Sunday, June 8, 2014

Daily Blessings and Cinnamon Rolls--A Lesson Not to be Taken for Granted

Most people have heard many times in their life that they should never take anything for granted. This is true for all aspects of life from relationships to career success. Just ask Ron Santulli, someone that has been in the entertainment industry for decades. According to Ron, everything is a learning experience, especially in the entertainment business. All opportunities are important because they give an aspiring entertainer experience, great stories, and the ability to get comfortable with his/her own identity. These opportunities should not be taken for granted. 

According to an article on The Bright Path, we all need to learn to be thankful for what we have. This article states that in doing so, “you transform your perspective on life.  No longer are you a victim, lost as life pushes you in whatever direction it wishes.” This exemplifies Ron’s idea that by not taking anything for granted, you are allowing yourself the room to grow into something even better.

Ron has been fortunate enough to have many opportunities throughout the years. In fact, his story is extremely fascinating. I was lucky enough to have him share his story with me in an interview recently, and I want to share his journey with all of my readers so that they can hopefully learn something from it as well.

Ron’s story begins in Brooklyn, New York, where he was born. He knew from a very early age that he wanted to become a singer. Starting when he was 3 ½ years old, he began to perform at family gatherings. His dad would put a chair out and make him stand on it and sing—for 2 hours!!! 

As he grew up, Ron sang along with the songs on the radio. Eventually, he also developed a passion for Broadway. This came from his mother who listened to Broadway music. At the age of 12, Ron attended his first Broadway production—Oliver. An interesting fact to note about that production is that Davy Jones was actually part of the show. 

In 1964, when the Beatles were rising in popularity, Ron decided that he wanted to take guitar lessons. So take guitar lessons he did—for a whole $2.50 an hour. This generated his interest in bands and further increased his interest in music. In 1967 and 1968, he even was part of a high school rock band where he got to play the bass and sing baritone. 

Eventually, Ron’s entertainment interest expanded into drama. Initially, his Catholic high school had no drama club, so there was nowhere for him to develop his interest. Instead, he spent 3 ½ years on the track team, even though he hated it. However, his senior year of high school, a producer was putting on shows for high schools, and Ron had the opportunity to audition. As luck would have it, Ron got the lead role, so he quit the track team. He even got the best singer award for singing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. 

From this point on, Ron moved from one experience to another. In 1968 he joined a drama group. This happened to be where he met his future wife (to whom he married in 1975). Ron also auditioned on Good Friday in 1970 for Summerstock, which put on plays during the summer. He got to be both in the show and doing background stage. 

Ron went to Brooklyn College to major in speech and theater. He noted that one of the best parts of going to school there was that his professors were actors and stage techs on Broadway. While in college, he had the opportunity to participate in community shows in order to gain more experience. 

Before working for 11 years for Air France, Ron worked off Broadway in a box office. In 1987 he and his wife moved to Florida where he got a job working for Disney. He stayed there for 14 years and became a spokesman for MGM. He also put together a group that performed Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It lasted a month. Later, he was asked to do a Halloween party as an Elvis character. He spent the next year and a half as an Elvis impersonator. In 2001, he moved to Las Vegas. He last performed as an Elvis impersonator in 2004, where he performed for 3-4 days in one of the casinos. 

The next chapter of Ron’s life began in 2010 when he moved to Branson. Ron was given the nickname of the “Branson Crooner” by Randy Plummer, a Branson musician with whom Ron had been friends with since the 90’s. Ron became a regular on Karen Berka’s Branson radio show. When a Christian nightclub called Nightlight opened up in Branson, Ron became a headliner there for 3 years along with Voices of Glory. This allowed Ron to develop a fan base. Unfortunately, the club ran out of funding and closed. 

As luck would have it, Ron’s associate producer, friend, and co-worker Mark Daniel invited Ron to perform at Grandma Ruth’s. Mark’s mom and brother work to make the cinnamon rolls that have made Grandma Ruth’s popular. These cinnamon rolls and coffee are available for people to consume while listening to Ron’s show. 

There is a neat history associated with Grandma Ruth’s as well that has led to its increasing popularity. The business started off on Hwy 76. As people began to fall in love with the cinnamon rolls, theaters in town began to call them to make cinnamon rolls for their shows. Then, the Leap Year tornado hit Branson in February 2012. It missed Grandma Ruth’s by 30 feet. Hwy 76 was completely closed, and they decided to take cinnamon rolls to the workers along 76. Power was finally restored after a week. A couple from Chicago contacted the newspaper about this good deed, and the local station, KY3, eventually picked it up.

Now, they have moved to a location on the corner of Gretna and Green Mountain. This past January, they opened up another part of the store. In addition to having room for people to purchase and consume the cinnamon rolls, there is now an area open for people to enjoy free live music and relax while eating the cinnamon rolls. This is how Ron became involved. Grandma Ruth’s will be going national next year with 6 stores in Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois. 

Currently, Ron is scheduled to perform from 9-11 on Thursday and Friday mornings, although he can often be heard even earlier. This is in conjunction with a position working in the Starlite Theatre box office. He plans to retire from his box office job this September, at which point he will be performing five days a week at Grandma Ruth’s. This is his ideal job because it allows him to have a wide repertoire, meet people, and perform in a family-like atmosphere. 

I had the pleasure of sitting in on one of Ron’s performances at Grandma Ruth’s and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a place to relax and listen to several hours of good music without having to pay an arm and a leg in ticket prices. Ron passes out a list of music to his audience and allows them to choose what songs he will sing. This means that each performance will be different. 

When I asked Ron about his plans for the future, he has two very definite plans. First of all, Ron has 6 CDs to date, but he intends to record even more. Second, he plans to keep performing at Grandma Ruth’s for as long as possible, or as he told me, for the next 20 years.

Ron is the perfect example of making every experience count. It is true that each of his experiences pushed him toward the next step in his life. Through the many challenges in his life, Ron was able to excel and discover himself. He never said no, performed as often as possible, received as much training as possible, and knew when to make sacrifices in order to reach success. I learned a lot from listening to Ron’s experiences. Mainly, I know I certainly will do my best to never take anything for granted. Every experience is important. Also, Grandma Ruth’s makes great cinnamon rolls!