“Can you refill my beer?”
I am asked this mid-afternoon, before I walk over to a refrigerator to refill a chalice. Inside this cooler lies some mayonnaise, sausages, cans of beer and various other odds and ends. From the contents of this refrigerator, it looks as if nobody lives here, and in some ways, nobody does. Yet the drinks still belong to someone, as does the refrigerator. The owner in question is Rasa Von Werder, and this somewhat-empty refrigerator is located in her Binghamton, New York apartment. But this space is not always lived in, because Rasa doesn’t always live in Binghamton. This is not something I ever knew — but then again, I also never really knew Rasa.
For those who might not know this local legend, there really is no way to sum her up. Rasa Von Werder is, without a doubt, a Binghamton icon. With big, bleach blonde hair, fierce eye makeup and Downtown-ready clothing, Von Werder bar hops with the best of them — although she goes to Uncle Tony’s to relax. Her favorite drink is Coors Light; she flirts with guys, gets hugs from girls and dances the night away like any local student. But she isn’t a student. And she was born in 1945.
At 70 years old, Von Werder is a woman who seems unabashedly confident, is wildly upfront and says things that will make you blush so hard that your ancestors feel it. She is a woman of many names and many talents. Von Werder is also known by her stage name, Kellie Everts, and her business card says “The Prodigy.” She is spiritually devout, won Playboy’s Miss Nude Universe in 1968 and according to her, Nancy Reagan came to her in a dream.
She is on countless senior bucket lists and freshmen hope to run into her from their first night out on State Street. But while students see her during peak bar hours, Rasa Von Werder lives her life 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and doesn’t let anyone stop her. It’s easy to look at her and say she was always the woman she is, but in her 70 years, she has experienced much more than the walk from Venue to Dillinger’s.
Von Werder was born in Germany, to parents of Lithuanian, Russian and Mongolian descent. After escaping Stalin’s regime without identification, her family was eventually put into a displaced person’s camp. She shows me, the photographer and videographer scars on her left shoulder, leftover from the vaccinations she was given there at the age of four and a half.
“It wasn’t a concentration camp but you had to do as you were told,” Von Werder explains.
Eventually, her family was able to escape to America when she was five through a connection with the Dean of Columbia University; her uncle was the Dean’s chauffeur. Her father opened up a Lithuanian school, where she went every Saturday, in addition to her Catholic Catechism class every Sunday. It was this Christian education that made an impression on her like none other.
“[The nuns] taught me faith, they taught me how to pray, they taught me what Jesus and Mary, who they were,” Von Werder says. “They taught me about themselves, the nuns, that they were married to The Lord … as a little kid, I mean, I was very impressed.”
Von Werder’s family soon moved to Newark, New Jersey, where she says her mother made a “scandal” in the community.
“She had an affair with the priest … she got tired of him so then she had an affair with the organist,” Rasa says, finishing the thought with a laugh.
While her father stayed in the city, the rest of her family moved to a farm in New Jersey, where they were joined by the organist and Rasa’s soon-to-be-born sister.
As far as family goes, Von Werder has two sisters, a brother and one child, who, as she puts it, was “prolific” at having children. At this point, Von Werder says that she has three grandchildren, at least four great-grandchildren, and is waiting to see this number grow.
“All I’ll have to do is live 20 more years and I’ll have great-great-grandchildren,” she says.
Von Werder laughs as she describes her life to me, but when discussing her past jobs, it became clear that she’s been through a lot. According to Von Werder, her mother was abusive.
“Whenever I would get a job, she wanted me to be at home, being the slave,” Von Werder says. “Her whole idea was to keep me powerless.”
She became the scapegoat and target of the family, because she refused to hate her dad as her mom had wished.
And through the troubles in her home life, her school life suffered as well.
“I became very rebellious through all this because I was suffering,” Von Werder says. “When you are suffering, your behavior changes.”
Von Werder says that she was truant in school, unable to concentrate and often ditching to go hang out with older men. Eventually, she was expelled, which she believes is partially because the school thought she was having an affair with the arts and crafts teacher. (She says she did flirt with him, but there was no affair, and he eventually dated her sister.)
From here she went to live with her dad in Brooklyn, New York. Her new school only brought about new tortures and, upon finishing, she knew she had to get out.
Since the age of 15, Rasa knew that she wanted to model, and began searching for connections. At 16 she was put in contact with Andre de Dienes, Hollywood photographer of Marilyn Monroe.
“I answered the door butt naked to make sure he would notice me,” Von Werder laughs. “I was trying to win his interest. It worked.”
He said he would take her to California and make her a Playboy centerfold, and asked if she could be at the Chelsea Hotel the next day at 6 a.m.
The next day, Von Werder walked to the hotel with only 50 cents in her hand, which she soon gave to a homeless person.
Von Werder says she thought to herself, “What’s the difference? Either I’ll make it or I won’t make it. So I made it.”
After three weeks with him, he said he was getting rid of her.
“I don’t remember what the hell his reasons were, but basically it’s because I wouldn’t have sex with him,” she says.
