If she were still alive, Thursday (Feb. 7) would be Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 146th birthday. The beloved author has been gone since 1957, but her legacy lives on in hearts of many through her popular “Little House on the Prairie” series of books.
And for the past 20 years, Wilder’s memory has been brought to life for audiences around the country through a one-woman presentation by professional storyteller Marie Tschopp of Sherrard, Ill.
Dressed in her pioneer-themed costume consisting of a blue calico dress, brown apron and old-fashioned boots, Tschopp brings a talent for acting as well as her passion for the inspirational stories penned by Wilder and entertains her audience as “Laura.”
“I wanted to tell stories that inspired as well as entertained and appealed to a wide audience,” Tschopp says.
Her presentation contains anecdotes from the “Little House” book series as well as information she has gathered from letters and speeches written by Wilder. One of the crowd favorites is a story from the book “On the Banks of Plum Creek” when Laura gets even with the mean Nellie Olsen by tricking her into wading into a creek that contained “blood-sucking leeches.”
Another favorite tale that Tschopp likes to share with her audiences is the “grasshopper story.”
In this instance, Pa Ingalls had planted wheat that looked like it would put the family ahead monetarily. A few weeks before it was to be harvested, a plague of grasshoppers destroyed the entire crop, leaving the family emotionally and financially devastated. Tschopp believes that this particular story, even though it was first published in 1937, carries a timeless theme that people can still relate to today.
“The economy is horrible and there are lots of hurting people having their own personal ‘grasshopper’ invasions where their own crop of dreams is being destroyed,” she says.
Tschopp believes that the message of faith and courage in the face of hard times is a common theme through the Ingalls Wilder books.
“The grasshopper invasion that Laura wrote about was just a chapter, not the entire book. There were happy years ahead. That is what I hope to convey,” she adds.
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Tschopp is a member of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving research surrounding Ingalls Wilder, her family and the “Little House” home sites.
The organization sponsors an annual “Laurapalooza” conference in Mankato, Minn., that Tschopp attended for the first time last year. Experts on Ingalls Wilder led presentations, and participants took a field trip to one of Laura’s home sites in Walnut Grove, Minn. Another highlight was getting to meet Dean Butler, who played Almanzo Wilder, and Alison Armgrim, who played Nellie Olson in the “Little House” TV series that aired during much of the 1970s and the early ‘80s.
Tschopp and her husband Brian are empty-nesters. When she is not traveling to storytelling events, Tschopp works in health information management at Iowa Cancer Specialists in Davenport. A year ago, Brian lost his job and is now a full-time student. That turn of events reminds Tschopp of the hardships Ingalls Wilder and her husband faced during the first years of their marriage.
“I can definitely relate to Laura and Almanzo having to start over,” she says.