The fateful decision to call in sick for work on just the second night of her hostess gig might very well have saved Joniann Goldberg's life on Memorial Day weekend 40 years ago.

As a 21-year old student at the University of Cincinnati in 1977, Goldberg welcomed the opportunity to earn some extra money at the swanky Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky.

Her first night on the job was a mixture of excitement and exasperation as Goldberg served drinks to celebrity performers Jim Nabors and John Davidson while navigating the elaborate interior of the huge nightclub.

"I was in the prime of my life," Goldberg said. "My first night they just showed me around the whole complex. It was a maze.

"The rooms were so big. They had a room for bar mitzvahs and weddings, separate rooms for this or that. Everything was so elegant," Goldberg said.

She said she decided to call in sick for her Saturday night shift, because a more attractive opportunity to go on an impromptu camping trip with her boyfriend seemed too good to pass up.

"My boyfriend wanted me to go camping. I said 'sure.' Back then I would rather party," she said.

Deep in the remote woods of southwestern Ohio, Goldberg and her boyfriend were at first oblivious to the news that a massive fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club killed 165 people and injured 200 more on Saturday night, May 28, 1977, the night she was supposed to work.

Fire officials later found the Beverly Hills Supper Club to be woefully short on fire exits and extinguishers.

An estimated 3,000 patrons and workers were packed into a building equipped to hold about half that number.

The conflagration -- subsequently ruled to be caused by an electrical problem -- spread through the complex swiftly. People succumbed to the heat and the smoke and had no way out.

Goldberg heard about the blaze while listening to the radio that Saturday night at the campsite.

In the meantime, her close friends Mike and Kim Fitzgerald had no idea she went out of town for the weekend, and justifiably assumed the worst.

The Fitzgeralds exercised the grim task of going to a makeshift morgue in St. Thomas Armory to see if they could identify Goldberg's remains.

"They had to look through the dead bodies," she said, adding that her friends were specifically looking for the "Jewish star" necklace that she wore "all the time" because most of the bodies were charred beyond recognition.

The Fitzgeralds also alerted Goldberg's family in Columbus about the possibility she was a victim of one of the worst fires in American history.

"I was listed in the news as one of the missing and unaccounted for. They were all upset," Goldberg said.

"I called them as soon as I could," she said. "I didn't know what was going on.

"When I got home I had reporters at my door wanting to get my picture," she said.

A photograph published in the Kentucky Post newspaper showed Goldberg pointing to the tent she slept in during the camping trip that may have saved her life.

Now 61 years old, a mother of three and a grandmother of two, the longtime administrative assistant for Violet Township reflects with gratitude on the tumultuous events that are seared into her memory forever.

"I feel I'm very blessed to still be here to talk about it," Goldberg said.

"I could have easily been one of the dead. That was God watching over me."

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