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Peoria Made Personal: Mary Ellen Ulrich

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Mary Ellen Ulrich is a transplant to Peoria, being a native of Quincy. But today she believes she owes her happiness — and her life — to all that is available in Peoria.

"A year ago today we weren't sure how much longer I was going to be around," said Ulrich during an interview a few weeks before Christmas. "If it wasn't for the doctors and the great facilities we have here in Peoria, I don't think I would be here right now."

Ulrich suffered from a heart valve problem and had to undergo 13 hours of surgery, then weeks in the cardiac and intensive care units at a local hospital, then months of rehabilitation.

Serious illness was the only thing that would keep her from attending to her real love — outside of Mike, her husband of 47 years, and their four sons. That is community theatre, in which Mary Ellen has been involved since she hit Peoria to attend Bradley University in 1964. She has directed a myriad of shows, all of them musicals, averaging at least one show a year.

When she took ill the show she was directing at Peoria Players Theatre was "Annie." She was not well enough to attend any of the performances, the first time that had happened. "I came in to tell the cast good luck and that I was thinking of them, but then I had to go home before the curtain opened," she said.

That wasn't the case in December, when she directed "A Christmas Carol The Musical" at Peoria Players. She said she felt better than she had in years and looked forward to directing again next season. She also wants to get back on stage in some musical soon, whether it's at Peoria Players, Corn Stock Theatre or Eastlight Theatre. She has graced at the stage at all of them at one time or another.

"What town this size offers this much in community theatre? And look at the medical community we have here. There's also all the sports here, which my husband and kids love. It offers some of everything and still it has that little hometown feeling, with the river and all the beautiful parks and wonderful neighborhoods.

"This is home and I love it," said Mary Ellen, affectionately known as "M.E." in community theatre circles. She noted that one wall of her Peoria home is filled with nothing but pictures depicting Peoria.

In her spare time — which in her case is her full-time job — Mary Ellen works to help others; in particular, homeless children. She is liaison for those children for the Regional Superintendent of Schools.

Mary Ellen performed community theatre in Quincy before coming to Bradley. She quickly hooked up with Peoria Players Theatre and it was there she met Mike. "I fell in love with him, I fell in love with Peoria and well, I never left. And I never regretted it," she said.

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