Photo and Article by Fred Kroner
Doris Wenzel has written a book and a play.
On rare occasions, she has done illustrations for other books.
Her 27-year-old Mahomet company (Mayhaven Publishing) has printed nearly 300 books, including ones co-authored by Burt Hall and actor Ed Asner (who played Lou Grant), and another by David Selby (who played Quentin Collins in Dark Shadows).
She taught public speaking at different universities, and while working as a reporter for various suburban Chicago papers, interviewed personalities such as actor Jim Belushi.
Wenzel has also spoken to a room full of people — most of whom she didn’t know — for an hour without notes.
The latter was a recent occurrence when she offered an evening of comedy in Urbana.
There aren’t many times the 77-year-old Mahomet resident is uncomfortable.
Last week accounted for one of her few uneasy moments.
When asked if she was nervous on her comedy debut, Wenzel said “no,” and added that she was more nervous about doing an interview with a newspaper reporter.
Some would say that’s funny.
Wenzel, in fact, can find humor in most situations life has to offer.
“I watch a lot of comedy and laugh easily,” Wenzel said. “And I found my sisters do the same.”
So the person who authored a play about Mary Lincoln and who wrote a book about being one of 10 consecutive sisters in a family of 12 (Ten Sisters: a True Story) said she had checked an item off her Bucket List at Clark-Lindsey Village.
“It’s not much of a Bucket List,” Wenzel said, “because I’m always working.
“I called it standup, but my son Quintin Porter (who has performed comedy) and daughter Michelle Petersen (a Mahomet-Seymour graduate) who is a librarian and a public speaker, say I am more like a humorist.”
Wenzel plans on doing more shows.
“And folks who saw the first one may want to return because,” she says, “no two programs will be the same.”
Her debut on the comedy circuit didn’t include political commentary.
She began by talking about her life, especially her formative years being raised in the Charleston-Mattoon areas.
“It was very sad in a lot of ways,” she acknowledged.
If that doesn’t sound like fodder for a humorist, neither did her approach.
“I didn’t write a thing down,” Wenzel said. “I had no idea what I’d say other than I’d talk on that topic.
“I felt confident because I knew the subject. I just didn’t know when or how I would say it. A lot of humor, you know, is in the spontaneity of it.”
Porter, who has his own company (Working Dad Recordings), taped the event so his mom could learn from the experience.
“He urged me to write a script, both before and after,” Wenzel said.
But she did it her way, just as she has done much of her life.
The former Doris Replogle says she, “dropped out of Charleston high school at 17 to marry my student teacher.”
She gave birth at age 18, and that was just the beginning.
“We had seven children by the time I was 30.”
Those five sons and twos daughters didn’t slow her down.
At 21 she earned her GED diploma, then took college classes at Eastern Illinois University.
Moving to Glen Ellyn, she spent two years at the College of DuPage, graduated from North Central College, and then attended Northwestern University.
Interrupted by a divorce, she moved to Normal to complete a master’s degree.
“My education took 10 long years,” she said.
Wenzel says she rarely loses her ability to smile.
“My friend, Marilyn Kay (who arranged the comedy event), suggested that maybe humor was something my sisters and I developed to get though the hard times,” Wenzel said.
That part of the story began in 1942, she said, “when our life as a family together ended when the courts separated us and our two older brothers. I was adopted at the age of 2.”
Amanda and Dale Replogle became the only parents she knew.
“Raised as an only child, I didn’t remember my original family, but I remember the aftermath,” Wenzel said. “Except for Audrey (also raised in Charleston, by the Coles) I didn’t know my sisters until I was 37.
“I had so much curiosity about them.”
Kay urged Wenzel to include the breakup of her family in the presentation.
“It’s really a grim subject,” Wenzel said. “I thought, ‘How do I make this funny?’ But I’ve seen people who have gone through God-awful things and can still laugh.
“And over time, I saw that my sisters seemed to be able to do that. Maybe humor is part of genetics.”
Wenzel found it easy to tell her story — with some humor thrown in — during her hour in the spotlight at Clark-Lindsey.
“I did a lot of theater,” Wenzel said. “I’m very comfortable on stage and my sister (Irma) surprised me by being in the audience.
“I called her up on stage and the audience loved her.
Wenzel’s public premier as a humorist was a success, she believes, for more reasons than the words she spoke.
”It was a good crowd; people who wanted to be there,” she said. “You can feel the audience, and the audience was involved.
“They began to ask questions and I took them. It seemed to draw the audience even closer.”
Within a week of her appearance, Wenzel had a chance to view and critique the unedited recording.
There were parts she wished she’d done a bit differently.
“I would occasionally walk right out of the scene, but I came away thinking it was pretty good,” she said. “The audience made it easy.”
She was glad, however, that the length of the presentation was set at an hour.
“When I got finished, I was exhausted,” Wenzel said. “I wanted to come home, rest and watch Sebastian Maniscalco, Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle, Tina Fey, Wanda Sykes or Cristola Alonzo.”
Her family is not only supportive, but also encouraging. She said any of them could hold an audience with their humor.
“When we’re together,” Wenzel said, “my children always have me laughing, and lots of friends, too.”
And until it went off the air, she started her day watching Last Man Standing every morning.
She won’t be pursuing comedy full-time.
Her goals for Mayhaven — which has published an average of 12 books per year as well as numerous audios and Ebooks — will include screenplays now that son Cullen Porter is writing from both original scripts and from books she has published.