The Voice: Summer 2003

The Voice

Student writers join professionals to publish book of stories

By: Jane Versteeg Dr. James Schaap believes that you don't have to look to Des Moines, Chicago, or Los Angeles for interesting people and lives.

Everybody’s got a story.

Now you’ll have the chance to read them. A published author, a half-dozen Dordt College writers, and a professional photographer have joined forces to put together a book that tells the stories of people who have or are still making their mark on Sioux County history.

Under the leadership of author and Dordt College English Professor James Schaap, six Dordt students are seeking out the stories of Sioux Countians who have interesting backgrounds, personalities, jobs, or hobbies. When completed, Sioux County Folks will be compiled into a book for publication.

“The kind of book we’re assembling will be very helpful in terms of having people understand the area and its own history,” commented Dr. Schaap. “I think we’re really making a contribution to a whole landscape here.” Schaap added that each story will go beyond portraying a person, also painting the unique characteristics of Sioux County and assembling them together in a patchwork quilt that shows what life in Sioux County is really like. While focusing on individuals, stories pan out to share details about the landscape surrounding them—details like the highest geographic point in Sioux County, the source of the hand-painted signs on Highway 75, how the cottonwood on B-40 survived, and the fact that hogs outnumber people here by at least twenty to one.

Several character essays have already been completed, but the group of authors is still accepting suggestions for people whose stories would make interesting additions to the book.

Their goal is to find stories from all of Sioux County, town and rural, young and old, male and female. Quoting the letter of introduction she’s been sending, Kristi Mulder from Orange City urges potential interviewees, “We really do hope that you will consider this opportunity. We think the book itself will do a service to the people of Sioux County.” Mulder has found that there’s much more diversity here than many realize, and says the book will span Dutch and German and Irish people, Catholic and Reformed, and many others.

“I have really come to realize how much the book might be able to affect Sioux County as a whole,” said Leah Eekhoff, a Hull native who has already interviewed both an 80-year-old man and a teenage girl. “I think it could be a way in which people learn more about other people living in their community as well as respect them more…in this small-town area, many people have the idea that nobody important comes from Sioux County. But these stories show that there are many people that are so valuable to the community and have done things that affect how we live in it today.”

Among the Sioux County people already interviewed and written about are a retired historian from Hospers, a midwife in Sioux Center, a hog producer at Lebanon, an Abe Lincoln look-alike in Orange City, and a cake decorator in Maurice. Other chapters will feature a quadriplegic college student, the long-time director of a high school band, a third-generation Irish-American lawyer, and a professional house-mover.

“I was nervous at first that people would think that I was being nosy,” commented Andrew De Young. “Turns out, most people like to share their stories with me.” A sophomore English major from Bloomington, Minnesota, De Young said the writers’ priority is to celebrate this community and the different kinds of people that make the community what it is. “But also, there’s something inherently good, I think, about telling stories. When you tell a story, what you’re doing is taking events from life and trying to find out how they’re significant. It’s hard work sometimes, taking the elements of someone’s life and arranging them into a story, but we go to all the trouble because we believe that life, in the little details and the big events, is meaningful.”

Offering another perspective is Stephanie Bickford, a Maine native with ancestors who were lobstermen. “I see this as an opportunity for me as an outsider, as well as ‘natives’ who don’t know their neighbors, to see just how unique and special their little corner of the world is.”

“They set quiet examples every day of the worth of life,” said Bickford after interviewing a quadriplegic, a midwife, and one of eleven adopted children. “I wanted to seek out people who don’t usually get recognized. They have each blessed me far more than I could do them justice on paper.” Bickford said she’s also had the chance to see how real people interact with faceless programs, such as the medical system, insurance, ethics, and social work systems.

Contributors to the book are Dr. James Schaap, Jenna Lassen, and Kathy Harmelink, Sioux Center; Kristi Mulder, Orange City; Leah Eekhoff, Hull; Andrew De Young, Bloomington, Minnesota; Anne Vogel, Luverne, Minnesota; Stephanie Bickford, Maine; and Doug Burg, photographer, Orange City.