Kimberley Endicott is throwing a birthday party later this month – but it’s not her birthday.
Endicott is a passionate reader of the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder, an early 20th century author whose books, including “Little House on the Prairie” have been read by millions over the years and were even the inspiration for the classic 1970’s-era TV show of the same name.
Endicott’s love of Wilder’s work began as a second-grader in Seward. Battling illness for much of her young life, she said her mother promised her a trip to the bookstore if she wouldn’t cry after getting a shot during one particular visit to the doctor.
“I had to get a lot of shots when I was a kid, and after that one trip to the doctor she took me to the bookstore and said I could get whatever book I wanted, so I chose ‘On The Banks of Plum Creek,’” she said.
And, before long, she was hooked on Wilder’s work.
“I was an advanced reader back then and I begged my teacher to let me check her books out from the advanced section of the school library so I could read her books,” she said.
After getting a series of Wilder books for Christmas, Endicott’s interest in that era of American history was piqued. She admits to getting lost in Wilder’s storylines and characters.
“It was just a very vivid picture in my mind and I wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “When I was reading as a little girl, I could see myself either as Ma or Mary or even Pa or Jack the Bulldog. It was very real to me and I would read them over and over again.”
She rekindled her interest in Wilder’s writing as an adult and has collected numerous collections of Wilder’s work, as well as books about Wilder written by several noteworthy experts such as William Anderson, Wendy McClure and Pamela Smith Hill, who recently published “Pioneer Girl,” is an annotated autobiography of the author.
Two years ago, Endicott attended a “LauraPalooza” celebration in Brookings, S.D., put on by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association, and after spending a weekend getting to know fellow Wilder enthusiasts, felt the need to do something to honor Wilder’s legacy and keep her stories alive for future generations.
“I don’t have kids of my own or live near one of her home sites where I could volunteer my time, but I decided that I needed to do something to help continue her legacy,” she said.
Endicott said she met and became friends with a number of fellow Wilder fans and experts from all over the world. One of the presenters at the conference was from England and discussed the British translation of Wilder’s writings and how the wording in the British versions of her books differ from the American version. Another presenter hailed from Japan and talked about the growing interest in Wilder’s work in that country as well.
“People come from all over the world,” Endicott said. “When you think about it, Laura Ingalls Wilder traveled across the country in a wagon, and by the time she had died we had gone from wagons to trains to automobiles. It’s amazing how much things changed in her lifetime, and that’s why these books resonate to me so much because you read the books and it’s amazing how much life changed, and it’s important to keep these stories alive for future generations to help them understand how America grew as a nation.”
Last year, Endicott contacted Julie Osnes at the Wayne City Library, and the two helped put together plans for a 150th birthday party for Wilder – whose birthday is Feb. 7, 1867.
The party will be held at the library after school on Tuesday, Feb. 21, and Endicott said kids and parents who attend will have a chance to take part in several activities that were a part of Wilder’s life on the prairie as a young girl in the 19th century.
“We’re going to make butter, have a wash pan and wash board to wash clothes with lye soap, string buttons and beads and do a number of activities that were part of that time in our history,” Endicott said. “And, of course, we’ll have birthday cake.”
Endicott said that her interest in America’s history, particularly during the westward expansion period when Wilder grew up, is something she feels kids should never forget.
“The colonization and westward expansion are such a key part to our country’s history, and it would be sad to me if all of this goes away,” she said. “I thought that having a birthday party for her 150th would be a great chance to engage local kids and their parents and encourage them to read some of her books.”
Endicott said she plans on attending a LauraPalooza event this summer near Mansfield, Mo., and encourages readers of all ages to read one Wilder’s classic books.
“I’d love it if parents would expose their kids to her books and, hopefully, their kids would read them and learn to love them and maybe pass it on to future generations,” she said. “There is some amazing American history in her work and I’m hoping this party will help people see that and maybe help continue her legacy for future generations.”