PROFILE: Carol Elwood

March 27, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY T MICHELE WALKER – Here’s a little tip for you. If you’re at a gathering or party and would like to be entertained, sit next to an actor. They have an endless array of performance theater tales to keep you entertained. Carol Elwood is no different as she shares her tales from the stage throughout the years.

“I attended Interlochen and was in a play called ‘Night Must Fall.’ I was playing this grumpy old lady that was in a wheelchair and sat in the wheelchair the whole play, waited on hand and foot. At the end of the play, it’s this big reveal in the play, I get up and walk. 

“During one performance when it got to this part, a little boy in the audience yelled out ‘You’re a fake!’ I guess I played the part alright,” laughed Carol. “It’s fun to become that other person when you’re acting. You can be bolder in your actions than you would in your ordinary life. If you’re a shy person, and I guess I’m a shy person, but when you’re an actor, you can be that person. I have to become that person or I won’t be believable.”

After studying music education and doing a bit of theater in college, shyness can stand in a person’s way from taking to the stage. Despite this shyness, Carol managed to gather up her courage and gave it a shot. 

“I hesitated for years to audition for anything at Royal Palm Players. It was so scary; it took me years to get the gumption to try. Once I did it, I thought ‘Why didn’t I do this when I was younger?’”

Carol received a lot of encouragement from friends in Boca Grande. “The people around said, ‘You have to audition for the musical.’ So, I did and they let me in. It was really scary but fun because I got a part in the first musical. So far, I have been in five shows with Royal Palm Players. My favorite show was playing an Angel in ‘Joseph.’ That was really fun to do. It is such a great show. I’d love to do it again.”

Born and raised in Rochester, Minnesota where her father was the head engineer for the Mayo Clinic, Carol was the youngest of 11 children and the proverbial miracle baby. “I was number 11 and I think I weighed three pounds. Mother wasn’t supposed to have any more children after my older brother. The story goes, my mother rode up the elevator in the hospital because dad dropped her off to park the car. She rode up the elevator with Sister Samuel. It was a Catholic hospital. Mother asked the Sister what her other name was and it was Magdalene. Mom decided then and there that I was going to be named ‘Samuel Magdalene.’ Well, mother had a terrible time and my dad had to decide whether to save mother or me. He never told me what he decided because we both survived. In the meantime, the nuns had to baptize me. Dad had rushed home, in a blizzard, no less, to ask my brothers and sisters, ‘What should we name this baby? We’re going to baptize her right away.’ Dad opened his hat and my brothers and sisters put in their favorite names and he drew Carol, Nancy, and Marilyn. My mom was out and wasn’t able to say what she wanted, so it would have been so cute to be named Samuel Magdalene. But Carol Nancy Marilyn works. All was well.”

If Carol had been born when scheduled, her birthday would be in February, but she came three months early, on November 30. “In those days, it was something to save a child born that early, that premature, but the nuns all knew dad because he worked there in conjunction with the Mayo Clinic and they worked their magic.”

Carol’s mother took her to concerts and instilled a love of music and the arts in her daughter at an early age. “She is and was an angel, taking me to all of the concerts in Rochester. She loved the arts and music. I appreciate that so much. I look back on it and the work that women did back in those days was so physically demanding. Mother would carry up the heavy laundry basket from the basement and hang all those clothes on the clothesline. I remember cleaning the rugs and we would beat them with these rug beaters. It was a hard time for women. I’ll never forget the time when we got a new gas stove and mother was so proud. It was during World War Two and mother had invited some soldiers in Rochester to come for Thanksgiving dinner. Mother was so proud because she had put the turkey in the brand new oven. It was going to be the first time she used the new gas stove. When it came time to eat, nobody could find mother. She was on the back porch crying. It turns out that the stove never lit and the turkey wasn’t cooked. 

“My Aunt Gladys was there and she got some cold cuts and saved the day. We had all the fixings and for supper, and we finally had the turkey that night for dinner, but my poor mother had to go through that. And to be so kind to invite the soldiers to share Thanksgiving.”

It was Henry’s mother who brought the Elwood’s to Boca Grande. 

“Henry’s mom moved down here and bought a condo at the Boca Grande Beach Club,” Carol explained. “After she died we remodeled and we stayed down here longer. The more we stayed, the longer we wanted to stay.”

Carol and Henry now call Boca Grande home six months out of the year. “We are still residents of Iowa. My husband will probably always be a resident of Iowa, I think,” Carol said with a laugh. “We love living at The Sea Oats and we love the fact that we have a lanai where we can sit out and read. We’re glad we came up here.”

After graduating from Valparaiso University with a degree in music education, Carol did her graduate work through the University of Michigan at Interlochen. 

“That was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I did graduate work there, and it was just fabulous. My area was general music, but I had voice lessons at Interlochen with the leading tenor from the San Francisco Opera Company. He turned my thinking about singing around. He said I had been well taught but he was more into the bel canto style of singing. It helped me so much to work with him at Interlochen.” 

Carol taught general music in St. Clair, Mich. for two years, then moved back home to Rochester where she met her future husband Henry. He rescued her one evening at a dance. 

“I had been asked out that night by a fellow named Hugo, who I had been dating. He was a pathologist at The Mayo Clinic and he had called that day to ask me out. I said I had too many test papers to correct and I just wouldn’t be able to, but I ended up going to the dance anyway.  Who should come in just after I had arrived with my friends, but Hugo, who glared at me across the dance floor. I said ‘Dear God, please send somebody over here to dance with me?’ And that’s when Henry came over.”

Carol and Henry started to date every Saturday night, but Hugo was still in the picture for a while. 

“I would date Hugo on Friday and Henry on Saturday, but I think the good Lord wanted me to see the difference in the two,” she said with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

Now a mother of three daughters and a grandmother of seven, ages 9 through 29, Carol spent her career as a music educator, church choir director, and organist. 

“When I moved to Cresco after I got married, people learned that I had been a music teacher,” she explained. “I started getting calls for being a piano teacher. I never thought I would be a piano teacher, but I did it anyway. I had quite a few students that became music educators.”

Even though Carol has retired from teaching music, she is still going strong on stage in Boca Grande despite the COVID-19 shutdown. “We’ve been doing these plays on video, ‘The Bad Boys of Boca Grande,’ and I play Penny. I become the girlfriend of one of the men named ‘Stu’ on the show. We’re still doing a couple more episodes of it and I’m going to be doing some more taping. It has been difficult with COVID. It turned my life upside down. It’s difficult not to see friends but it’s been a rough time for everybody.”

Despite the challenges, Carol enjoys spending her “third act” onstage. Carol shares that her favorite thing about performing is “the freedom of being someone else. But the most challenging thing is learning and knowing the lines. It’s a lot of work and very tiring. There’s something that happens when I get on stage. I get nervous and the lines leave my head. But I just plow through because it’s so much fun being on stage. And I am loving these ‘Bad Boys of Boca Grande.’”