ROCKY RIVER, Ohio- Fox 8 News Reporter Suzanne Stratford was born and raised in Northeast Ohio but for the last 12 years, she has called the west side of town home.
One of her hometown hero’s is a world renown opera singer with a big voice and generous heart.
Laura Pedersen’s voice has been called “brilliant” and “richly textured with gorgeous light tones.”
But if you ask her family and friends, they say it’s her kind and giving spirit that really deserves the accolades.
“It’s all connected,” said Harpist Calvin Stokes, “The talent and charitable work is all a manifestation of the same heart and just different ways it expresses itself.”
Calvin has been friends with Laura and performing with her for years.
He is also one of the first people she calls when it’s time to hold a concert for charity.
“What do I think when she calls me, or what do I think when she calls me to do charitable work?” chuckled Calvin.
They call their act “Harp & Heels” and together they have held numerous performances for charity.
That’s when they aren’t traveling the world and lighting up stages from Vienna to New York.
When we sat down with Laura at her home in Rocky River she was preparing for an upcoming role in Tosca to be performed in Panama.
Laura’s only regret traveling so often is that it interferes with her volunteering.
“We travel so much. I wish I could do more physically but you do what you can do.”
But Laura already does a lot.
She and her husband of 15 years Brad Roller are involved in numerous organizations.
They include the American Red Cross, The West side Catholic Center, The Servants for Mary Shrine, Homes for Our Troops, The Wounded Warrior Project, Park Synagogue, Research at The Cleveland Clinic and one of her personal favorites WESEM.
“We love WESEM, which is the West Side Ecumenical Ministries,” said Laura, “They do a million things to help people with a hand up rather than a hand out. I mean who doesn’t want to help somebody who wants to help themselves.”
When Laura was told she was selected as a Fox 8 Hometown Hero she was stunned but her husband Brad wasn’t surprised.
“Good choice,” he quipped, “She is a jewel, a world class opera singer and she does a tremendous job giving back to the community also.”
Laura says she loves volunteering and helping those in need because she remembers everyone who helped her along the way: a small town girl who grew up in Iowa and landed in Cleveland.
While she was in college and struggling to make it, she says someone was always there to lend a helping hand or offer a free music lesson.
“You know this is my one gift and I’m happy to give it to anybody in need that it can help,” said Laura.
She also says that although she travels the world she could never imagine living anywhere but NE Ohio.
“I’m partial to the Midwest to the kindness, the land and it smells clean, pretty and the rolling landscapes.”
Her conductor Maestro Martin Yazdzik said she is what the Germans call magical people.
“Die Magischen Leute,” said Maestro Yazdzik, “She is one of those unique artists.”