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Dayton's Rubi Girls say goodbye to one of their own

Jonathan McNeal and Brent Johnson with Bertha the RV
Jerry Kenney
Jonathan McNeal (right) and Brent Johnson with Bertha the RV.

Dayton's Rubi Girls explain how 'Bertha' carried them through the last few years.

Dayton’s Pride Celebration is this weekend and this year, The Rubi Girls will join in the festivities without one of their own. She was a member of the comedic drag troupe who had only been with them for a few years, but one who made a big impression everywhere she appeared.

Her story is told inside of the Rubi Girls clubhouse, in the SouthPark neighborhood of Dayton. White vanities and lighted mirrors line the walls. There are shelves of wigs in various styles and colors and racks of fabulous to funny costumes and dresses the girls have worn over the years.

Two of the Rubi Girls, Jonathan McNeal - aka Ileasa Plymouth, and Brent Johnson, known to Rubi fans as India Summer share memories of their comrade with the larger than life eyelashes.

McNeal says, "She had some style. It was vintage style, a little musty smell, too. She always a little ran a little hot."

She may not be the most well known Rubi Girl but for the last couple of years, she was arguably the biggest.

Bertha is the 1985 RV that has carried the Rubi Girls through pride parades and to benefit performances throughout Ohio, and even as far away as Saugatuck, Michigan.

Her beige and tan exterior transformed by a black and red ombre painted makeover that included those big eyelashes mounted over her front headlights. She was, just like the Rubi Girls, a sight to see.

Bertha Side Shot.jpeg Bertha side shot
Jerry Kenney

"She really did fill an important role with the Rubi girls having a way to get to places that require us to carry a lot of props and travel as much together as we can, because often we're showing up at a place that has limited parking," Johnson says. "So, getting as many props in one car is helpful. We've destroyed a lot of homes and vehicles with all of our glitter and glue and etceteras."

Bertha’s show business career actually started a few years before joining the Rubi’s when she landed a small but silent role in the film My Days of Mercy, starring Elliott Page and Kate Mara.

The scene went like this:

Mara: Nice RV.
Page: Yeah. It's like a million years old.
Mara: RV-saurus.
Page: Basically extinct. Yeah.
Mara: I better get back. If I stay in this den of iniquity too long, the good
Lord is likely to strike me down.
Page: Is it that bad?
Mara: No....

The RV is witness to the stars' attraction and later their love scene.

The movie turned out to be Bertha’s last and eventually local film producer Karri O'Reilly donated her to the Rubi Girls - and with them, she had a pretty good run.

“She had some leaks," McNeal says. "Unfortunately, with age, the upkeep has gotten too costly."

"In addition to that," Johnson adds. "Just the risk to our own lives at this point, every time we'd go at about 40 miles an hour, the walls would shake. And I'm like, 'this could be it. This could be the moment.' But we’re gonna miss Bertha. She’s quite a girl."

While Bertha’s showbiz career appears to be over, it looks like her non-profit work will continue through a vehicle donation program.

And so it is that a few days later, a large tow-truck pulls up to take Bertha for what could be her final ride.

Shannon, the tow truck driver, smiles broadly as he looks at the RV.

"It looks like there's some history here," he laughs.

Bertha Towed.jpeg Jonathan McNeal and Shannon Rader with 401 Towing work out the logistics of Bertha's removal.
Jerry Kenney
Jonathan McNeal and Shannon Rader with 401 Towing work out the logistics of Bertha's removal.

It’s no small feat to get Bertha hooked up to haul away but eventually the driver succeeds and Bertha is off to the auction block and whatever adventure awaits her next - but not before a long kiss goodbye with the curb as she’s pulled away. The grinding of metal against concrete rings through the neighborhood.

"Goodbye, goodbye," McNeal says, amused by the sight. "Oh, look, she’s only got one blinking light. Poor thing. Well it’s a sad little day," he says. "But, she certainly was a trooper we had a lot of fun with her... but on to the next thing."

The next thing for the Rubi Girls is a performance to help kick off Dayton Pride Friday evening on Courthouse Square.

You can find the full weekend schedule of events at daytonlgbtcenter.org

Jerry began volunteering at WYSO in 1991 and hosting Sunday night's Alpha Rhythms in 1992. He joined the YSO staff in 2007 as Morning Edition Host, then All Things Considered. He's hosted Sunday morning's WYSO Weekend since 2008 and produced several radio dramas and specials . In 2009 Jerry received the Best Feature award from Public Radio News Directors Inc., and was named the 2023 winner of the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors Best Anchor/News Host award. His current, heart-felt projects include the occasional series Bulletin Board Diaries, which focuses on local, old-school advertisers and small business owners. He has also returned as the co-host Alpha Rhythms.