The Voice-Tribune’s longtime columnist discusses society, philanthropy and her legacy
By Laura Ross
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson
Some people need no introduction. Some, like Carla Sue, can even get by on just their first name alone.
The longtime columnist penned her first story for The Voice of St. Matthews when she was just 10 years old. By her account, it was a “riveting” piece about a Sunday bridge party and dinner held by the ladies of Springdale Presbyterian Church. She wrote regular social columns from that point on and throughout her high school years, focusing on her neighborhood of Springdale/Worthington (located off of Hwy. 22.) Carla Sue took a short hiatus from writing when she married the love of her life, Brad Broecker, in 1961, and raised two daughters, Leslie and Amy. She returned to what became known as The Voice-Tribune in the late 1960s with a weekly column, Partyline, and turned in her last column earlier this year.
The active octogenarian has been around the world (literally) and around the block many times. She knows the secrets and she knows the scoop. Her columns took her into many of the most exclusive homes, the best parties and the most successful fundraisers. She never suffered a bore but was always gracious and held an enviable Rolodex.
Carla Sue and her husband are also successful fundraisers, giving and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities across Louisville. They have a soft spot for the Louisville Deaf Oral School, now Heuser Hearing and Language Academy, and put their hearts into many fundraisers, including operating and running a resale shop called Fabulous Finds for more than 20 years, all to benefit the school. When the shop closed, the Broeckers opened their expansive farm, Running Water, to brides and grooms looking for a memorable nuptial spot. The wedding rentals also benefited the school.
Carla Sue’s deep-throated laugh is legendary, her wit acerbic and salty. She doesn’t mince words about her experiences over the years. She took a few minutes out of her still-hectic schedule recently to be on the other side of the story with The Voice-Tribune.
Did you really write your first Voice column when you were 10 years old?
“Yes, I did. I talk a lot, and everyone knew that,” Carla Sue stated. “At the time, every neighborhood cluster had its own column in The Voice of St. Matthews, saying things like ‘Springdale ladies entertained 16 for dinner after church. It was delicious.’ It was not interesting at all, but if you lived in the country, there wasn’t that much to do. I was at a party with my mother and The Voice’s publisher asked me if I read his paper. I said, ‘No, there’s nothing interesting in it!’ He looked at me and said, ‘Well, then write something interesting.’ So, I did. I started writing what went on in Springdale and Worthington. There were so few people out here that you knew everything that went on. I can remember needing my mother for something, and I knew she was playing cards but not where she was. I called the Harrods Creek operator and said ‘Hi, I can’t find my mother. She is playing bridge somewhere in your area.’ The operator said, ‘Certainly!’ and found the number just on that information. The phone operators knew everything – who was sleeping with who, who was where and when. So, I learned all the ways to get the news and make connections quickly. In those days, no one cared what went on in other neighborhoods. We cared about what went on in our own neighborhood.”
“There was a lapse of several years where I was raising the kids, but then one of The Voice’s owners approached me in the late 1960s and said, ‘Why don’t you write about your travels?’” she explained. “It then moved into entertaining and parties. I’ve gone through several Voice owners, but the Partyline stayed through all.”
You are legendary in this town.
“Oh, no, not legendary,” she responded. “I’m just old.”
Were you feared or revered by hostesses and event planners?
“Oh, I’ll take revered,” she said with a belly laugh. “I tried to be really positive with charitable events. You had the good events and then, you had to take the boring – church, school, club meetings and events – and treat them the same. I had to paint its face and make it look good, and I was good at that. I enjoyed going to most events because Brad and I like people. We like to be out and about. Even if it was a bingo night at the Knights of Columbus, there would always be someone there who was fun and who I could talk with.”
But, what about those bad events?
“Some of the Derby parties were just awful, but you couldn’t hurt someone’s feelings,” she admitted. “I’d look at Brad and say, ‘Can we leave now?’ But I always wrote positive things about it. Sometimes, some events were worse than you could discuss or maybe you walked in on someone doing the dirty deed. You couldn’t put that in the story, of course, but you could allude to the fact that certain people had disappeared from the party. It was fun to do. As a kid, I kept a diary. As I got older and did this, I realized I didn’t need to keep a diary. I just needed to clip it out of the paper.”
“By far, the best parties and events were ones that raised money for children’s charities,” she said. “You always felt good about it. You’d raise a lot of money then see the results later. In the best parties, the mix of people is the most important thing. It can be a hog-calling contest and if you have the right people there who are fun, delightful people, it will work. They don’t have to be elite society and come in their Jaguars, but whoever they are, they should always bring their checkbooks.”
