Laura’s Corner

Laura fans can get together at LauraPalooza

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Sarah Manley, of Waconia, Minn., was first a fan of the Little House TV show, but it introduced her to the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder and led her to researching the back stories of the books. For Sarah Manley, Wilder’s life and books is a life passion, which led her to first become a member of Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association in 2010, a volunteer at conferences and eventually a member of the board of directors and an elected president of the international non-profit organization in January.

Many fans of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books were fans of the TV show. The show introduced generations of viewers to the Little House series and eventually to Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author.

Little House on the Prairie was introduced to TV audiences in 1974, and since that first episode, the series has never been off the air. It has generated a fan base that rivals Star Trek, complete with the costumes. Little girls and middle-aged women visit the home sites in prairie dresses and bonnets. There are dozens of fan pages on Facebook, and those fans seek the opportunity for meet and greets, autographs and pictures with the characters they love.

No one has embraced their character’s real-life counterpart as much as Dean Butler, the actor who played Almanzo Wilder, husband of Laura Ingalls. Butler made it a mission to honor the legacy of Almanzo, Laura and their families with documentaries and Pa’s Fiddle Project, which recognizes the impact of traditional hymns, gospel and country music on American culture. Pa’s Fiddle Project features music from the “Little House” books, performed by Randy Travis, Ronnie Milsap and Natalie Grant.

As a result of Butler’s contribution to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy, he is the 2022 Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association (LIWLRA) Legacy Award winner. The award will be presented at this year’s LauraPalooza conference. Butler will also serve as a conference keynote speaker.

LauraPalooza 2022 will be held July 12-15 at Doubletree by Hilton in Burlington, Vt., with a conference-ending day trip to Malone, N.Y., the setting for the second book in the Little House series, Farmer Boy. This book introduces readers to young Almanzo Wilder.

Interest in Laura Ingalls Wilder has seen a resurgence in recent years, in part thanks to the Emmy-nominated 2019 PBS American Masters episode, From Prairie to Page, and Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser.

When Manley was eight, she started reading the Little House books and read every one in her local library. For Christmas, she received the entire set from her grandmother and has read and reread the books. It was so fascinating to learn that a little girl who grew up just a couple of hours away from her became a world-renowned author. A trip when Manley was 10, to Walnut Grove to see the pageant, just reinforced her interest in learning more about the real life Laura Ingalls Wilder. When Sarah met her husband David Manley, formerly of Arlington, S.D., she was excited to frequently visit the many sites around De Smet featured in the books, at her own pace, in all four seasons.

Manley first learned about LauraPalooza in July of 2010, just a few days before the conference was held at Minnesota State University in Mankato. Since the first conference, Manley and her fellow participants learned details about specific incidents from the books (the location of the seed wheat in The Long Winter and the Brewster School in These Happy Golden Years), the rocky relationship between Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, Ingalls and Wilder ancestry and stories of their pioneer travels and international reaction to the books.

One of the most exciting things Manley has done in her time with LIWLRA is travel to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, in West Branch, Iowa. There, she explored the archived collection of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s papers and letters. Looking at the original handwritten manuscript of The First Four Years and comparing it to the printed book was an unforgettable experience. She also had access to unpublished diaries, papers and other parts of the archived collection. Manley has also made many trips to all of the homesites in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota, waded in Plum Creek and viewed original Garth Williams artwork that is featured in the published novels. Manley treasures an early edition of Little House on the Prairie from the Kingsbury County Library, in addition to dozens of books, articles, pamphlets and more information about the Ingalls and Wilder families.

LauraPalooza is an academic conference. Those attending are huge fans of the Little House books and television show and are collectors of Laura-related artifacts.

Anyone interested in Laura Ingalls Wilder, her life, her books and the TV show, is welcome to attend this year’s LauraPalooza event and to join the LIWLRA. For more information, visit the organization’s website at www.liwlra.org or visit our Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association Facebook page or Twitter handle at @LIWLegacy.

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