BELOIT - For longtime educator and historical impressionist Ed O'Brien, retelling the stories of key members of U.S. history isn't just a passion.
He says it's his duty to bring to life characters often lost to grainy newsreels and trapped in black-and-white photographs.
"I think it helps young people who have only seen the names of these men in a book, or to see them mentioned briefly you don't really get a personality to them," O'Brien said.
O'Brien doesn't just get into character for events. He takes countless hours researching the lives of the figures he does impressions of, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Teddy Roosevelt, Cpt. Eddie Rickenbacher and U.S. military general John J. Pershing. He learns the obscure details of each, making sure to always bring unique stories to share. He has even watched film, like any professional athlete would after a game, in order to learn the mannerisms of the quartet in his arsenal.
That's where his passion truly shines: In the storytelling.
It's something he picked up from listening to his father, Woodrow O'Brien, as he grew up in Chicago. Ed O'Brien told the Beloit Daily News of his father being onhand in 1933 when FDR appeared at the Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago. As a boy, Ed O'Brien even met Rickenbacher during a visit to land outside of Chicago that was being considered for a U.S. air base. Ed O'Brien is a U.S. Army veteran and served as an instructor before getting into teaching.
For nearly two decades, Ed O'Brien has brought history to life at schools, civic organizations and festivals across the country.
His first impression in February of 2000 was of his favorite historical figure, FDR. But he had to take the man's legacy and pare it down for a group of elementary students to understand and enjoy. So he put on FDR's iconic rounded lenses and fedora and got to work.
He told the students of FDR's passion for stamp collecting and model planes, his love of animals and overcoming illness, engaging them all.
"He set an example for someone or anyone with a challenge not get in the way of doing what he wanted to do," Ed O'Brien said.
Through research, O'Brien said he learned of FDR's egalitarian ideologies, and has always looked to tell those stories in today's divisive times, while drawing on the former president's compassion.
"You always have to remember the fun part of telling stories," O'Brien said. "Never put the audience down and if you are concerned, voice it. My dad helped build that interest for me in history and telling stories."
The teacher-turned-historian says it's important to perserve U.S. military history. Pershing was a key general for former president Theodore Roosevelt and served as the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front during World War I. Rickenbacker was an ace fighter pilot during World War I and a Medal of Honor recipient. He was also a famed race car driver and automotive designer and pioneer of air transit with his leadership of Eastern Air Lines
O'Brien said he hopes history will encourage young people to increase turnout in local elections.
"I think people need to vote on their conscious and values and research these candidates and what they have stood for," O'Brien added.
To inquire about an event or to make an appearance, send an email to O'Brien at email@example.com.