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Little House on the Prairie and Eeyore

June 27, 2008 - Cindy Votruba
For more than 30 years, people from Walnut Grove and the surrounding communities (even Marshall) come together for more than two months to put on a pageant depicting Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life during the years she and her family lived in the town. It starts with an older Laura, played by Beth Kleven, looking back on her life.

It seems like a lot of the “usual suspects” come back to be in the pageant. There’s Errol Steffen of Walnut Grove who has played Charles Ingalls for years and years. Ron Kelsey has made Mr. Oleson his own. Ryan and Shane Parker of Milroy have been several different characters. And there’s 84-year-old Richard Davis playing Mr. Hanson, the Norwegian fellow who more or less sticks the Ingalls family with this dugout.

But the pageant also attracts lots of kids, and they mainly play Kennedy or Nelson children. Sometimes these families can have as many as 11 kids. But the coveted role among the kids, well the girls anyways, is Nellie Oleson. For some reason, being the nasty villainess is just plain fun. And is usually unlike themselves in real life. Amy VanDorsten just smiled as I asked her if she was playing Nellie this year. She was also one of the von Trapp children in Tracy’s production of “Sound of Music,” so she’s a seasoned actress.

Every year during the last week of June, the pageant has a media night in which local newspapers are invited to come down to the site. Again, I see the usual suspects, such as Tom from the Westbrook paper, Erik from the Redwood Falls paper and Val from the Tracy paper. It’s a night where the actors perform certain scenes and are in full costume and we can interview whomever we want. I’ll admit I enjoy the challenge of trying to get a good “fire” shot (one of the scenes is “Prairie Fire” in which Caroline and the girls are beating at a fire with wet gunney sacks). One year, I actually got a good one. I think getting that perfect “fire” shot is a goal of Tom’s too. But this year, I didn’t stick around for the Prairie Fire scene (and it is actual fire that is used!).

While wandering around backstage, I took a few photos of the kids doing different things while waiting for the scenes to start. Some were playing with crystal sticks (those things you see at the Renaissance Festival). I had asked a girl her name for a potential cutline. Her first name was Kalliope. She started spelling her last name M-I-L-N and then E. Milne. Like the Winnie the Pooh author, I said aloud. That’s my great-great uncle, Kalliope said. I asked Kalliope where she was from, sensing a possible future story, descendants of the author who created characters like Tigger and my hero, Eeyore. Lamberton, she said. Alas, that’s out of my coverage area.

But she’s not out of my blog’s coverage area. I wonder if Kalliope has a favorite 100 Acre Wood character.


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