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Aunt, niece’s collaborative effort results in unique fundraiser
By Barbara Lyon
Every November, Vivian “Vi” Riley of Menomonie flies west to Seattle to escape winter in Wisconsin by spending three months with her daughter who lives there with her family. For Thanksgiving, her other daughter comes in from Utah with her husband to join them.
The day after Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, the rest of the family had gone for an outing and Vi found herself enjoying a little quiet time after the hubbub of the holiday.
“I was at the dining room table and the dogs were asleep,” Vi said, setting the scene. As she reflected on the joys of past holiday gatherings, the retired elementary school teacher recognized that not everyone is blessed with such happy memories.
It wasn’t long before a poem started forming itself in her mind. “I just sat … and started writing. It didn’t take very long at all,” she recalled. “Of course, I tweaked it afterward … but I didn’t have Stepping Stones in mind until I got to that point.”
The ultimate result of Vi’s ruminations is an illustrated book entitled, appropriately enough, “The Day After Thanksgiving”, the heartwarming story of hearing a noise, of sharing abundance, and of helping a homeless family which also references the help for underserved folks that can be found at Stepping Stones of Dunn County.
The result is written in the general style and cadence of Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit From St. Nicholas”. But in place of the classic poem’s opening line “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house”, Vi’s rendition begins: “The day after Thanksgiving we were all still in bed.”
When Vi returned to her home at the Village at White Pine in Menomonie, she showed the poem to her niece, Mary Elworthy.
“I’m on the library committee at Trinity Lutheran Church [in Eau Claire], and I took it to use for devotions,” Mary said. “I told Vi they really loved it.”
After Mary told her aunt she should publish the poem, Vi replied, “Only if you will illustrate it for me.”
An accomplished watercolor artist, Mary agreed to join Vi in bringing her poem to life in the form of a book they would ultimately have printed by University of Eau Claire Printing Services. The pair recently began distributing the charming little tome to Stepping Stones to be used as a fundraiser in support of its mission of “People helping people strengthen the Dunn County Community by providing food, shelter and support.”
They’ve expanded their outreach to area churches. “It felt like an inspiration from somewhere,” Vi said. “And if some of the churches are using it as a fundraiser, all the better. I certainly didn’t do it to make any money.”
Pastor Heather Wigdahl of Our Saviors Lutheran in Menomonie plans to use the book for her Thanksgiving children’s sermon and also presented the book to the church’s library committee who agreed to place an order.
“They’re going to put them in their lovely children’s library and make them available with a donation to support the library,” Mary said, noting that a flash drive has also been created to share the story.
The two have also taken books to Christ Lutheran, Vi’s home church as well as to Trinity Lutheran. Feed My People Food Bank in Eau Claire where Stepping Stones purchase much of the food it distributes is also planning to use “The Day After Thanksgiving” as a fundraiser.
For now, they’re doing their own marketing and distribution, but BAM (Books A Million) has also expressed an interest in the book once Mary and Vi obtain the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) needed to expand its audience even further.
About the creators
The youngest of seven, Vi was born and raised in rural Elk Mound where she lived for 14 years until the family moved to Menomonie. Her father, Martin Rotnem, was the first director of the Dunn County REA. She attended UW-Stout for a year before marrying fellow Menomonie High School graduate Keith Riley and completed her elementary education degree at UW-River Falls, followed by an advanced degree in special education – with an emphasis on reading.
Vi and Keith, who worked for UNIVAC (now Unisys) in Minneapolis, lived in Hudson. “I taught for 32 years in the Stillwater, Minnesota system. My daughters were babies. … They were used to mother working all their growing up years – and they’ve turned out well!”
Born in Eau Claire, Mary (nee Gilbertson) was raised on the family farm in Elk Mound, just a few miles from the Rotnem family home where her mother, Vi’s oldest sister, grew up. An Elk Mound High graduate, she earned her degree in music and English from UW-Eau Claire. Married to Ed Elworthy – now retired from the UW-EC Foundation, Mary taught English in Minnesota before embarking on a 40-year career teaching music in public school as well as private piano lessons.
A passion for teaching clearly runs in the family. Mary’s mother was an elementary school teacher who also taught piano when she left her career to raise a family.
“I always wanted to be a teacher,” said Mary, the mother of two sons and a daughter. “One of my sons is the superintendent at Whitewater, and my daughter is a teacher.”
In addition to contact information for Stepping Stones, the end of “The Day After Thanksgiving” also features pages that invite readers to answer the questions: What do I have that I am most thankful for? How can I make a difference? What resources are available in my community?
“I was thinking … after it all got put together that, really, it might be a pretty good teaching tool for young children. That’s why it’s geared the way it is,” Vi explained.
Noting that different people are drawn to different pages, Mary is tickled by the response her colorful illustrations have evoked.
Pleased at the positive response to the story, Vi notes, “When we were growing up, we didn’t have much material stuff, but we had love. I thought we were downtrodden … but that was during the Depression – everybody was like that. But now there’s such a wide discrepancy between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.”
The cost of “The Day After Thanksgiving” is $10, with proceeds going to Stepping Stones. The book is available for purchase during business hours at Stepping Stones (1602 Stout Road, Menomonie, WI 54751) and La Dee Dah (311 Main St. East, Menomonie). To order by mail, send a check to Stepping Stones with a note and an additional $1 to cover postage and handling.
Barbara Lyon is the development and communications specialist for Stepping Stones of Dunn County in Menomonie. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org