Meet an award-winning speaker, musician and coach with a passion for helping people find their voice.
I met Edith Barnard because her sister lives next door to me. It was a family tragedy, in fact, that first brought her to Peoria, Illinois.
“When I heard about my brother-in-law’s illness, my heart went out to my sister, Ruth, and her family,” Edie recalls. “To this day, it’s hard for me to believe that Kevin is gone. I decided to move to Peoria to be with my little sister… so off I went. Soon after I got to Peoria, I met a man I had known before, Wes Sedrel, who is now my husband. I met him at a church camp where I was the song leader and he was guitar accompanist. We made Peoria our home and have never regretted it.”
From Champaign to the Caribbean
“When I look back over my life, I realize that it is one of music, traveling and public speaking,” she reflects. “I never had any children, so I guess my career was my ‘child’—always on the go, writing and meeting so many wonderful people wherever I went.”
Upon graduating from the University of Illinois, Edie married her first husband, a Navy officer, and moved to Maine, then to Scranton, Pennsylvania. Later, she traveled almost daily to study for her master’s degree at the State University of New York in Brighton, New York, about an hour from her home. Her first teaching job was in a high school. “I loved the theatre even then,” she says, “and often, I would take my students to Broadway to attend a variety of different shows.”
Edie ended up in Bath, Maine, where she owned and operated a theater for 15 years. “We did all kinds of shows: musicals, drama, you name it. It was then that I began to portray Harriet Beecher Stowe under the auspices of the New England Touring Artists program. Besides touring as Harriet, we did all kinds of touring shows, including Boston and a lot of New England. I have continued to portray Harriett Beecher Stowe to this day, and I remember you being in my audience, Norm, out at the North Branch of the Peoria Public Library.”
Edie lived in Barbados for a time, where she was paid to conduct tours to the other islands, playing musical programs wherever she traveled. She also served as the U.S. cultural ambassador to Greece. “I realize how fortunate I was to have been picked. I studied very hard to learn the Greek language, and whenever I was there, the people wanted to speak English! I was sponsored by the Smithsonian and went off on a tour aboard a Norwegian cruise ship from New York to Nova Scotia, doing public speaking while on board. My subject was ‘Being the Speaker You Want to Be.’ We did a lot of sailing off the coast of Maine for fun, and down in the Eastern Caribbean as well.”
A Lifetime of Song
I asked Edie a bit about her childhood, which she was happy to talk about. “When I was five, I remember that I liked to sing and act in front of people. I had a little Chihuahua named Tiny, and my father made a colorful cage for him. We would go to nursing homes, where I would entertain the folks with a cute song: ‘How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?’ That started my career, and I am even more active with it to this very day.
“My father was born on a farm near Fairfield and ended up getting his doctorate degree in theology. He was a Methodist minister, and being a daughter of a minister is always a challenge. He played the trombone and loved to sing old Methodist hymns. My mother grew up on a farm in Altamont, Illinois, where her father grew corn and soybeans. She was a wonderful pianist and taught me piano starting at the age of four. A beautiful seamstress, she and I made most all of my clothing and dresses. I had two younger sisters, and we sang a lot together. Both of my grandmothers loved music and played instruments, so I grew up singing and playing all my life.”
Edie was an honor roll student, so her parents never had much of a problem with her. “I went to grade school in Delavan, junior high in Moline and graduated from Kewanee High School. I did a lot of singing in choirs, playing clarinet in the band, gave piano and singing lessons, and was the piano accompanist for my church. I had my share of boyfriends and loved to go to proms, hayrack rides… and just having fun with my sisters, singing folk songs from singers like Peter, Paul and Mary.”
Life in Peoria
Edith Barnard loves Peoria and feels she has come home to her roots. It’s apparent she has a passion for helping people build their confidence and find their voice. She does this through seminars such as “Team Building Through Drama” down at the Apollo Theater, where she serves on the board. She also provides training to individuals in her Peoria Woodland Studio.
Having toured portraying the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin for more than 25 years, Edie assures me she’s not finished yet. “Norm, I will continue to do Harriet Beecher Stowe because her voice is still as relevant today as it was in the 19th century,” she declares. If you can use a voice coach of extraordinary skills, send Edith Barnard an email at [email protected]. a&s
Norm is a Peoria historian and author of 12 books and hundreds of true crime and historical stories. Contact him at [email protected].