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Iris Daniel Engel Barnes

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Enjoying the sounds of one of her piano students practicing in the next room, Iris Daniel Engel Barnes died peacefully in her sleep, bringing to a close a long and prodigious career of 72 years of music education. Iris, 91, spent the last 22 years of her life in the beautiful mountains of northeast Georgia. One didn't think of Iris Engel without thinking about her tremendous contribution not only to the world of music but to the education of young people in Central Florida for over 50 years, and those in Northeast Georgia for over 20 years. She was born in Tennille, Georgia, on October 29, 1914, moved to Lakeland, Florida in 1923, graduated from Lakeland High School in 1932, and from Stetson University in 1936. At a young age, and due to her exceptional talent, she began teaching piano in Lakeland under the tutelage of her own teacher. After graduating from Stetson University, she established her private studio on South Street, in the days of unpaved roads in downtown Orlando. In 1938 she purchased the beautiful red brick building on the comer of Summerlin and Palmer streets, specifically for establishing the Iris Daniel Engel School of Music, for the education of young people in Central Florida. She was a true visionary, able to identify a need for a comprehensive music education, and meet that need by instituting theory classes for all students, as well as Recital performances on a regular monthly basis, in addition to their private study. Even before the days of I-4 and the Beeline, young people came from as far away as Leesburg and Merritt Island to study with her. Students grew up together at the Iris Daniel Engel School of Music, beginning at the age of four or five, and sometimes younger for an exceptional child. They enjoyed fun, fellowship, camaraderie, and musical growth throughout their secondary years of education. There were many groups of students over the years, which formed lifelong friendships, and always managed to stay in touch with "Mrs. Engel", who literally touched the lives of thousands of young people in the area. Iris Daniel Engel was a founding member of the Central Florida Music Teachers Association, and the initial discussions were held in her School. The organization was founded in 1953 as the local chapter of both the Florida State Music Teachers Association and the Music Teachers National Association. It was designed to be of educational value to teachers, and to provide performance opportunities for students. She served as one of the first Presidents of the Association, which is still active as a professional organization in the community. Iris Engel was also a member of many other music organizations, including the National Guild of Piano Teachers, which she and other prominent musicians brought to the Orlando area in the early 50's. She worked with Dr. Guy Maier, of UCLA, Dr. Irl Allison of Austin, TX and Mary Jarman Nelson of Rollins College, to bring these auditions to Central Florida. Other memberships include the National Federation of Music Clubs, and Music Educators National Conference, to name a few. She was a highly sought-after adjudicator for competitions and evaluations all over the country. Over the years, she presented many workshops and seminars for teachers, and conducted Master Classes for students. She, along with Vonelle McClelland Black and Judson B. Walker, former Chairman of the Orange County Board of Education, initiated a program through the Florida State Music Teachers Association for providing High School credit for students in grades 9-12 for their participation in private music study. A strenuous examination of aural and written theory skills, as well as performance of advanced literature, constituted the criteria for receiving credit. Iris Engel also introduced the Yamaha Piano to Central Florida, becoming one of the first Yamaha dealers in the Southeast. She was also an original investor in the HoneyBee Ranch in East Orlando, owned and operated by her son, Dan. She was always active in her church, First Baptist of Orlando, and was pianist there for many years during the period in which the congregation worshipped in the beautiful round sanctuary on the corner of Pine and Magnolia. She had many students follow in her footsteps to become highly recognized church musicians, most notably George Atwell, Organist at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. Many of her students have completed graduate work, earning Masters and Doctorates in music, and are now scattered throughout college and university faculties across the country. Many others became prominent attorneys, doctors and school teachers, attributing much of their success to the character building that she instilled in her students, the self-esteem that came with performances before their parents and peers, and the brain development that is particularly evident in piano study. She was one of the first to recognize this phenomenon; these ideas have been widely publicized in the last few decades with such notable theories as '"The Mozart Effect". Iris relinquished the reins of the Engel School of Music to daughter Drucilla in 1984, and moved to Clayton, in the mountains of Northeast GA. Those who knew Iris Engel knew that retirement was not part of her agenda. Soon after her move to Clayton, she filled the need for an organist at both Clayton Presbyterian Church and the Chapel of Sky Valley. She held these positions until failing eyesight made it impossible to continue. She maintained a sizable piano studio, sending many students off to colleges with significant music scholarships. Iris Daniel married Carl Frederic Engel in 1942 and together they had four sons and one daughter. These five children, plus 15 grandchildren and six great grandchildren, survive her. Sons: Charles Richard (Rick), Myakka City, FL, with his three children, Deborah Clark, Shannon Noble, and Sheri Engel, who among them have six children: Thomas Daniel (Dan) of Orlando and Daytona Beach, with two children Daniel Goodman Engel, and Nancy Iris Engel; John Robert and wife Camille Naylor Engel of Tiger, GA with five children: Stephanie Engel, Amy Wells, Sarah Miller, Jonathan Engel, and Hope L. Engel, Joseph William, Orlando, and first wife, Diane O'Donnell Engel with three children: Mary Kathleen (Katie) Engel, Emily Engel, and Joseph W. Engel, Jr. and second wife MaryAnn Wampler-Dunn. Daughter Drucilla, Orlando, with two children, Lauren Hennig-Olschafskie and Scott Hennig. In 1969, Iris married Thomas Carl Barnes founder of Tropical Men's Wear on South Orange Blossom Trail, the first store in Central Florida specializing in clothes for large, tall and short men. Carl Barnes preceded Iris in death in 1998 and is survived by his one daughter, Lyra Pointer of Bryan, TX. Also preceeding Iris in death were her five brothers, Joseph, Robert, Burdette, Russell, and Thomas. A special tribute service for Iris was held in the Clayton Presbyterian Church this past Sunday, in which her students played the piano, and shared fond memories of their unique relationships and special times with her. Many of her student's parents spoke of their deep appreciation of her influence on their children, and members of her churches and community spoke of their love for her and her music. Interment will be on October 29 in Zeta Cemetery in Tennille, GA. A scholarship fund has been established in her memory. Contributions may be made to the School of Music, Stetson University, 421 N. Woodland Blvd., Deland, FL 32723. Please indicate on the memo line: Iris Daniel Engel Memorial Piano Scholarship Fund. A former student has very generously agreed to match all contributions to the scholarship fund, up to $100,000.
Published in the Orlando Sentinel on Oct. 15, 2006
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