When the Beatles took the stage at Cincinnati Gardens on August 27th, 1964, Susan Koller, then aged 15, was there. Beatlemania had taken a firm hold of her brain, and her eyes and ears were focused intently on the Fab Four as they performed in what turned out to be one of only two Cincinnati appearances by the band, ever.
Had she known that somewhere in the sea of 14,000 fans her future husband, 14-year-old Gerald Parker, was also in attendance, she most likely wouldn’t have cared. At that time, for Susan, Gerald, and so many young people across the globe, the Beatles were all that mattered.
Today, the two can happily reminisce about their coincidental near crossing of paths at such an amazing, historic event — and how the experience was an early impetus in forming the life that they have now lived together for more than 50 years.
Looking out the large kitchen window on the lush, green hills surrounding Gerald and Susan’s New Richmond home, there is a sense of peace and calm. Gerald, nicknamed “G”, sits at the table in red plaid pajama pants. He tugs at his white whiskers and gazes up at the skylights, thinking back over the long road the two of them have traveled together.
G begins their story by talking about his first love: music.
“When we were brought up, my mother was very interested in theater and art and literature, so all of us kind of took that sort of an interest,” says G, who, along with his siblings, attended McNicholas High School. He graduated in 1968.
“As soon as the Beatles came out, everybody was playing guitars and bass and drums and the guys in my neighborhood — well, it didn’t take long for a group of four of us to form a very quickly popular, local band,” says G.
“Known as the Haymarket Riot,” Susan interjects from her position at the kitchen sink.
Haymarket Riot performed all over the region.
Instant darlings of Cincinnati’s local music scene, the members of Haymarket Riot spent their time after school constantly rehearsing, and their weekends playing gigs around town. Stories circulate describing an occasion when the VW bus that they used to haul their equipment pulled in line with the high school busses, dropping the band members off for morning classes following a very late night on a regional tour.
“So that band went pretty darn far,” says G. “We actually did get some national attention, got a couple of bites on some record deals. We even had a record pressed.”
In fact, the band became so popular locally, that in the spring of 1968 they were invited to play their music on WKRC’s Open House with Steve Kirk.
As it turned out, Susan was also asked to perform on the show. No stranger to the stage, northern Kentucky native Susan had travelled nationally and internationally as part of the educational performance group Up With People immediately following her 1967 graduation from Holmes High School. Upon her return to the Cincinnati area, she had developed a serious interest in the hippie music scene.
“There was this local woman, Linda Allen, and she had a group, The Linda Allen Dancers, and she invited me to be one of these people that came and danced on the (Open House) show,” says Susan, who was familiar with Haymarket Riot from attending the band’s gigs at local college bars. “So G and I got an opportunity to talk. I think I said something like ‘Hey, man, I love your band.’”
A romance blossomed between the two and they were married in July of 1970. The members of Haymarket Riot were their groomsmen.
In the years that followed, Haymarket Riot continued their push for success in the recording industry, even going so far as to pool their resources and live together in a ramshackle farmhouse, getting by on pennies and investing all they had into musical equipment and recording.
When it was evident that the band was spinning its wheels and a record deal wasn’t on the horizon, G and Susan knew it was time to make a move. In 1980, leaning on his connections to his siblings who had moved to New York City straight out of high school, as well as some industry contacts he had made over the years, G settled Susan and their young son, Eddie, in a house in Anderson Township and set out on his own to find fame in the Big Apple.
“It wasn’t an emotional estrangement, I just said I don’t know about living in New York City with this little kid. And we decided G needed to get his foot in the door there,” explains Susan.
She had faith not only in the strength of their bond, but also in the legitimacy of her husband’s individual talent. She’d had a front row seat for more than ten years, watching as he poured his heart into his music and strove for acclaim.
G hoped to find interest in his original compositions in the big city, or at the very least some solid work in a recording studio assisting others with their music.
Within a year of moving to New York City, G had become somewhat established in his studio work. He was able to pad his income sufficiently enough by doing construction jobs so Susan and Eddie could join him, and their little family was reunited.
With Eddie attending kindergarten in the New Jersey suburb the Parkers chose as their home, Susan decided that it was finally time to focus on her own interests and start a path towards a career. A steadfast vegetarian since 1977, Susan loved to cook. She was interested in natural foods and vegetarian diets and decided to take a chance.
“I absolutely flipped open a phone book, pushed the buttons, called this health food store called Aquarius, and said ‘Hi. I’m a vegetarian, and I can cook and I’m wondering if you would have any opportunities there,’” she says. “Unbelievable. The guy goes ‘Can you come in today?’ — because their cook had just left for California and wasn’t coming back.”
