By Nell Musolf
Special to The Free Press
Although the first LauraPalooza conference has yet to take place, it’s a pretty safe bet that a good time will be had by all.
“LauraPalooza 2010: Legacies” is a three-day, multi-event extravaganza that is dedicated to all things related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, her life and her writings.
“It just came to me,” says Amy Mattson Lauters, the moving force behind the event and a Laura Ingalls Wilder scholar. “The idea of having an event that was all about Laura simmered in the back of my mind for quite some time before I began working on it.”
And work on it she has. Since the fall of 2008, the Minnesota State University mass communications professor has been pulling together speakers, panelists and presentations to create an almost non-stop Laura-athon meant to satisfy even the most dedicated of fans.
When Lauters first began working on LauraPalooza, she thought the event could be held in one of the conference rooms at MSU. The more she planned, though, the more she realized she’d need something bigger.
“After hearing from about half a dozen rabid fans, I knew that there was a great deal of interest out there. It was really the fans who moved the whole thing forward,” says Lauters.
Lauters is in almost constant contact with other Laura Ingalls Wilders aficionados via her website, www.beyondlittlehouse.com, which is dedicated to “the life, literature, and many homes of Laura Ingalls Wilder.” The site also describes the newly formed Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. LIWLRA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preserving and encouraging research regarding Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane and the Little House home sites. LIWLRA, along with the mass communications department at MSU, is sponsoring LauraPalooza.
In February, two dozen people had registered to attend the event. The count at the end of June had grown to 145. However, for people who want to attend and haven’t registered yet, there will be 100 day passes available for each day of the conference on a first-come, first-served basis.
Among the events planned are a tin pail lunch that is actually a barbecue buffet, a spelling bee and a field trip to Walnut Grove. Guest speakers include Laura Ingalls Wilder biographer John Miller and Dean Butler, the actor who played Laura’s husband Almanzo on the Little House television series in the 1970’s. Butler will be screening a documentary about Laura Ingalls Wilder on Friday evening. There will also be crafting and educational workshops.
Presentations during the conference range from a panel entitled, “Loving Laura in a Lindsay Lohan World,” to “Too Much Estrogen in this Little House?” Dave Larsen, MSU’s Director of American Indian Affairs, will be presenting “The Minnesota Dakota Conflicts,” a talk that Lauters hints might prove to be controversial. “There are so many different angles to that part of history,” she says.
The Betsy-Tacy Society will be joining in the fun too. On Saturday, Bryce Stenzel will give a talk called “The Gift of History” that will compare the lives of Maud Hart Lovelace and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Carlienne Frisch collaborated with Stenzel on the speech. “These two women gave us the gift of history through their writings,” Frisch says. “They gave us a window into life at that time.” The Betsy-Tacy Society will also be giving walking tours of Betsy’s neighborhood featuring her new friend Laura.
Lauters was assisted with the myriad of details that go into planning a large conference by several public relations students at MSU. “The students volunteered to help out and they were great. I don’t know what I would have done without them,” Lauters says, adding that some of the students graduated in May but continued to volunteer their time.
Lauters hopes to make the conference a biannual event and has already reserved the rooms for 2012. Speaking of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, Lauters says, “Neither was prepared for how popular the books would be.”