Last month, Tessa joined the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society as the new executive director. Below is our Q&A session with her about the new role. Please visit this post to read Tessa’s initial introduction.
Q: Which do you prefer, coffee or tea?
A: Iced coffee.
Q: What are three words that describe you?
A: Funny, loyal, history buff (well, that’s four words, but oh well!).
Q: What is one random fact about you?
A: During the summer of 2014, I spent two months doing an ethnographic research project on a mural in an indigenous Mayan community in Guatemala.
Q: What is your role at the Historic Homes (e.g. tour guide, director)?
A: I am the new executive director, which is basically my dream job. I’m very interested in research and preservation and am a huge Laura fan!
Q: How long have you been working at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society?
A: I started on October 7th, 2015, so not very long ago!
Q: Which book in the Little House Series is your favorite? Why?
A: That’s easy: Farmer Boy. I was a huge tomboy as a child. We lived on a farm and I loved to go outside and help my dad with the chores. We had cats, dogs, pigs and horses. I am a big horse lover. So, I could actually relate more to Almanzo as a child than I did to Laura. Growing up with horses on a family farm gave me a lot to connect to with Farmer Boy.
Q: Which book about Laura’s life and legacy is your favorite? Why?
A: Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Woman behind the Legend by John E. Miller is my favorite one. I enjoyed it because it not only talks about Laura and her legacy, but it really explains the historical connections between pioneer times and Laura’s life. For example, it goes into more detail on some of the local histories and it provides various examples of experiences similar to those the Ingalls family faced, like the long, hard winter. I’m a big history buff, so anytime there is a connection between history and Laura’s life…I’m interested!
Q: What projects are you excited about working on right now?
A: Soon, I’ll be contacting Bill Anderson to work on the next edition of the Lore together. Going into the winter months, it seems like there will be a lot of projects here, too. For the gift shop, we are working on a new ornament in the series, new designs for t-shirts and sweatshirts and a new calendar. We will also spend part of the winter working on a new display for the exhibit room.
Q: Which of the historic buildings on the Historic Homes Tour is your favorite? Why?
A: When I was growing up in Iowa, I gave tours for eight summers in the Master’s Hotel, which is one of the many places Laura lived. I could really connect with Laura there. Here, I feel like the Surveyors’ House has the strongest connection to Laura. She spent so much time describing her first few moments exploring the family’s new home, and that had a big impact on me. She called this home a “mansion”, and today, many of us would not even want to live there. However, after living in a sod shanty, a hotel room and dugouts, the Surveyors’ House would feel like a mansion!
Q: If you were giving a tour of the Historic Homes and only had time to show visitors two artifacts, which two would they be?
A: First, I’d show them the Garth Williams illustrations. There are 61 of his original drawings here at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society. These drawings – the original sketches from the books involving De Smet – are what are used to create our ornament collection.
I also really like in the Ingalls Home how there is a display with Ma’s, Laura’s and Rose’s dishes. It is neat to see all three generations there together. Also, I find Ma’s cupboards in that kitchen to be very special, because Pa built them for her. It must have seemed huge and amazing to her to have all of that storage and such a large kitchen for the time period.
Q: How does Laura or Laura’s legacy inspire you?
A: I enjoy Laura’s quotes and sayings because she reminds you to be thankful for what you have. I try to live this way myself, by being grateful. They had so little, and yet were so happy. I want to keep that mindset going for future generations as we give tours here in De Smet.
She even felt lucky to be able to attend school, and that’s easy to take for granted nowadays. Since Ma herself was a schoolteacher, she pushed Laura into going and that was neat, because Ma and Pa could have used Laura’s help at home.
Laura’s life really shows us that the pioneers didn’t have much and we are very fortunate today.