When Mark Wade embarked on his career as a ventriloquist, he wrote a letter to the most famous practitioner of the time, the late Edgar Bergen, asking for an autograph.

When Mark Wade embarked on his career as a ventriloquist, he wrote a letter to the most famous practitioner of the time, the late Edgar Bergen, asking for an autograph.

Born Edgar Bergren, a name he later simplified when he began performing, in Chicago in 1903, Bergen developed his talent for ventriloquism at a young age, and was still in high school when he asked a local carpenter to craft the head for what would become Charlie McCarthy, his most famous puppet. Edgar Bergen had a nearly 60-year career in vaudeville, radio and motion pictures. He died in Las Vegas on Sept. 30, 1978.

Mark Wade, too, discovered his aptitude for what is sometimes termed "throwing his voice" at a young age. Wade was born in Dayton but moved to Fairfield County when he was a year old. His parents had a weekly newspaper, the Fairfield Leader. As far back as elementary school, Mark Wade began to read up on magic and ventriloquism, and by the time he was majoring in education at Ohio University he was able to pick up some spending money putting on shows.

Wade recently returned to central Ohio after a decade in New York State with his wife, professional clown Jody. They decided to buy a condo in Grove City to be close to his sister.

"It's like singing," Wade recalled of his first experiences with ventriloquism. "Everyone can sing a song, but not everybody's going to be a professional singer.

"It came as a natural thing to me."

After graduating from OU with a bachelor of science in education, Wade began teaching elementary school in the Bloom-Carroll Local School District. He used his talent for ventriloquism in class, which led a friend to suggest he put together an assembly program. Wade said that he had his doubts, but decided to give it a try, anyway.

"It went gangbusters," he recalled.

Buoyed by that success, Wade said that he decided to take a year off from teaching to pursue a career entertaining children.

That was 30 years ago.

Many years later, Wade was attending a convention for ventriloquists that was being covered for CBS' "60 Minutes." The special correspondent for that segment was actress Candice Bergen, the daughter of Edgar Bergen, and among those she chanced to interview was Mark Wade.

When he told of writing to her father for an autograph, Wade recalled that the star of "Murphy Brown" said, "It took a long time to get, didn't it?" It certainly had, Wade told her. That's because, she explained, her father responded to all such requests personally, which made the signature Wade had gotten back all the more precious to him.

When he began doing school assembly shows, Wade said that his main goal was to simply entertain his student audience, but more and more in recent years he's been trying to add a message to the merriment. Wade said that he now considers himself to be as much a motivational speaker for children as a ventriloquist, even though for the last 15 years he's been rated the number one children's ventriloquist by his peers at an annual convention. He uses his puppets -- which are made of cloth as opposed to "figures," which are made of wood or hard material; ventriloquists don't actually have "dummies -- help build character among the children, while adding in anti-bullying message.

"We have a lot of laughs," Wade said. "It's not boring at all, but when the show is done it not only entertains the teachers and the kids but it also educates them."

Even after all these years, Wade said, he still gets a kick out of putting on shows for the very young.

"You feed off their enthusiasm," he said. "Kids are brutally honest. If they love you, they let you know."