With G working in the city, rubbing elbows with such musical greats as Todd Rundgren and Cindy Lauper, it seemed celebrities were at every turn. Little did the Parker family know that G wouldn’t be the only one making contact with famous folks. Susan and Eddie also had brushes with those in ‘the business.’
“The store Aquarius was owned by a guy named Garry Bonner who co-wrote the big hit song of the 1960’s, ‘Happy Together’ and other big hits,” Susan says.
“Also, at that time Eddie was six, but very bright and very well-spoken. G’s brother and sister Pat and Pam were involved in theater and knew the whole scene in New York City,” continues Susan.
“There was a children’s workshop … and they suggested that maybe Eddie would like to do such a thing. So, they would put on this cute little show, and as it turned out there were children’s talent agents that came and observed those shows,” she recalls.
In addition to being outgoing and able to read well, an asset that set Eddie apart from most child actors in New York, was his Midwestern accent. They soon received a call, and little Eddie Parker was off on his own path to stardom.
Over the next few years, Eddie appeared in soap operas, commercials, and made-for-TV movies. One voice-over job for a LEGO ad (which ran for years) eventually ended up paying for much of his college tuition.
It seemed the Parkers, as a whole, were destined for success.
“So we were all, like, soaking up things in New York,” explains Susan. “For me, being interested in what I was — in the Cincinnati area there weren’t many resources, but in New York there were scads and scads of vegetarians. The shop I worked in — there would be people from every different country and I would say, ‘Why are you taking this or this?’ And I took a lot of classes.”
“It was going well… but most of our family was here,” says Susan. “G’s grandfather died in 1984. He owned this family property here and he died and the farm was sort of empty. It became that all of this was going to have to go unless there was somebody to come and take care of the property, to keep it in the family, because no one wanted to let go of this,” she explains.
“It was G’s sister Pamela who said it first. She said, ‘You guys should go back to Cincinnati and live on the farm,’” Susan recalls.
“We were in the middle of this huge hubbub and city life and traffic and all the types of things that we didn’t necessarily care for,” says G. “We just made the decision that perhaps we could do some of the things that we did there, but yet come back to Cincinnati and stay in touch.”
In 1986, the Parkers returned to Cincinnati to reside at and care for the 35-acre family property while continuing on their individual paths — with the exception of Eddie, who chose to wrap up his acting career and focus on his education.
For ten years, G traveled back and forth every weekend to New York to play gigs in some very lucrative musical groups (which G refers to as “tuxedo bands” — the type that play large corporate events and galas) along with his brother Mark.
He also brought back with him the carpentry and construction skills he had learned building million dollar mansions and used them here.
Susan's Natural World is at the corner of Beechmont Avenue and 8 Mile Road in Anderson Township.
Susan continued on her voyage of learning about, working with, and teaching the use of natural foods in a number of Cincinnati locations, first finding work at other shops, and eventually opening her very own store.
The fourth and most current incarnation of her business, Susan’s Natural World, still stands at the corner of Beechmont and 8 Mile Road in Anderson Township.
Susan and G nurtured the growth of her store together for 30 years, Susan educating people about natural health and cultivating a thriving east side clientele, G helping out with anything and everything — right down to stocking the shelves.
Though the pair is now retired and the business has been passed on to new owners, Susan’s name still graces the sign, and clients continue to seek her advice on selecting the best products to enhance their health.
Fortunately, she spent a great deal of time painstakingly passing this wisdom on to the staff and current operators. She breathes easy knowing that the legacy of the knowledge she began acquiring so long ago at Aquarius continues helping people at Susan’s every day.
Eddie now works as a marketing executive in Chicago and has a family of his own. Susan credits his early foray into acting for his savvy in his current business role. She is pleased that he had such amazing opportunities and experiences at a young age, but also happy he got to spend his formative years living at the family property and attending Summit Country Day.
As for G, he continues to perform vocals and guitar with a modern incarnation of Haymarket Riot that includes some of the original band members as well as other local talent.
“All the people that used to come see us through the last 40 to 50 years are still our gang and we’re still doing it. We are probably more popular now than we have been in about 45 years,” G says proudly.
“We’re still alive and we’re all still the greatest of friends,” Susan interjects. “They’re playing a lot of 50th class reunions because they played everyone’s prom who’s our age!” she adds with a laugh.
Gigs and old friends aside, the two are most happy to have lived their lives being able to lean on each other as a loving and devoted couple.
“The musicianship is what really drew us together — our love of the Beatles and music,” says G. “I took us through that musical journey for the first part of our marriage, and then when we came back here, what really made a difference in our lives was Susan using her talents to keep our family happy here on our farm.”
This is the third story in an ongoing series about Cincinnati’s “boomerang” residents — people who grew up here, left, and then came back for various personal, professional, and sentimental reasons. If you or someone you know qualifies and would like to be featured in Soapbox, email [email protected].