Oprah treats Valpo woman to Australian visit

Written by Larry Bretts. Posted in Community News

Published on July 20, 2011 with No Comments

A Valparaiso woman’s long-time loyalty to Oprah Winfrey was rewarded as she was picked as an “ultimate viewer” and treated, with 301 others, to an expense- paid trip to Australia for eight days with the TV giant.

Joni White, 52, has been watching the Oprah/AM-Chicago television show in 1984. White’s three children, now grown, were nursed as their mother would use the TV program as a point in their feeding routine.

In those early days, White was a rabid Oprah fan. She says at least 14 times she was in the show’s studio audience in Chicago.

“Everybody knew I was crazy about Oprah,” she says. So when the show and Oprah’s staff announced they were looking for ultimate viewers, she decided to apply.

She had compiled a list of the “Top 10 Reasons” to watch the star.

That drew favorable responses from Oprah’s staff and White was asked to put together a short video on the subject, With the aid of a cousin, Gail, Cathy Laughery and Connie Blough, they put together a 2-minute video which was e-mailed to Oprah’s staff. A week and a half later, White was told a seat for herself and a friend would be reserved for Oprah’s Sept. 9, 2010 show, if she could attend.


White and fellow Oprah fan Laughery of Valparaiso made that show, which was the premiere show for what would be Winfrey’s farewell season.

The women didn’t know what was up, but others waiting for that show to start were all “ultimate fans.”

It was not until the show was underway that Winfrey told her special crowd she was talking them all “halfway around the word” to Australia.

What a whirlwind.

White and Laughery were gone for 10 days and in the land down-under for eight days.

Their time was scripted.

“We landed, had an hour to clean up and were off,” she said. “Who wanted to sleep when there was so much to see and do.”

That included not only typical tourist activities, but also some non-conventional activities.

They spent time taking a bus to Phillips Island to watch the return of thousands of penguins daily. Then there was flying in a helicopter over to “The Twelve Apostles,” magnificent rock stacks that rise up majestically from the Southern Ocean on Victoria’s dramatic coastline.

Created by constant erosion of the limestone cliffs of the mainland beginning 10-20 million years ago, the stormy Southern Ocean and blasting winds gradually eroded the softer limestone, forming caves in the cliffs. The caves eventually became arches and when they collapsed rock stacks up to 45 meters high were left isolated from the shore.

They donned special suits, constructed to be non-distracting, and with others, climbed with cables atop to Sydney Harbor Bridge as traffic whizzed by far below them. It was a recording-setting climb.

“We were never bored. There was always something going on,” she said.

It truly was the trip of a lifetime and she returned with a raft of experiences and 301new friends. “We e-mail one another, we stay in contact by Facebook.”

Transportation, accommodations and food, “the best food,” White says, were all on the house. The only things not covered were souvenirs and food outside the ordained meal sessions.

Australia Tourism was involved. So, too, was the planning firm, Event Architects, which assisted Oprah’s Harpo production company in assembling the tour and its logistics.

“We were treated like royalty. They really rolled out the welcome mat,” White recalls.

The entourage was split into different groups – different venues, different experiences.

White’s group went to Melbourne, a more urban setting with many quaint, older shops, like Paris, she imagines. She says she didn’t see a kangaroo until she was on her way to Phillips Island.

She would like to return, this time with her husband, Chuck, and visit the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast of the continent. That wasn’t part of White’s itinerary.

Chuck could have accompanied White, but he deferred to Laughery, saying she was the big Oprah fan, not him. Laughery had offered to give up her part of the trip. But Chuck White nixed that.

White also was tabbed a “faithful watcher” of Oprah’s shows and honored with a feature in the “O” magazine. White still remembers the telephone number she had to call for tickets back in the days before many things were done online. A picture of White is in the special commemorative issue of “O” magazine.

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