Please call back later!”

One of the top items on her bucket list for three decades has been to visit the set as part of the audience. Since she is 87, living in Northern California without any ties to the show, she was certain that was one bucket list item that would never be crossed out.

However, last November, her grandson-in-law, firefighter Brian Rankin, spent a day auditioning to be a contestant on “Wheel of Fortune.” At the end of the day, the casting director informed him that if he was chosen it would probably take two years before a shoot date was selected.

Two weeks later, Rankin’s phone rang and he was informed that he not only had been chosen to compete, but they needed him in the studio the following week. There were two caveats: He could only bring four people as his audience cheerleaders; and they had cast four people for three spots on the show. There was a 25 percent chance that he would not be on the show.

Although he would invite his wife, Heather Brittan, his mother, Joan (who is also a great fan), and his mother-in-law, Cynthia Abruzzini, he knew that his first choice was the former St. Helena head cheerleader, his grandmother-in-law, Nonie.

Abruzzini was ecstatic with the invitation until she looked at her calendar and realized that she had already sent her RSVP for another important family event on the same date. When you are the mother of five, grandmother of 11, great-grandmother to 10, and Nonie to everyone, juggling celebrations is cause for anxiety. With the rest of the family’s blessing and enthusiastic encouragement, Abruzzini set off for her “Wheel of Fortune” adventure in Los Angeles.

Fortunately Rankin was chosen as a contestant for that specific date and Nonie was able to live her dream, clapping, yelling and screaming from the audience bleachers.

She waved to hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White, and even had her photograph taken with them. Abruzzini was living her dream in full cheerleading mode.

But there is more excitement for Abruzzini. Tune in at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 11, on ABC7 for the rest of the story.

Cynthia Brian is a New York Times best-selling author, freelance writer, radio personality, and executive director of Be the Star You Are!, a registered nonprofit based in Moraga. For information visit


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