MESSENGER — There’s something about the past that always has kept author Clark Kidder moving ahead to his next project.
Kidder, who spent nearly four decades in Milton and now calls Janesville home, has had a lifetime of professional experiences in a relatively short amount of living.
Now 51, he has been a TV talk show host and has appeared on dozens of radio programs to talk about his research into orphan trains that ran between 1854 and 1930.
Kidder describes the primitive social experiment that had its origins in a New York City organization called the Children’s Aid Society.
The society gathered up orphans and abandoned children and placed them on what are now referred to as Orphan Trains.
Kidder wrote and produced a film about the subject, “West by Orphan Train,” and his research on the subject garnered national attention, leading to appearances on MSNBC, WGN and other media outlets.
To date he has published two books on the subject — “Orphan Trains and Their Precious Cargo” and “Emily’s Story: The Brave Journey of an Orphan Train Rider.” In the second half of the 19th century, the trains brought homeless New York City children to farm families in the West where they would be raised in a more wholesome environment.
Fascination with history
Kidder’s fascination with history has led him down a variety of different paths. At one time, he amassed then sold a vast collection of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia.
Kidder’s works covering the famous actress include “Marilyn Monroe UnCovers,” “Marilyn Monroe Cover to Cover” and “Marilyn Monroe Collectibles.”
Now Kidder has turned his attention to another historical topic — the one-room schoolhouse. Kidder said he is connected to the subject in more ways than one.
“The inspiration for writing the history of Rock County’s one-room schools stems from the fact that I grew up on a farm adjacent to the one-room Rock River School,” he said. “It stood in the southwest corner of our farm.”
“My grandfather deeded an acre of land to the school for use as a ball diamond,” said Kidder, adding that other family members also were influential in the school system.
“One of my earliest memories is of attending the auction held after the school closed with my grandfather,” he said. “Additionally, my aunt, Mildred (Kidder) Yahnke, was a one-room schoolteacher and later became Rock County supervising teacher. She shared many memories of her years teaching at one-room schools with me.”
The first three volumes of the six-volume collection, “A History of the Rural Schools of Rock County, Wisconsin” is available now as an eBook on Kindle.
The entire collection is expected to be released as a traditional book sometime in 2015.
Kidder shares his thoughts about writing, Marilyn Monroe and one-room schoolhouses in five questions:
1 Does most of your work come from personal experiences, such as the case with your grandmother, Emily, or do you write about subject matter that interests you?
A: Yes, it does. My interest in collecting Marilyn Monroe memorabilia was sparked by my grandfather Kidder’s interest in her. He often commented on how tragic her death was, that she seemed “to have everything.” He just couldn’t understand how such a person could kill herself.
2 How have friends and family through the years viewed your Marilyn Monroe expertise, and is it fair to call it an obsession?
A: Not at all. I collected Marilyn memorabilia just as one would collect spoons, bells or other such items. I simply decided to share my knowledge of the items with the world in the form of price guides and picture books. I’ve purchased just one Marilyn collectible in the past decade and dispersed the vast majority of my collection on eBay back in 2001.
3 When beginning a new project, what is the most rewarding phase and the most demanding phase?
A: Most rewarding to me is doing the research required for the book. Investigating has always come naturally for me. I enjoy the thrill of the hunt for additional information. The most demanding part is pulling all the information you’ve researched together in a format that will be enjoyable and informative for the reader.
4 Why is the culture of the one-room schoolhouse important in the history of Rock County?
A: These quaint little schools represented a part of what made America so great — a close-knit community, a grassroots form of education that evolved into today’s modern educational system. One thinks of these one-room schools as being as American as baseball and apple pie. Communities were reluctant to let go of this early form of education, and many still believe we lost something when we did so.
5 What was the best advice you ever received as a writer?
A: I’ve read and received so much in the way of advice about writing that it’s hard to pinpoint any one thing. Perhaps keeping in mind that less is more when writing would be one of the more important things I’ve learned — to not ramble on, to be succinct.
WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- In December, memories come out along with the ornaments, wreath and the carols on the radio. Seeing neighborhood decorations brings up the image of your dad hanging lights on the evergreen tree in the front yard. Watching kids line up in front of the department store Santa Claus reminds you of your daughter’s first nervous visit to the man in red. Funny, sentimental, even bittersweet memories -- Christmas brings them all back.
We asked area residents to share their favorite Christmases. We think you’ll enjoy hearing their stories.
WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- The first time I met Tallan Noble Latz he squiggled back into a chair, leaving his tennies dangling off the floor, and picked up a guitar that was taller than him and maybe just as heavy. He was 5 years old and knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life -- play guitar.
And play it he did. My husband, Mayner, taught guitar so it wasn’t unusual to hear young musicians eeking out some kind of music. But the sounds Latz squeezed out of those six strings drew me to the front of the house, where I expected to see a whizened old blues man.
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JANESVILLE -- The plants aren’t in bloom this time of year, but Marsha Mood finds plenty of colorful photo opportunities at Rotary Botanical Gardens each December.
WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- The echoes from the War Between the States reverberate less with each passing year. Only through the efforts of dedicated actors, authors and aficionados is the Civil War alive, culminating in a milestone 150th anniversary this coming year.
Historian and author Lance Herdegen has shared his passion for the Civil War through several books, summertime re-enactments and passing down his exuberance for the time period to his grandchildren.