A recent MankatoLIFE article (published Oct. 29), A Special Homecoming: Author Maud Hart Lovelace honored in Mankato in 1961, sparked memories for several people who had attended the event as children in 1961.
Young readers’ memories
Kathy Frahm was a seven-year-old red-headed little girl when she was “discovered” by Nadine Sugden (a board member of the American Association of University Women, which was organizing the event) looking for another Tacy.
“I remember someone came to Jefferson School and asked me if I would participate,” Kathy wrote. “I recall being excited about participating and posing for the picture that appeared in the Free Press. I remember sitting in the front row in front of a stage at Lincoln School for part of the program. I recall my foot got caught on the hem of the antique dress I was wearing and ripped it.”
I remember the gracious lady, so well dressed, that told me I looked like her memories of herself. I told her that I thought she was writing about me. I remember thinking I wanted to be like her when I grew up.Lydia Sorensen
Lydia Sorensen was also 7 years old when she dressed as a young Betsy for Betsy-Tacy Days.
“I remember the gracious lady, so well dressed, that told me I looked like her memories of herself,” she wrote. “I told her that I thought she was writing about me. She asked me who read them to me and I boasted that I could read them myself. She gave me the sweetest smile. I remember thinking I wanted to be like her when I grew up.”
Joanne Maas was 10 years old when Maud visited Mankato in 1961. Her parents, Elmer and Margaret Nerge, owned the Cherry Bookstore, located on Cherry Street, and they carried Maud Hart Lovelace’s books.
“I remember going to the lecture at Lincoln School and the book signing at the old Carnegie Library,” Maas wrote. “There was such a crowd pressing in to get the author’s autograph that someone (I perceived her as a bossy lady!) began trying to push people into a more orderly line. I was shunted aside and never did get my book autographed by Mrs. Lovelace. I remember being so very disappointed by that, although I did get Tacy, Tib, and Alice.
“Because I grew up in Mankato and literally in a bookstore, I was always aware of the Lovelace books. I have all the Betsy-Tacy books and have read a number of her other books as well,” Maas added.
[Maud] was impeccably dressed and wore a beautiful pearl necklace. She was wearing the most beautiful perfume. I felt as if we were in the company of a great lady, a sophisticated woman. All these years later, the memory really stuck with me.Jan A.
A little girl at the time, Jan A. remembers standing neatly and quietly in a line.
“We each got to present something we wanted signed by Mrs. Lovelace,” she recalled. “I remember noticing how different she was from my grandmother and great aunts. She was impeccably dressed and wore a beautiful pearl necklace. She was wearing the most beautiful perfume. I felt as if we were in the company of a great lady, a sophisticated woman. All these years later, the memory really stuck with me.”
The Minneapolis Star published a story describing Betsy-Tacy Days in Mankato. These are excerpts from the October 9, 1961 article (with excerpted text in italics):
While Maud Hart Lovelace is Again ‘Betsy’ For Three Days, Mankato Becomes ‘Deep Valley’ of Fiction World
“A number of the characters in the books were inspired by Mrs. Lovelace’s playmates while growing up in Mankato. And many of the stories are based on the adventures of their early life in Mankato.
“Five of the playmates, now ranging in age from 67 to 70, were in Mankato for the event. It was the first time they had been together since high school graduation.
“Tacy, who was shy and had red hair, now is not shy and has grey hair. She is Mrs. Charles Kirch, 70, from Buffalo, New York, a mother of two and grandmother of 10. She is the former Frances Kenny.
She always wanted me to tell her stories of when I was a little girl in Mankato. I told her many stories, and then I decided to put them down in a book.Maud Hart Lovelace
“There was Tib. In the books, Betsy and Tacy plan adventures. But Tib is the only one who’s bold enough to carry them out. Once they plan to learn how to fly. But Tib is the only one who really jumps out of the tree. She is Mrs. Marjorie Gerlach Harris, 69, from Chicago, Illinois.
“There was Winona. In the books, she’s the daredevil of the bunch. Once, when she is all dressed up for a party, she perches herself on top of a bird bath and pretends she’s riding a horse. Winona is Mrs. Beulah Hunt IlgenFritz, 68, from St. Petersburg, Florida.”
While growing up in Mankato, Beulah used to get free tickets to “all the fun things to do” in Mankato from her father Frank W. Hunt, who was the editor of the Mankato Daily Free Press.
“There was Irma. In the books, the boys are crazy about Irma, to the sorrow of the other girls. It isn’t that Irma has to do anything to attract the boys; it’s just that “Irma was built that way,” said Mrs. Lovelace. Irma is Mrs. Mildred Oleson Cahill, 67, from Waseca, Minnesota.
“There was Alice, who is Mrs. Ruth Williams, 69, from Bremerton, Washington.
“The Betsy in the books is Mrs. Lovelace. ‘When I made myself the heroine of all this, I glamorized myself,’ said Mrs. Lovelace, now 69. ‘But I guess that’s the privilege of an author.'”
In 1961, Maud and her husband Delos were living in Claremont, California. Delos was an author and former Minneapolis and New York newspaperman. Their daughter, Merian, was responsible for her mother writing the Betsy-Tacy books.
I love children. Immediately they treat me as if I were one of them. And I guess I really am.Maud Hart Lovelace
“’She always wanted me to tell her stories of when I was a little girl in Mankato,’ said Mrs. Lovelace. ‘I told her many stories, and then I decided to put them down in a book.'”
On the first night of the 3-day event, a large crowd of women and men welcomed Lovelace in the Lincoln School auditorium. Maud opened her talk by introducing Frances (Tacy), Marjorie (Tib), Beulah (Winona), Ruth (Alice) and Mildred (Irma), who figured as characters in her series of Betsy-Tacy books.
The next morning, Maud spoke to a crowd of 350 children at Lincoln School, many of whom came up to her after the program to ask her questions about the books and about living in Mankato in her time.
“One little boy asked, ‘Did you really make everything pudding,’ a pudding with such ingredients as bacon grease, raisins and baking powder.
“’Yes, we really did,’ replied Mrs. Lovelace.”
When the program was all over, Lovelace said: “I love children. Immediately they treat me as if I were one of them. And I guess I really am.”