“I’m sure we all know in our hearts we have a great deal for which to be thankful.” Laura Ingalls Wilder
by Dr. Laura McLemore, President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association
As 2017 draws to a close, so does my term as President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. When I reflect on my term in office, beginning in December of 2015, I am filled with a variety of emotions. If you will indulge me, I would like to share my thoughts and memories with you.
In the winter of 2008, I, along with Connie Ryle Neumann, Amy Lauters, Sandra Hume, Barbara Hawkins and Amy Finney sat in the warm kitchen of the farmhouse at Little House on the Prairie. The six of us spent an enjoyable day talking about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane and the state of research in the field of Wilder studies. It was at this gathering that the seeds of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Literary Society were planted. In the summer of 2009 a similar group met in De Smet, an event that unfortunately, I was not able to attend. It was at this event that the Literary Society would be chartered as the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. I joined the board of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association (LIWLRA) shortly after Laurapalooza 2012.
As I look back on the accomplishments of the LIWLRA since our charter in 2009 I am filled with a sense of pride. In our relatively short tenure we have amassed 410 individual members with 140 active members. We have established an active volunteer board, currently consisting of 11 members who serve rotating terms of 3 years. Our website at www.beyondlittlehouse.com is in it’s second generation and will be totally revamped in the coming year if all goes well. We have a visible social media presence on Twitter and Facebook. Posts are sometimes viewed by thousands of Facebook followers. Most notably, we have held four very successful international conferences called LauraPalooza in 2010, 2012, 2015, and 2017, all done with volunteer help on very limited funds. I feel that our Sesquicentennial conference this past summer was one of our best. Our conferences have featured many prominent or “up and coming” Wilder authors and scholars including William Anderson, John Miller, Caroline Fraser, Marta McDowell, Pamela Smith Hill, Nancy McCabe, Renee Graef and many others. We have also become a sort of clearing house for those involved in new research about the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder and subjects closely related to her and to her work.
The next feeling is a bit hard to name. The closest word I can find is satisfaction. We want to be a top notch non-profit group and the leading source of information on Laura Ingalls Wilder. We listen to our membership and monitor what is happening in the world of Wilder. As a board, we have dreams for what we can become and we have taken steps to get there. In 2013 we formally adopted bylaws and they will be reviewed and updated in 2018. In 2016 we were granted 501c3 Tax Exempt Status thanks to the hard work of former board member, Linda Starbuck. This allows us to officially call ourselves a non-profit association. One of my goals as President was to insure that the board has the opportunity to meet face-to-face. Our monthly board meetings occur via conference call. We also communicate through a closed Facebook group. We get to know each other through these phone conversations but many of us have never met in person. We held our first face-to-face meeting at Laurapalooza 2017 in Springfield, Missouri. We worked hard that day and walked away a stronger, more committed board. The major product of that day was another of my personal goals as President. While Laurapalooza is so worthwhile, it is not and cannot be the sole focus of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. We need to grow beyond simply hosting a conference every two years. To move ahead we need a strategic plan and now, thanks to our day of labor last July, we have one. It is slated for final approval at our December 2o17 Board of Directors meeting and will be published for the membership after it is approved. I think it sets a course for the business of the Association for years to come. Yes, I am very satisfied.
I am also optimistic. Naysayers have questioned whether the Association is sustainable. I think as board members become weary in their work they have sometimes questioned the future of the Association as well. Some who participate in our social media conversations don’t understand the scope of our mission or feel that we as a board are insular or cliquish. I disagree. Yes, our work is difficult. Yes, we get tired. Yes, we as a board or conference committee work together as a tight group. But, that’s part of building and establishing something new. I am optimistic! I look at our accomplishments and I know that we are fulfilling our mission. I listen to our discussions and know that we have a strong and dedicated group working to sustain the Association. I see our strategic plan and believe that we have set the course for the future. I read the social media conversations as folks debate where the next Laurapalooza should be held and I know that our followers are excited about the future. Yes, I am optimistic about the future of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association.
I feel a great sense of gratitude. I am grateful for the dedicated people who have served on the Board of Directors since 2009, and who have given of their time and talent to grow this organization. They have been true servant leaders. I am grateful for the support of people like William Anderson and John Miller who have shared their expertise and also their time through the years. Because of the silent auctions held at every Laurapalooza since 2012, we as an association have been able to contribute thousands of dollars to the Laura Ingalls Wilder home sites. I am awestruck by the generous support of bidders and that they have made it possible to monetarily support Laura’s homes. I am most grateful for the membership of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. It is because of them…because of you…that we continue to exist. Your support makes this association possible and as President, I thank you. My heart is grateful.
My hope is that the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association continues to grow. That is where you come in. The association needs you. Please join if you haven’t done so already. There is a link to a membership application at the top of this page. Please keep your membership current each year, not just during conference years. Consider serving on the board or on a conference committee. Begin working on a proposal for a presentation at our next conference in 2019. Ask about writing a guest blog post to share new or interesting ideas. We need your support, we need your talent, we need you!
Dr. Laura McLemore