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IHS Teacher - Elizabeth Fairbanks Barrell Skinner

May 2021

By Aileen Carney Sweeney

May 2021 - Ilion Teacher Liz Skinner


A Renaissance Teacher

English/Science Teacher, Librarian and Life Saver

Members of the IHS Class of 1974 had the privilege of first being introduced to Mrs. Fairbanks in our 8th grade year. She came to the district as a long-term substitute for 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Lydia Dibble, who was out on a medical leave. From the day we first met her, our image of what a teacher should look like and how they should interact with students was forever changed. Years later, we fondly referred to her as our 'hippie teacher'.

1973 Yearbook - Lydia Dibble and Liz Fairbanks
1973 Yearbook - Junior High English Teachers
Lydia Dibble and Liz Fairbanks

She assigned the 8th grade English class the project of writing and performing a play. The play was our participation event for the first 'Earth Day' held on April 22, 1970. The play’s setting was a courtroom trial. The earth was the defendant and about to be condemned to death. Steve Russell gamely wore a globe over his head to portray the doomed earth. A jury of 12, including yours truly, wore monk like shrouds. Nancy Morris testified as Ms. Consumer who loved her aerosol products. Philip Anderson had the grim task of executing the earth by chopping off earth's head. The executioner wore a black mask, black tights and a really cool silver vest that was created and provided by an upperclassman. The vest was made out of intertwined beer can tabs and Mrs. Fairbanks thought it would be perfect for our play. She sent us out into the community to ask for other props; incense from Annunciation church and a real coffin from the funeral home. We had a ball rehearsing and performing our little play. The big thrill was the response from the Senior High Assembly where we received a huge round of cheering applause.

1974 Yearbook - Liz Fairbanks Librarian
1974 Yearbook - Liz Fairbanks Librarian

She taught Junior High English, served as Junior High Librarian and ended her IHS career as a science teacher. You might have only known her as Mrs. Elizabeth Fairbanks during the 1970s and early 80s. She organized the Junior High 'HIP' club whose acronym stood for "Help Ilion's Pollution". She taught students the art of bee keeping when she installed bee hives on the east side hill by the football field. She also taught at BOCES. She later was known as Ms. Barrell when she taught science. By 1993, her name had changed to Mrs. Skinner. She stayed on with the district for a total of 27 years until she retired in 1997. After retirement, she continued teaching and coordinating the Summer Bible School program.


Forty Years Later...


Harley-Davidson Utica - Liz's Leather
Harley-Davidson Utica NY
Liz's Leather


Mrs. Fairbanks - Liz's Leather

Mrs. Fairbanks-Barrell-Skinner was last known as The Leather Lady! at Utica's Harley-Davidson store. The tribute to her on the Utica's Harley-Davidson web page shows that she was still helping others in need.

Liz, you see, is a leather seamstress. We figured it would be great for people who wanted to buy patches or already had patches they wanted to have sewn on their vests and jackets. Liz's first visit was a big hit. We invited her back, customers just loved the convenience and soon she became our own "leather seamstress in residence".

But Liz Skinner is more than just someone who can sew on a patch or make a repair to your leather jacket. If you spend some time in conversation with her, you may find she has a wealth of knowledge. We’ve eavesdropped on her discussions of exactly how bees go about making honey and the play-by-play of Upstate New York geology, starting 350 million years ago. It's sort of like watching the Discovery Channel and having your jacket worked on all at the same time.

More importantly, Liz has a true heart of gold and spends much of her spare time helping others in need. She was instrumental in starting our involvement with the Rescue Mission and the organization of the "Riders to the Rescue" benefit ride which has grown each year since it began in 2002 and now raises thousands of dollars to support the Rescue Mission's efforts in helping the homeless, the hungry and the addicted.


Liz's Obituary 2021

Elizabeth 'Liz' Faribanks Barrell Skinner - Ilion NY
Elizabeth "Liz" Fairbanks Barrell Skinner
1975 - IHS Teacher

Elizabeth "Liz" Barrell Skinner - IHS Faculty, 81, of Herkimer, passed away peacefully on April 20, 2021 at Valley Health Services in Herkimer. Liz was born on October 7, 1939 in Providence RI, daughter of Joseph and Beth (Hawkey) Barrell. Liz began her teaching career in Frankfort, transferred to Ilion High School as a librarian, taught English and General Science while earning her M.Ed. from Syracuse University, then taught Regents Earth Science before retiring after more than 30 years as an educator. Beloved by her students, she supported them in everything from remedial reading to coaching Girls Cross Country to starting the Future Bikers of America organization with some Ilion students. She brought her deep love of geology to all she met, taking students on fossil hunts throughout the Mohawk Valley and never returning from a trip without a new rock. She read road cuts like great literature. To take a walk with Liz was to learn that everything in nature had a name, a history, a purpose. For her, there was no contradiction between science and religion -- it was all God's creation. In 1990 in Lewisburg, PA, she was united in marriage to James Skinner, with whom she shared over 30 years of loving companionship. Liz was a person of many talents and known throughout the northeast for her sewing and repair business, "Liz's Leather." She and her husband were regulars at regional motorcycle events, socializing while repairing leather garments and sewing patches onto jackets. She was a member of Christ Episcopal Church in Herkimer, where she and her husband helped prepare and serve community meals for those in need. Liz is survived by her loving husband Jim, and her children: Kirsten "Bee" Tolman, Stacia Tolman, Ebenezer Tolman, Sorche Fairbank, Alex Fairbank, and Jose Keil. She is predeceased by her brother Renn Tolman and sister Sarah Webb Barrell. Her family wishes to thank the staff at Valley Health Services for their unceasing care and compassion given during her stay. In keeping with Liz's wishes, there are no public services at this time, services will be planned when weather improves and COVID restriction are eased. Friends and family are asked to please consider donation in Liz's memory to either Catholic Charities 61 West St. Ilion, NY 13357 or Christ Episcopal Church Community Outreach Dinner 300 N. Main St. Herkimer, NY 13350. Arrangements are with the Whiter-Hendrix Funeral Home, 100 Otsego St., Ilion, NY. To send an online condolence please go to (April 28, 2021)


Created and maintained by Aileen Carney Sweeney - Class of 1974

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May 4, 2021