Cambria’s Fourth of July festivities began with the usual ceremonies, plus a bowed-head moment of silence to honor someone who was missing, someone who’d been a wonderful part of so many past Independence Day events, fundraisers, concerts and other community activities: entertainer Sheri Odenwald.
As another longtime Cambrian, Delores “Dee Dee” Eckert, wrote on Facebook, “I so remember her always singing and all of us dancing as the afternoon turned into the night and the fireworks were about to start … (It was) the first year without the fireworks and Sheri, and I missed both of them.”
Odenwald, a popular folk singer/songwriter/acoustic guitarist, died June 24 from a pulmonary embolism that resulted from surgery nearly a week earlier. While she’d been ill off and on for about a year, nobody expected that she might not survive the surgical recovery period.
Townspeople, other Central Coast entertainers, friends and family members are still in shock, they say. Social media and emails were filled with many tributes that would have been tear-stained had they been delivered by hand or snail mail.
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A celebration of life is scheduled for noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9, at the Cambria Veterans Memorial Building. Condolence cards or letters can be sent to P. O. Box 100, San Simeon CA 93452.
Odenwald, known in the past in some venues as “Sheri O” or “Sheri Geiger,” moved from Santa Barbara to Cambria in 1979. She’d been here ever since, raising her four children and her voice in songs, many of which she wrote herself.
According to a biography Odenwald wrote for her children and information they’ve gleaned from other family members, the popular singer was born in Santa Barbara, but grew up primarily in Carlsbad, N.M. She trained herself to sing opera and sang first in the Baptist Church at age 9, then as a jam-session vocalist/carhop at the Blue Onion.
“I was on stage for the first time in 1960 at the age of 14,” Odenwald wrote. “I was married and already pregnant with my first child.”
Divorced by the age of 16 after her husband deserted her, Odenwald sang at Nexus in Santa Barbara.
She wrote that she’d put her two kids “to sleep on the pizza table in the kitchen so I could sit on stage and sing with all of the best of the best in Santa Barbara.”
Odenwald moved in with her mother in Hawaii, joining The Elites band, and working separately at the Geedunk, a Pearl Harbor eatery for enlisted men.
Her future managers, Hank Bryan and Al Cohen, discovered her on a Waikiki beach.
They paired her with para-marine Tom “Pussycat” Taylor, and the duo performed as Tom and Sheri.
Odenwald returned to Santa Barbara, as did Forrest Geiger, who had also performed in Hawaii. As a new duo, they performed at the New Nexus club and did lead-ins for big-time entertainers. The couple married and had twins, but divorced when the babies were 3 years old.
She moved to the Santa Ynez Valley and, as Sheri Geiger, performed at Mattei’s Tavern, Cold Spring Tavern, the Mollekron in Solvang, Union Hotel in Los Alamos and Ace Diamond’s Teasers.
Move to Cambria
Seeking to escape the trappings of celebrity, she and her children moved to Cambria, where she carved out a secure place for herself in the area’s music industry and the hearts of her hometown audience.
Her first job was at the desk of the Cambria Pines Lodge, a venue in which she would perform regularly for decades as a singer.
Odenwald is survived by husband Lee Odenwald, children Theresa “Teri,” Pat, Forrest and Shannon, grandchildren Tyler, Cameron and Eli, other family members and so many friends.
While her celebrity was linked to her music, her true lasting legacy is the warmth, love and support she provided constantly to family, friends and total strangers alike.
Editor’s note: Staff writer Kathe Tanner first met Sheri Geiger Odenwald in 1979. Tanner says she’s honored to have been able to call Odenwald a dear friend. The Odenwald family submitted the following remembrance:
"The Odenwalds: Brick and mortar, heart and soul"
After 32 years together, and 30 years in marriage, you move as one. In our relationship, I’ve been the brick and mortar, and Sheri was my heart and soul.
On the eve of her surgery and in her room, the first thing out of her mouth was, “Did you eat?” I said, “Do I look like I missed a meal?” and we laughed.
That was her heart.
The wedding and celebrations of life she often sang for, those were her soul.
Sheri loved doing for people. She loved this town and the people in it.
Thank you all for giving us the space we needed in this tough time.
Sheri Odenwald’s family
Lee, Teri, Pat, Forrest and Shannon