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Schierbrock gives winning speech

June 22, 2017 GMT

Lillian Schierbrock of West Point has been able to see and hear since birth.

But for just a few minutes, Schierbrock, a recent Holy Trinity Catholic High School graduate, portrayed a woman who lost both those senses when she was 18 months old.

Schierbrock won an Iowa Lions Club speech contest in April for her performance of the late Helen Keller giving a talk back in 1925 to the Lions Club International convention in Cedar Point, Ohio.

Keller became blind and deaf due to an illness when she was just a year-and-a-half. But her parents hired Anne Sullivan to try to teacher her to talk, and she succeeded.

That story was recaptured in film in “The Miracle Worker,” made in 1962 and remade in 1979 and again in 2000.

Schierbrock had won the local contest last October and gave the speech again Tuesday at the Lions Club meeting at The Parthenon restaurant. It was part of the marking of the 97th year that Fort Madison has had a Lions Club.

Schierbrock said she knew who Helen Keller was at the time her speech director, Bob Rippenkroeger, presented her with the opportunity to enter the local portion of the contest. But she didn’t know much.

The contest was for a high school student to give a speech given by the founder of the Lions Club, Melvin Jones, or a speech given by Keller at a Lions convention in which she inspired the international club to become “knights to the blind and crusaders against the darkness.”

“I studied a re-creation in the 1980s (of Keller’s speech) on YouTube,” and she watched a video of Keller speaking “to learn her voice.”

Schierbock won the local contest and then won the district contest in Ottumwa in November. The state event was in Des Moines and Schierbrock earned the victory there as well.

As you might ask an athlete, was she nervous while doing the state speech?

“In the midst of doing it, you go into autopilot,” Schierbrock said. “You don’t really think about it.

“Afterwards you’re nervous (awaiting the results), but you’re somewhat relieved,” she said.

Then she learned the good news. “I was really excited and really relieved,” Schierbrock said. “The stress went off.”

What made the competition more of a challenge was that a student wasn’t just delivering a selected speech with the usual gestures and focused eye contact.

Schierbrock gave her talk with the stilted, monotone voice of someone who didn’t hear the spoken word. Schierbrock imitated the sign language Keller sometimes used in her speech.

Although one would think a blind person wouldn’t “look” around the room at the audience, Schierbrock turned her head because Keller did as well.

Acting her strength

Schierbrock didn’t have much speaking experience as a youth other than the Christmas play at Holy Trinity Catholic Elementary School and a soloist as a sixth-grader in the HTC Junior High musical.

“I tried all the sports stuff, but it wasn’t my thing,” she said.

In junior high and high school she participated in the school musicals and dinner theatre productions and was on the HTC Speech team all four years.

“I felt more comfortable doing that,” Scheirbrock said.

“Mr. Rippenkroeger is a really good teacher. He supports each student. He finds out what your strengths are,” she said.

Schierbrock will attend Western Illinois University in a couple of months and major in Musical Therapy.

For a video of Keller speaking, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ch_H8pt9M8

To hear a portion of Tuesday’s speech Schierbrock gave, go to the video gallery at www.dailydem.com.