'Orange County Housewife' returns home for surprise party

Updated 2/14/2012 11:07 AM
  • Vicki Gunvalson, left, comes home to the Northwest suburbs to celebrate the 50th birthday of her old friend and Fremd High School classmate, Jeannie Jaeger, of Barrington.

      Vicki Gunvalson, left, comes home to the Northwest suburbs to celebrate the 50th birthday of her old friend and Fremd High School classmate, Jeannie Jaeger, of Barrington. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Vicki Gunvalson is the only original cast member to return to the "Real Housewives of Orange County," which started its seventh season on Bravo last week.

But the reality star holds another distinction among cast members: She hails from the Midwest. Make that, the Northwest suburbs.

"I totally stand out," Gunvalson says, "because I was raised here, and I have a work ethic and Midwestern values."

Gunvalson lived in Mount Prospect until she was 11, before moving to Palatine. She was back in the 'burbs on Friday at Armand's Pizzeria in Arlington Heights for the surprise 50th birthday party of one of her closest friends, Jeannie Jaeger, of Barrington.

"Oh, my God, oh my God," Jaeger exclaimed when she entered the room and saw Gunvalson, before the two embraced.

The two friends go back more than 30 years, to Fremd High School. They were on the pep squad together and decorated cars before the football and basketball games.

"It was a great high school experience," Gunvalson adds.

Some of their high school friends attended the party, including Sandy Bushnick of West Dundee, who said that Gunvalson has not forgotten her suburban roots.

"She's definitely more grounded than anyone on the show," Bushnick said. "She's still one of us."

Jaeger's husband, Steve, planned the party and invited Gunvalson as an added gift.

"Their friendship is something special," Steve Jaeger said. "Yes, she's on this TV show, but she's a good, genuine person despite the Hollywood lifestyle."

It was the second time Gunvalson had appeared at Armand's. Her first visit was two years ago, when she attended a party associated with their Fremd High School reunion. A Bravo film crew tagged along and their footage appeared on the show.

"I had no idea the show was such a big deal," said Mike Caringella, Armand's owner. "But a lot of people saw it. Everyone kept talking about it."

Gunvalson's appearance Friday at the restaurant drew a little less attention, though some quick-witted patrons spotted her immediately, including 15-year old Kate Van Der Bosch of Arlington Heights and her friends.

They sneaked a peek in the restaurant's backroom and found the TV star friendly and accessible, and happy to pose for a picture with the group.

Likewise, Katie Quagliano of Wheeling, a hostess at the pizzeria, recognized Gunvalson when she arrived.

"There's a lot of drama on the show," Quagliano said, "but she seems real. She's more of a businesswoman."

Gunvalson headlined a book signing event on Saturday in Libertyville, for her new book, "More Than a Housewife," which includes details about her insurance and retirement planning business

This week, she returned to Beverly Hills -- where she has lived for the last 18 years -- in time for the launch party on Tuesday, celebrating the start of the new "Housewife" season.

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