After leaving her in Venice, California with only $60 that he owed her, Von Werder eventually made it on her own, finding a cheap (and terrible) rooming house, bleaching her hair and walking the beaches of California.
It was here that she met her first husband — an abusive partner — with whom she had a child. And while she eventually left him, Von Werder says she went back a few years after to care for him as he battled cancer.
“They say no good deed goes unpunished,” she says. “My reward for that was he knew he was going to die, and just before he died he called up to cancel his life insurance and left the baby and me penniless.”
Career Beginnings and Successes
Von Werder said that she had five dollars after she buried him. She needed to support herself and her child, and for her, dancing was the answer.
“I am not suggesting that I was Superwoman during these years … I was a walking wounded girl … men treat you as a sex object, that’s very painful.”
But at least financially, Von Werder bounced back.
“By the age of 20 I had a house in Beverly Hills, I had a live-in maid for the weekends, because I had my child … and a Lincoln Continental in the driveway.”
According to her, it was a deeply passionate spirituality that kept her afloat through her tough years.
“I have to say that my own parents gave me the tools to withstand pain, torture, etc., with the education that I had by sending me to Catechism,” Von Werder says. “Those are the tools by which I survived. It wasn’t belief in a world, it wasn’t belief in people, it was a belief in God, in Jesus, Mary and the saints, and following in their footsteps.”
Von Werder has spent much of her life dedicated to these teachings. She has had her own storefront church on Oak Street; she spent a winter preaching on the streets of Binghamton with a megaphone. She claims that in 1978, her “Lady of Fatima” speech in front of The White House prevented a third world war.
So what exactly does Rasa preach?
To be clear, Rasa does much more than just preach. She is the founder of her own church, is a “yoga guru” and claims that she is the “mothergod” incarnate. As one of the hallmarks of her beliefs, Rasa believes in a matriarchal religion. Her feminism extends far past believing in female empowerment (Although on her website, there is a box that says: “pray Hillary into office”).
Von Werder has complex ideologies with a rooted principle: that women should rule the world, and that the patriarchy needs to be replaced.
She says that originally, women were in charge, but when men turned on women, the world began to turn for the worst; she believes genocides and atrocities began when men gained power.
“The man doesn’t have the emotional, mental capacity to rule the family and the world,” Von Werder says. “The result of him ruling the family and the world is that today they have brought us to the brink of annihilation.”
Von Werder claims to have around 5,000 followers, some of whom, she says, build altars to her in their homes.
She believes that the Y-chromosome is crumbling and in 100,000 years women will reproduce without men.
“Men are not necessary anymore,” she explains.
But her beliefs don’t end there. Von Werder focuses on taking the misogyny out of religion and putting sacredness back into sex. For her, women have been subjected to a double-standard for far too long.
“We’re supposed to love sex,” she says. “We’re supposed to say, ‘yeah I wanna fuck five guys tonight! Anybody who doesn’t like it, fuck yourself! It’s my body, I can do whatever I want!’”
But it’s clear that Von Werder doesn’t just want to get rid of this stigma — she wants to crush it with a fiery passion. She wants women to enjoy multiple partners and to not be afraid of getting slut-shamed.
“We have as much right as [men] have,” Von Werder says. “They think they can have fun, they think they can spread their wild oats and do smash and dash, and fuck em’ and duck em’, they think they can do that. We can do it just as much they can.”
Von Werder also feels strongly that even physically, women are more sexually capable than men.
“If we want to exercise our rights, sexually, we can do more shit than they can,” she says. “We can fuck more than they can.”
Another belief of Rasa’s includes the trope of “older woman, younger man.” She believes that young men need an older woman to help and guide them, especially if they are interested in the business of modeling. This guidance for models is something that Rasa can, and does, help them with.
One of her current endeavors is photography, and she says she is self-taught in Photoshop — having practiced five hours a night for two years. Since 2012, Von Werder says she has taken and edited thousands of photos of “the most handsome and beautiful men in the world.” Some of these photos have gone into her most recent book, a large coffee table photo book called “America’s Most Beautiful Man.”
On Study and Education
This type of work ethic seems to be a common theme in the life of the icon. She says that her form of study was reading.
“My father told me one mantra, one bit of advice,” Von Werder says. “He said you must study … I studied psychology, I studied mystical theology, I studied the lives of the saints, I studied the lives of the great people.”
For Rasa, studying was a cure. She says she read for three hours a day, every day, until she went half blind in the 1990s. She then moved to audiobooks and videotapes, and later got eye surgery. Through these tapes she took courses on things like exorcisms and herbs.
So what else is there to know about Rasa?
In all honesty, a book could be written about this woman. I could talk about how she said she saw Betty Friedan in a bar, or how she says she has her eye on twin college guys she met on State Street.
Or I could tell you that she tries to eat raw vegetables and foods, and that she tries to stay away from meat. She believes in love, she has taken 50 vitamins a day since the age of 19 and has been using oil on her face every night for 30 years.
She is focused on her health, and on her connection with God. And while she might be a walking contradiction to most, she looks back on her accomplishments with pride.
“Very few people,” she says, “can do the shit I’ve done.”