Why did you and Brad choose to be so involved with the Louisville Deaf Oral School (now Heuser Hearing and Language Academy)?
“When I was a member of the Women’s Club, someone asked me to serve on the Louisville Deaf Oral School’s board,” she recalled. “You know, my grandmother and all my aunts were probably deaf as posts, and I always thought everyone in my family just TALKED REALLY LOUD! So, I said yes. I realized then that there just was never enough money given to help these children, so we started raising money.
“I visited my friend Eleanor Goldberg in Florida for the winter, and she took me to this thrift shop and I had the best time,” she continued. “We talked all night about how we could do that to raise money for charity. We rented a building on Frankfort Avenue that actually once was my family’s dairy business, and we created Fabulous Finds. We called everyone we knew and said, ‘Here’s what we’re doing, either send us stuff, send a check or come and volunteer.’ And, amazingly, it worked. We were in business for more than 20 years, raising money for the school.
“My friends all helped in different ways,” she said. “Since I like poking around in people’s garages and yard sales, I became the caller. I’d pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, I heard you’re getting a divorce and if there’s anything you don’t want, I’ll take it.’ Or, ‘If your poor Aunt Maude dies, give us a call and we’ll pick up her furniture.’” That was my job. I’m nosy, I’m curious and I love seeing what’s in people’s houses. We were always the first ones at the funeral home visitations. We were shameless, but we raised a lot of money.”
Did you see yourself as the keeper of Louisville society’s deepest secrets?
“You know, if I liked you, I kept your secrets,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of the good, bad and ugly, but honestly, most things turn out OK around Louisville. There are always going to be shitty people in the world, but the trick is to never listen to them. Just smile and move on. There’s always a better person somewhere. Louisville is a nice place to live and raise children. People are friendly. The weather is iffy, but what can you do? But I think in Podunk, Iowa, it must be nice, too. It’s always about the people you meet. Nice people make nice places.”
How is Louisville society changing with the times?
“When I look back, there would be the rich women having lunches or playing bridge or the quilting parties at churches,” she commented. “No one has quilting parties anymore. It’s different things now, and people move on. There’s always a generation coming along who is in the spot where you were when you were their age. We’ll all drop dead, and someone else will pick up the party.
“Social media is a foreign object to me, but it’s everywhere now,” she said. “But something else will always come along that will put that in the shade. It will be some new way to raise money for charity. I think life goes on, and supposedly it gets better. People will always give to help others.”
What is your legacy in the society annals of Louisville?
“I told good stories,” she maintained. “It’s simple. People like to be liked. They like to be wanted. They like to be needed. It builds their self-esteem, and they go out and they do wonderful things because it makes them feel great, and that’s fine by me. I’ll write about how wonderful you are because you’ve done something, even if you’re an ass the rest of the time, you still did that one good thing. It’s just our world. I was reading a history of 15th century France and England recently, and so much of it is like now. Everyone wants to be the top of the hill, the best. Today, there are just different hills and ways to get there.”
How do you sum up your long run as The Voice’s society columnist?
“I met everyone,” she said. “I always loved talking with old people. Old people do it their way. They don’t care about being in the paper, and they were the most fun to interview. I loved writing for The Voice. It was a pain in the ass sometimes, but I honestly loved doing it. I met wonderful, fun people, and of course, the eccentric ones, too.
“Life is good most of the time,” she expressed. “I enjoy laughing and I enjoy life. It’s had its shitty moments, but I have friends who never see the blue sky. It’s always cloudy for them, and I couldn’t live like that. I don’t know how I’d cure that other than maybe having a bourbon.” VT
In the tradition of James Lipton’s popular questionnaire at the end of his “Inside the Actors’ Studio” television show, we prompted Carla Sue with the list of rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness questions used on that show:
What is your favorite word?
What is your favorite curse word?
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
What angers you?
“Can I name names?” (Laughs) “People who are not generous or giving.”
What sound do you love?
“I love the peace and quiet, but I’d say I also love classical piano.”
What profession other than your own would you have attempted?
“I don’t know – I had no ambition. I was just a kid from the country and I fell into this because the paper’s owner engaged me in conversation one day and told me to write something I’d read. I never looked back.”
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
“Knowing I could live another 30 years with my husband, Brad. I’d like to say 50 years, but we’re too damn old for that.”
Which historical figure do you identify with?
“Queen Victoria because she always had her way. She had the doo-das to do her work, she married the man she loved and she ruled the world, or most of it.”
If heaven exists, what would you like God to say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“Actually, I’d rather be the one to ask him a question. I’d say, ‘Where is everyone? Where’s the party?!’”