It Takes All Kinds of People to Make a Conference

By all accounts, from both organizers and attendees, LauraPalooza 2015 was an unmitigated success. As with any large endeavor, it did not come together in a vacuum. The whole reason LauraPalooza unfolded as seamlessly as it did was its team of dedicated volunteers, many of whom worked steadily for well over a year to make these three days happen.

A long time ago, when all the grandfathers and grandmothers of today were little boys and little girls or very small babies, or perhaps not even born, Bill Anderson and John Miller, along with the board of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association, helped shape the vision and theme of LauraPalooza 2015: Through Laura’s Eyes.

Most (But Not All) of the Conference Team

Most (But Not All) of the Conference Team (click to expand)

And the twenty-fifth of August came, and Erin Blakemore publicized the call for proposals that went out, as is tradition, on Laura and Almanzo’s wedding anniversary. Conference co-chair Barb Boustead reviewed proposals with her team, organizing and solidifying the agenda over the next several months.

While it’s good to be neighborly, we can’t just let every potential homesteader sleep on our floor for nothing, so Matt Hume kept us all on budget from beginning to end, untangling tax laws and making sure we could set the lowest possible registration fees while still covering expenses.

Even blizzards that stopped the trains couldn’t keep Caroline Jones, Melanie Fishbane, Sarah Manley, and Sandra Hume from working on public and media relations as well as marketing to make sure all communication was on message and that our reach was as far as possible. Connie Neumann helped design the poster and postcards that Caroline Jones printed and sent with Gilbert and his mail to all of the homesites.

Our grandmothers would turn in their graves, but because these are modern times, Sandra Hume oversaw the building and maintenance of the conference website. The social media team swarmed Facebook and Twitter up to and especially during the conference. Sarah Manley and Erin Blakemore live-tweeted through every last presentation using the hashtag #laurapalooza15, Sarah via LIWLRA’s official feed (@liwlegacy) and Erin Blakemore from @heroinebook. Barb Boustead (@windbarb), Emily Woster (@EmilyWoster), Melanie Fishbane (@MelanieFishbane), Caroline Jones (@Caroline_E_J), and Sandra Hume (@sandrahume) live-tweeted as well. Out of more than 500 original tweets, the top tweet had over 3,055 impressions (the number of times users saw it) and many were heavily retweeted. (See all #laurapalooza15 tweets here. And if you do click, prepare to pull up a chair and stay a while, because there’s plenty more down cellar in a teacup.)

Our university liaison for logistical needs was Sarah Uthoff, who kept in touch with the university tirelessly to make sure we had everything we needed week after week for six months. Laura McLemore oversaw dorm lodging, matching roommates, coordinating with the university, and addressing any housing issues that came up during the conference. (Separate note: We do declare, we were all blindsided by the last-minute lack of wi-fi in the dorms, which was not what we were repeatedly promised, nor what we repeatedly confirmed. It was like the train superintendent giving up and going back east. Without telling anyone. On Christmas Eve.)

With a work ethic Eliza Jane the homesteader would envy, in addition to assisting Matt Hume with budget issues Karen Pearce spearheaded registration, building and maintaining the EventBrite site and addressing registrants’ questions up to and during the conference. Laurie Suiter sat with her at the registration table. All the way from Denmark, Sanne Jakobsen graciously arranged covered wagon sharing for those with transportation difficulties, and generous drivers were Karen Kimmi, Kathryn Steffen, Wendy Kump, Lorianne Hawkins, Amy Krentzman, Linda Burke, Lauri Goforth, and Eileen Anderson.

Barb Boustead arranged our fantastic keynote speakers and planned the Authors’ and Artists’ Reception.

Knowing the value of one golden hour set with sixty diamond minutes, Eddie Higgins, Sarah Uthoff, Karen Pearce, Judy Green, and Laura McLemore moderated sessions to make sure we were never more than 30 minutes behind. 😉

Kevin Pearce and Bill Suiter were always there to lend a hand for whatever was needed. Sky Hume also assisted whenever asked.

Although everyone had been working on their “Ambition” compositions for a while, at the last minute Connie Neumann, Linda Starbuck, and Laura McLemore developed and implemented a replacement Little House craft workshop when our poetry presenter, Holly Christiana, was unable to attend. Valerie Snyder and Sky Hume helped to facilitate the workshop on site.

It was a long walk to town, but worth it. Kitty Latane (rhymes with matinee) coordinated the vendors who sold their wares at the conference. Melanie Stringer selected and purchased LIWLRA merchandise and sold it on behalf of the organization, with on-site assistance from Lauri Goforth, Kelly Ferguson, Bill Suiter, and Sky Hume. Melanie was also responsible for attendees’ candy gift bags, including adorable personalized conversation hearts, which Jennie Harriman and Ilene Kinney helped her assemble.

It was a fundraising effort worthy of Pa’s bell when Judy Green and Lynn Urban helped Connie Neumann helm a Silent Auction of Little House-related items that brought in over $2000. She couldn’t have done it without additional on-site assistance from Teresa Lynn, Sue Poremba, Patty Collins, and John Urban.

Rebecca Brammer sent us a Christmas barrel from afar when she created the videos and ordered the plaques honoring the Laura’s Legacy Award winners. Sarah Uthoff presented Dr. Miller’s award at the Legacy Luncheon, and Bill Anderson presented Sally House with hers the week before the conference at the Wilder homesite in Malone, New York.

Sandra Hume gathered the parts and pieces for the LP 2015 program. Teresa Lynn designed it as well as the signage for the conference, and Linda Starbuck sold advertising for its pages. Carolyn Fleming designed the beautiful logo of Laura sitting down in silhouette, and Melanie Stringer worked in person with our printer in Brookings to make sure all was well.

Patty Collins’ watchful eye over every last detail of the conference food and drink made it run as efficiently as a New England Supper. She also led the bus tour to De Smet where LP visitors took part in activities and ate lunches arranged by Sharon Schaller. Everyone was enthralled with Nancy Cleaveland’s cemetery tours in De Smet.

Finally, just as Laura was eyes for Mary, Sandra Hume and co-chairs Sarah Uthoff and Barb Boustead were eyes for all of you, ever mindful of the conference’s big picture while still keeping track of the details.

Thank you to all.

(We hope we didn’t miss anyone, but if we did, give them a shout-out in the comments. It takes all kinds of people to make a conference.)


Posted in LauraPalooza 2015
5 comments on “It Takes All Kinds of People to Make a Conference
  1. Sharon Schaller says:

    Well done!

  2. Huge thanks to all. It was a wonderful conference!

  3. Melanie Stringer says:

    So beautifully written!!
    I’d like to personally thank all the people who stepped in to check on me, too. Thank you for your concern over my wobbly-colt-like self, and for braving the storm to keep me watered and fed til the blizzard subsided: Chrissie Velaga, Erin Blakemore, Patty Collins, Laurie and Bill Suiter, Karen and Kevin Pearce, Barb Boustead, Laura McLemore, Kelly Ferguson, Sandra Hume.

  4. Judy Green says:

    We were all little cogs in a big wheel. Now that the wagons have circled and are safely
    In the barn, I wish we could do it all over again.
    Seeing the world through Laura’s eyes is a beautiful thing and creates lasting memories.
    Now Laura’s eyes are looking forward to 2017. Percolate ideas to help celebrate the 150 th anniversary of her birth.

  5. Beth Kershner says:

    Had a great time! I would love a list of attendees email addresses for personal use only- is that possible? If not, perhaps a specific name or two?
    Again… Had a wonderful time !