Irene Odegaard
Born in Minneapolis, Irene was an only child. Her father was a band director with the army, and the family lived in Santa Monica, California for seven years.
Back in Minneapolis, Irene Smith (her maiden name) studied piano at the McPhail School of Music. At age 17, she began studying voice, and sang in the Glee Club at South High School, and in the church choir. She earned credit in design, and after graduation in 1934, was hired by the WPA as a designer in the handicrafts department. She designed artwork for painting plates, woodcarving, cross stitching, and crafts for metal and wood.
Deborah Meader, who ran a store that included puppetry, knew Lem Williams and brought his clown marionette to the department. She wanted Irene to concentrate on making and distributing shows throughout the state in WPA rec departments. Once the drama department made the marionettes, Irene was the only one who could manipulate them, and was put in charge of the project in 1936. Complete shows were put together and sent around the state to WPA rec centers.
Bob Longfield was working at the Minneapolis Public Library, and Irene met him when they worked on a show called "Singapore Spider". Irene made marionettes and scenery for different shows.
At the 1937 Minnesota State Fair, the department performed "Creation of the World" eight times a day for the week of the Fair.

That fall, Irene started working for the School Board Recreation Department and continued for the next two years. She worked with five schools on extracurricular programs, after school with sixth graders. She worked evenings in adult education classes, where she met Mildred Mitton, Hazel Aamodt, and Cedric and Ann Lindholm.
In May of 1938, Irene and her boyfriend, Bill Odegaard, eloped to Iowa. Back in Minneapolis, each went home to live with their parents, for financial reasons. Their parents were the only ones who knew of the marriage for the next year.

Irene continued using her maiden name, and rode up to Duluth for the "Northwest Puppetry Festival" with Bill, Mildred Mitton, and two friends. Irene and Mildred shared a room, and Bill had to get one down the hall, as everyone thought they were single. At the festival, they met Mrs. Dan Wheeler, President of the guild, and performer at the festival. She invited them to her home, and on the third floor, she had a puppet theater. Irene met several Minneapolis puppeteers at the festival. Debora Meader displayed all the WPA shows, and Irene used her ballet dancer one evening at the Potpourri.
In May of 1939, the Northwest Puppetry Guild held a festival at the Commodore Hotel in St. Paul. Dorothy Adamson was chairman, Bob Longfield was the co-chair, and Nellie Fry worked on publicity. Irene directed a show and performed in the all-star variety show.
In September 1939, Irene and Bill were publicly married. Also, at that time, Bob Longfield and Lem Williams made a final attempt to start a puppet club. Bob brought Irene to the meeting at Oscar and Dorothy Adamson's house. She knew most of the puppeteers there, that night, and remembers Roger Stephens as a teenager who continued as a member into the fifties. Lem was the first President of the Twin Cities Puppeteers, and the group started working on the by-laws that night.
Irene and Bill adopted two boys in the early forties; Danny and Raymond.

Irene, Jan Woll, Nellie Fry, and Lem and Mary Williams worked together on "The Tinder Box", which was built in Lem's workshop and performed a couple times. Irene continued performing variety shows with her marionettes for many groups, and occasionally appeared in the newspaper on upcoming shows.
In 1946, Irene (TCP Vice-president) performed "Naughty Marietta", a St. Paul Civic Opera production. The performance was an added attraction at the St. Paul Auditorium, featuring Irene operating two marionettes-a man and a woman. She performed the famous Pierette-Pierrot number.
Also, the TCP performed a benefit show for the Women's Club, including Punch and Judy by Mary Williams, Dopey by Mildred Mitton, a trapeze number by Nellie Fry, Bunny Rabbit by Cedric Lindholm, Ducky Doodle by Irene, and a piano and dance number by Lem Williams.
In 1947, Irene was President of the TCP, and the guild sponsored the Passion Play by the Olga and Martin Stevens Company.
In 1951, son Jerry was born to Irene and Bill who now had three sons.
Irene performed puppet shows with her marionettes and Nellie Fry's at schools and other locations. Nellie didn't perform, but handed the puppets to Irene during the show, and ran the record player. Son Raymond carried in the stage and set it up. They worked together up into the sixties, but then Irene became busy with her grandchildren and gradually stopped performing.
Bill passed away in 1981. Irene still has the handpuppets she made for her son, Danny, and a big stage, scrapbooks, scripts, and puppets from shows of the past.
We are happy to have such a talented performer in our group, with great knowledge of our TCP history.

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