A Publication of WTVP

Paying tribute to a star

by Katie Faley |
Mary Simon
Mary Simon

Mary Simon’s life and legacy are as enduring as the dinner theater she helped launch and lift through the decades

All you need is love and dinner theater.

That’s what sums up The Barn III Dinner Theater and Event Center in Goodfield (and all its past incarnations).

Mary Simon was a performer, director, producer, faithful friend, and one-time owner of the beloved dinner theater.

Simon died on July 31 at the age of 74, leaving behind a larger-than-life legacy.

It’s hard to sum up an entire life, but here’s an attempt in three sentences:

  • Born in 1949 in central Illinois, she was a theater major at Illinois State University until 1969 when she got an opportunity to audition for Chaunce Conklin, a producer who along with Simon would go on to open the famous Conklin Players Dinner Theater.
  • Simon took on ownership and operation duties of the dinner theater, which by then had become The Barn, in 1995, a role in which she faithfully served for the next 20 years.
  • Though her life was full of theater, those who knew Mary best agree that her life was full of sharing love with others.

Following are several testimonials:

Bill Hoffman, now an actor and set designer in NYC, knew Simon at the beginning of her career:

“Mary Simon was a remarkable combination of passion, beauty and talent. I first saw her on stage at ISU. She was stunning, electric.

“We first met when we both auditioned for Chaunce. To our delight, we were both cast and began a tumultuous five years trying to establish a dinner theatre in a series of venues throughout the area.

“Chaunce soon had her singing in the lounge after every show to his accompaniment on the organ. I appeared in over 30 plays and musicals with Mary and Chaunce.

“Mary leaves a legacy of unforgettable performances on stage, cherished memories by actors and a public who simply adored her.”

John Bearce was a dear friend and fellow philanthropist:

“Mary was a beacon of light in a world that sometimes forgets true love and compassion. Her heart was a sanctuary of kindness — always open, giving and forgiving.

“When the Barn was badly damaged [in 2015], Mary pushed on. With her hard work and great efforts, nothing was going to stop her!

“Mary trusted fully in God’s plan. Her relationship with Christ gave her much comfort. She loved reading daily inspirations and the Bible.

As she ended every show, ‘We’ll see you again, if the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise!’ — John Bearce

“I hope we all focus on honoring her legacy through acts of kindness, love and holding steadfast to our faith, just as she would have wanted.

“As she ended every show, ‘We’ll see you again, if the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise!’”

Dan Challacombe is a long-time Barn employee, actor and friend of Simon:

“She was a meticulous director and a fierce businesswoman. Her goal was to provide a good product at a good price, and she cared passionately for her patrons and employees.

“Mary knew everything that was going on everywhere in the Barn. She even knew everyone’s lines! We all learned so much from her.

“Mary’s humor is enduring, as well.

“She inspired us with many quotes, but my favorite was, ‘You’re not bleeding. Get out there!’”

Tyler Bishop, now a musician, was a “barn kid” who considered Simon a beloved mentor:

“The Barn was my home. We really were one big ol’ somewhat dysfunctional family. And Mary Simon was our mom.

“You didn’t need to meet Mary to know who she was. She was a legend!

“I remember once, Mary approached me about playing drums for the shows. I told her I didn’t really consider myself a drummer. Her response was, ‘Well you’re always going around banging on stuff, so why don’t you give it a try?’ I became the house drummer for every musical at the Barn for 10 years.”

‘She genuinely believed in being positive, exercising self-control, making the other guy look good and being generous’ — Liz Pollack

Liz Pollack is a loyal Barn patron, Simon friend and caregiver:

“Our friendship came easily and deepened quickly. I soon discovered that Mary’s belief in God was her driving force. She genuinely believed in being positive, exercising self-control, making the other guy look good and being generous.

“When Mary was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, she met the diagnosis with dignity and strength. If you asked how she was feeling, she would always say, ‘A little rough but hanging in.’

“I moved in with Mary in December 2022 to transport her to appointments and keep her company. Mary’s last few months were difficult, but she continued to keep her faith. When people would text or call, she did what she always did: turn the conversation to let them know they were loved and special to her.

“Mary’s lasting legacy is more than just a dinner theater. It’s how dearly she touched the lives of all she met.’”

Katie Faley

Katie Faley

is a Peoria native — Notre Dame High, Class of 2013 — who moved away following college, earned a master’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame, and returned with a fuller appreciation of her hometown. She works at OSF HealthCare