David Letterman’s mom, who became unlikely star, dies at 95

David Letterman, right, the host of "The Late Show with David Letterman" on CBS, and his mother Dorothy Mengering share a laugh during the dedication of the $21 million David Letterman Communication and Media Building on the campus in Muncie, Ind., Friday, Sept. 7, 2007. Letterman is a Ball State University graduate and grew up in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

NEW YORK (AP) — David Letterman’s mother Dorothy Mengering, a central Indiana homemaker who became an unlikely celebrity in her 70s as she baked mystery pies and covered the Olympics for her son’s late-night show, has died. She was 95.

Letterman’s publicist Tom Keaney confirmed Mengering’s death Tuesday for The Associated Press.

Letterman had been on the air for years, and had made ironic celebrities out of dozens of nobodies, before he thought to bring on his mom.

But the moment he did, she became a hit, with a cheerful “Hi, David!” in her Indiana accent starting every appearance.

The two had great on-air chemistry, her homespun sincerity proving the perfect foil for her son’s urban acerbity.

Her first appearances came via satellite from her Carmel, Indiana, kitchen for a segment called “Guess Mom’s Pies,” which became a Thanksgiving tradition. Letterman would make a huge production of the bit before finally declaring, usually correctly, “chocolate chiffon!” or “rhubarb!” When he was wrong, she would take on a comforting tone like he was a boy who had lost a little-league game.

She soon started making annual Mother’s Day appearances too.

She really became a star when the show took her out of the kitchen.

Mengering was a correspondent for the Letterman’s Late Show on CBS at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer Norway, a role she reprised for the next two winter games, wearing bulky snow gear that made her tiny self almost invisible, and oozing pure sincerity even in absurd bits Letterman’s writers had her perform.

“After Lillehammer, I couldn’t believe how it all took off,” Mengering told The New York Times in 1996. “I think it’s about the idea of mom and of a family.”

Mengering lived all her life in Indiana. She married Letterman’s father, a florist named Harry Letterman, in 1942. He died in 1973, and she married structural engineer Hans P. Mengering, who died in 2013.

Once famous, she put out a cookbook, 1996’s “Home Cookin’ With Dave’s Mom,” that included recipes such as “Dave’s Fried Baloney Sandwich” and the secrets behind many of the pies she had baked for the show.

Mengering’s publicist provided this obituary, written by her children, to 24-Hour News 8:

As a young girl growing up on Park Road in Linton, Indiana, Dorothy Marie Hofert was the happiest when she could curl up in a quiet place with a book and a box of chocolate covered cherries, her Christmas presents of choice. She devoured the stories of Indiana’s Limberlost region by Hoosier author Gene Stratton Porter, The Song of the Cardinal her favorite.

Over her lifetime, she reread her well-worn volumes many times, savoring their simple and beautiful language, most recently eight decades after she first turned those pages.

Though her quiet life took a detour into the spotlight as she flawlessly stepped into the role of Olympics correspondent and pie baker on her son’s late night television show, she never lost her unassuming demeanor, a perfect foil for his comedy and her full life. After nearly 96 years of living fully, Dorothy Hofert Letterman Mengering died peacefully at home in Carmel on April 11, 2017 at age 95.

She was born in Linton on July 18, 1921, the oldest child of Lena Marie Strietelmeier Hofert and Earl Jacob Hofert Sr., brother Earl and sister Hazel to follow. She graduated from Linton-Stockton High School and then studied business skills at Indiana University, traveling back on the weekends to Linton, where she met H. Joe Letterman, a church organist and grower of fine dahlias and gladiolas.

In 1942, they married and left Linton for Indianapolis, where Joe started his career as a florist at Berterman Brothers. Joe opened a flower shop on 34th Street and later on Keystone Avenue. They raised three children, Jan, David and Gretchen, as well as impressive backyard gardens that boasted a wide variety of vegetables, raspberry brambles and blueberry bushes. Dorothy worked part-time at the flower shop, and later as a secretary at Second Presbyterian Church, where she helped make pastors’lives easier and kept membership records in good order.

After her husband Joe died at age 57 in 1973, Dorothy spent 10 years on her own, continuing at Second Church, getting her youngest child off to college and enjoying her first two grandchildren, Bryn and Bill, who loved her homemade noodles and “grandma burgers” and going out with her for ice cream cones. During that time she met the man who would be her second husband and traveling companion, Hans P. Mengering. After marrying in 1983, the Mengerings journeyed widely in retirement, visiting Germany, Alaska and many places in the United States, including Florida, where they became frequent attendees at grandparents’ day at the Florida schools of their third and fourth grandchildren, Annagrace and Liam. Those two spent many sunny days on St. Pete Beach with their grandparents, eating grouper sandwiches and walking miles in the sand together to collect their grandma’s beloved seashells.

Perhaps the Mengerings’ most memorable travels were the result of “Dave’s Mom” becoming a huge hit on television. She covered the Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, Nagano, Japan and Utah. Her assignments included landing interviews with big-name athletes and spectators. One spectator, Hillary Clinton, commiserated about her husband’s and Dorothy’s son both having “lead feet” that caused them to get speeding tickets.The Mengerings were guests at the White House with the Olympians.

In addition to the Olympics, Dorothy Letterman Mengering appeared regularly on the Late Show With David Letterman, remotely from her Carmel kitchen where she made David try to guess what kinds of pies she had baked for Thanksgiving. He did not often guess correctly, but the bit always revealed beautiful homemade desserts. She also appeared many times on Mother’s Day and her birthday, deadpanning Top 10 Lists that often made good fun of her son.

She and husband Hans belonged to the Kiwanis Club, for which sales of her cookbook, Home Cookin’ With Dave’s Mom, helped raise a significant amount of money for the Kiwanis’ international effort to end iodine deficiency in children of third world countries.

Dorothy’s idea of a good time was being with her family, driving in the country or enjoying a meal together. Though she was an extraordinary cook, one of her favorite things to eat was the Greek pizza at Some Guys. Even in recent years, Bryn and Bill often joined their grandmother in her kitchen to roll out homemade noodles and cook up applesauce.

Starting in 1967, when she became a grandmother for the first time, until her last day, her grandchildren were her delight. They spanned five decades, culminating with Harry in 2003. By then the other grandchildren were grown or nearly so, and Harry was her joy renewed.

Nine years ago, Emily Rockwood became part of the family as Dorothy’s personal assistant, and Dorothy loved her like another granddaughter. Emily’s love, faith and calm wisdom brought Dorothy and all her family great comfort, as did Emily’s beautiful children and kind husband.

Dorothy always smiled, a trait that endeared her to her loving team of caregivers. Physical therapist Donna Voss became, among other things, dear friend, walking companion and farmer’s market delivery service – salsa, fresh corn and Amazing Potato Chips among the regular treats.

After Hans’ death in 2013, the caring team expanded to include Becky, Marsha, Nola and Rael. The family is extremely grateful to them for loving Dorothy.

Dorothy is survived by her children Janice Letterman Millholland, David Letterman and his wife, Regina LaskoLetterman, and Gretchen Letterman and her husband, William Shelton; grandchildren Bryn Millholland Mooth and her husband, Rob Mooth, Bill Millholland, Annagrace Letterman Shelton, Liam Letterman Shelton and Harry Joseph Letterman; and her sister, Hazel Baughman.

As Dorothy breathed her last, a brilliant red cardinal landed on a branch outside her window, singing his song.

A memorial service is planned at Second Presbyterian Church; details are pending.

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