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Something funny going on at Bond House

October 21, 2011
By Kathleen Palumbo
A talented painter, public speaker, and thespian took the limelight at the Canfield Historical Society last week. With three grown children, three grandchildren, and 60 years of marriage, Sis Soller battles through age and health issues in the same manner she has approached everything else life has thrown her way ... with laughter.

“When Suzie called me and said I want a speaker with no real message -- I was ready,” quipped Soller, referring to her latest speaking engagement through Suzie McCabe, president of the Canfield Historical Society. She was asked to be a speaker for the society’s lecture series.

A popular after-dinner speaker, Soller said she was a fan of and spoke on the late Erma Bombeck long before the two met, when in the early '70s the Junior Women’s League hosted her.

Sharing that she once told Bombeck of her imitative work, “You could sue me,” to which Bombeck replied, “Sue you...I should pay you!” With a comedic sense reminiscent of Bombeck, since 1973, Soller has provided her "laugh at the everyday" comedy at countless speaking engagements.

Born one year after the nationally acclaimed columnist, who died in 1996 from kidney transplant complications, “She was such a grand woman,” Soller said of Bombeck. So close did the two grow, that when in search of a donor, Soller said she offered Bombeck one of her kidneys. Touched, Bombeck was happy to report they had already found one.

Proof of their decades-long friendship, Soller said she is in possession of the first letter she ever received from Bombeck, bearing a 10 cent stamp.

Growing up in Cincinnati, Soller acquired her BFA and BS from Miami University, and has taught in Cincinnati, Upper Arlington and Boardman.

Past president of the Friends of American Art of the Butler Institute, she is a founder of the Mahoning Valley Watercolor Society, where she is once again serving as its president, and has brought in a nationally known watercolorist for workshops.

A member of the Whiskey Painters of America, Soller currently teaches watercolor at the Mahoning Valley Senior Center, and has received painting awards from the Butler Institute of American Art, Sharon Art Show, Canfield Fair, and Canfield First Nighters.

Recipient of past Woman of the Year in Arts, and nominee for Governor’s Award in the Arts, the talented artist painted a 100-foot mural for Tod Children’s Hospital, donated 50 pastel portraits over eight years for the graduating basketball players of Boardman High School, and each year for 10 years, painted 100 Christmas ornaments for the Butler, raising $10,000 for the museum.

Active for 56 years backstage, onstage and as board president at the Youngstown Playhouse, Soller has twice received Playhouse Moyer Service Award, in addition to a Lifetime Achievement Award, and 15 Arthur Awards. Having acted in 30 shows, in 2010, she was named Theater Legend.

Addressing the crowd assembled at Canfield’s historical Bond House, Soller once again brought laughter to her audience. People ask me about my husband... I have one,” she said, stressing that she acquired her husband and three children “in that order.”

Sharing that her children all share her sense of humor, when it was time for college, she said she and her husband, Dr. Fred Soller told them they could attend college anywhere, then adding, “But we only pay for Miami University.”

Her sense of humor steadfast, “I can’t walk. I’m blind in one eye. I can’t breathe. But I’m in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in,” said Soller, who applied a favorite quote of Bombeck, “Laughter rises out of tragedy when you need it the most.”

“There are still some things I want to do,” she said, adding that she has paintings to finish, and that she wants to see her grandchildren again.

“At the end I want to say, I’m all used up, God.”

With much left on her “bucket list” so to speak, Soller, who has become known as “Youngstown’s Erma Bombeck,” shares yet a few more words of her mentor. “I’d rather laugh to forget than forget to laugh.”

Canfield Historical Society will next host Tim Brookes who will speak on notorious criminal Pretty Boy Floyd Thursday, Nov. 10.

Free and open to the public, lectures take place at the Canfield Historical Society's Bond House, 44 West Main St., Canfield, across from the Canfield Library.

Additional information on the lectures can be obtained by contacting the Historical Society at 330-533-3458.

Article Photos

Photo special to the Town Crier
Meeting in the early 1970’s Sis Soller left, and Erma Bombeck carried on a friendship that lasted a lifetime, until the death of Bombeck in 1996. Soller continues to entertain audiences today with her own brand of Erma’s humor, as one of the area’s leading public speaking humorists. She recently entertained visitors to the Canfield Historical Society’s lecture series at the Bond House.



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