A Day For The Scrapbooks

January 22, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

The Sounds of Silence choir from Canton, Ohio, put good manners ahead of the political pecking order when it stopped by the governor's mansion for lunch yesterday.

This group of mentally retarded and developmentally disabled young adults had turned down an appointment with the week's top celebrity, President Clinton, to meet with Hilda Mae Snoops and William Donald Schaefer.

"They wanted us when no one else did," Pat Fehlman, the group's communications director, explained as the 22 choir members and about 40 of their parents, friends and other organizers filed out of their bus on State Circle.

A cruel twist of fate robbed the choir members of their moment on the inaugural stage -- their float broke down and couldn't make the parade -- and brought them to the attention of Mrs. Snoops, the state's official hostess.

When she learned of their travail yesterday, her staff invited them to lunch at the mansion. And the group kept the date even when tempted by a tantalizing offer from inside the Beltway.

Virtually as they were leaving to keep their appointment at the mansion, a call came saying that they could perform for Mr. Clinton at 12:30 p.m. Mrs. Fehlman informed the governor's office, and the mansion visit was off.

Then she had second thoughts.

"These people had been so nice to us and they had lunch all ready. We didn't think it would be right not to come," she said.

Instead, the Sounds of Silence would take a tour of the White House the next morning, no performance, no president.

It was beginning to look as if they would miss their chance to perform for the president.

The choir's troubles began as it was waiting to perform on the final float in the inaugural parade, Mrs. Fehlman explained. The nine groups on the float were to sing and sign a special song

written for the inauguration as they passed the reviewing stand.

People in Canton had contributed $37,000 for the trip. "We had never performed outside so we had special jacket uniforms made," Mrs. Fehlman said.

The parade was running late. At last the time came. The 115-foot float started up. Then it stopped. The brakes had locked.

But if members of the group were disappointed yesterday, there was no sign of that on their bright, smiling faces as they filed into the governor's mansion.

"I really don't know sign language, I'm ashamed to say," Mrs. Snoops said as she welcomed them. "I should have learned it."

"Would you like me to teach you?" piped up Thomas Schneider, a 27-year-old from Canton with a beaming smile and enthusiastic manner.

He hooked his little fingers together. "This means friendship," he said. He crossed his arms across his chest. "This means love."

Suddenly, there was a flurry among the group's leaders. Mrs. Fehlman had an announcement.

"We've just learned that we are going to get to perform at the White House for the president at 4:30 this afternoon," she said.

But first they had to get their mansion tour and their sandwiches for lunch and give their performance. Mr. Schaefer stood on the mansion's staircase as recorded music played and the Sounds of Silence smiled, acted, mouthed and signed two songs, including "Don't Stop Thinking about Tomorrow," the Fleetwood Mac tune that has become the Clinton administration anthem.

Clearly touched by their performance, Governor Schaefer talked for a few minutes about the developmentally disabled and the deaf, holding up his hand with thumb and forefinger extended, to show he knows the sign that means "I love you."

"I understand you're going to meet with the president," said the governor, who endorsed George Bush in the presidential race. "He's a very strong young man, very likable. You'll like him.

"But you tell him you came here to tour the governor's mansion first," he said.

Then the governor said he wanted show how he felt about the choir and he folded his arms across his chest. Most of them raised their hands, thumb and forefinger extended.

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