Even the 4- and 5-year-olds on “Romper Room” seemed to know that Miss Florence, aka Florence Petheram, was out of the ordinary. They stared at her a lot, a mix of love and awe on their faces.
In 1958 Spokane, not many moms had jobs, let alone on television. Not many looked like fashion models, and only Petheram called out children’s names through a magic mirror at the end of each show.
In her personal life, Petheram was a single mother raising four children, and during her final years on “Romper Room” (it ended in 1982) she worked two jobs – as Miss Florence and as an ad saleswoman for KHQ.
Petheram is now 81. She lives in Auburn, Wash. She is still energetic, still living an out-of-the-ordinary life.
In her 70s, she started writing juvenile fiction. Saturday, she’ll read from her second book “Magic is for When You Need It.”
In a recent phone interview, Petheram reminisced about her years on “Romper Room” and her life since then.
Petheram was working as a children’s playground recreation director when she got a call from someone at KREM asking if she’d come in for an audition for “Romper Room” – a television show featuring preschoolers that was localized in cities throughout the United States.
“I said thank you, but I have four children, and I need to stay home with them. He said ‘I made an appointment for you.’ ”
And so her tenure as Miss Florence began, first on KREM and then, after a five-year break, during which Petheram earned a college degree from Whitworth University, the show returned to life on KHQ.
The “preschoolers” were Inland Northwest boys and girls who signed up for two-week stints.
“A little boy and girl came on the set one day holding hands,” Petheram remembered. “The little boy came up to me and said, ‘I just want to tell you we’re in love.’
“He treated the little girl with such respect. That’s when I came to know that love comes at any age. I’ve often wondered what happened to them.”
In 1987, when Petheram moved from Spokane to the Seattle area, she said goodbye by draping scarves on the running Bloomsday sculptures in Riverfront Park.
She then worked as an art auctioneer on a cruise ship, created a seminar called “Fine Tuning Your Life,’’ sold advertising for Washington’s official guide book and worked as an elder care advocate.
Petheram went skydiving to celebrate her 80th birthday, works out three days a week, and she confides that over the years she’s had “some exciting romances.” She also gushes about the “special friend” in her life and about her closest friends – her grown children.
Petheram’s first book, “Word: A Real Dog Locked in a Shelter Cage for Eight Years Until …” was published in 2006.
Her latest book is about “a young girl who gets a horse, and the horse has a healing effect when the crescent shape on its forehead is touched.”
Petheram knew nothing about horses, but she did research and spent time around horses, including a horseback- riding weekend with her daughters.
She’s now working on her third book. For Mother’s Day, she got a hula hoop.
“These are the most exciting times to be alive,” she said. “There are so many possibilities. You have to choose one you’re passionate about and go for it.”