Over the years, Betty "Betsy" Stoelting has written numerous children's stories, many featuring a life lesson.
But Stoelting's experience itself now offers a lesson: Age is no barrier to becoming a first-time published author.
The 85-year-old Stoelting learned that recently when her sister Carol Nicholson, from Ashland, Kan., and Carol's daughter Tara Nicholson, of Hutchinson, Kan., visited her and took her out to dinner in Carroll.
Before dinner arrived, Carol and Tara served Betsy a Stoelting a big surprise.
They handed her a book copy of "Sam Learns to Share." That was possibly the first story Stoelting, who taught kindergarten nearly 40 years before retiring in 1989, ever wrote. The book version of "Sam Learns to Share" culminated nearly a year's effort to find a publisher for the story. Publication Consultants of Anchorage, Alaska, which primarily publishes family-oriented books, liked the story.
When Stoelting saw her first-ever published work, her eyes lit up.
Tara recalls the reaction: "It was really great. She just said, 'Oh, my goodness.' She was overwhelmed."
For her part, Stoelting recalls, "I was shellshocked. They (Carol and Tara) had been working on it for a year and didn't tell me a word about it. I didn't believe it was going to happen."
Carol and Tara took the surprise another step when they organized a public book-signing party for Stoelting at SunnyBrook Assisted Living, where she's lived about four years, for Saturday, May 25. With drop-in visitors and support of family, sales were brisk, which kept Stoelting busy signing copies.
"Sam Learns to Share" is a 16-page, soft-cover, illustrated book costing $8.95. Those who would like a personalized copy of the book may contact Stoelting at 792-4182 or Publications Consultants. Tara Nicholson says the book will be available in the future on Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and on Kindle, and some local outlets may be added as well.
Tara Nicholson, who's an English department teacher at Hutchinson Community College, says of course she's biased but she understands why Publication Consultants likes Stoelting's writing.
"She's very skilled verbally, she has a very high vocabulary, and she wrote the story in rhyme," Nicholson says.
In "Sam Learns to Share," Sam is a spider who lives in an empty home, happy in his web. However, a family of people moves into the home, and he's angry at first, but then realizes all these people are trying to do is provide a home for their children, just as Sam's mother did for him when he was a baby. So Sam happily moves out to the barn and shares space with the family."
Stoelting writes in "Sam Learns to Share":
"And if, like Wonderland's Duchess, you like a moral,
Here's one with which you cannot quarrel:
Sam SEEMS to prove, at least to me,
That it pays to give in gracefully!"
Stoelting says she's written lots of stories. They usually just come to her. For "Sam," and others, she says, "I just wrote them down as they occurred to me. I just scribbled them off."
And Tara Nicholson notes, "They all have lessons for children, usually moral lessons."
Although she's been retired from teaching more than 20 years, Stoelting's creativity continues. She's written more stories since she moved into SunnyBrook, one titled "The Finicky Eater" and others that are untitled.
Tara Nicholson says "Sam Learns to Share" was written on yellow paper with an old manual typewriter and she retyped it before sending the story to prospective publishing companies.
Tara Nicholson wrote in the foreword of the book, "My aunt Betsy Stoelting is one of the most important persons in my life. Never having children of her own, she treated her nieces and nephews, and now her great-nieces and -nephews, as if they were her own children, and we all love her dearly for it. Her positive influence on all of us and all of the children she taught over her long career teaching kindergarten is immeasurable. Of the many values I learned from her, her love of books and reading taught me the wonder of losing myself in a book and encouraged my love of literature. Everyone who meets her is never the same."
In her classroom career, Stoelting taught at Wapello and Fort Dodge, Iowa, before moving to the St. Louis, Chicago and Denver areas. She spent about the last 20 years of her career teaching in a suburb of San Francisco, in Marin County, Calif.
Stoelting says she loved teaching kindergartners because of their enthusiasm for learning.
"You can see it happen," she says. "Their eyes open. They love it, so I love it."
In California, she taught many multi-cultural children - Asian and Latino - for whom English was a second language and they took a special class to learn English in addition to attending kindergarten.
"It's interesting teaching children from other countries, even though it's harder," Stoelting says.
Like any of her students, she says, "They really absorb and learn so fast. That's the beautiful part."
Stoelting's education career began after she graduated from Sac City High School in 1945 and then earned a teaching certificate after two years at Iowa State Teachers College (now University of Northern Iowa). Taking night-school classes she eventually earned a bachelor's degree from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and she received a master's degree from the University of San Francisco.
The second-oldest of five children of Edwin and Rose Stoelting, Betsy was born on a farm near Bristol, S.D. Her dad lost their farm in northeast South Dakota due to drought, and when she was 6 the family moved to the Schaller area in Sac County, Iowa, before later arriving in Sac City. Her parents worked a variety of jobs. Edwin Stoelting was a farmhand, furniture mover, honey and sorghum salesman, while Rose Stoelting was a homemaker, longtime school cook and made embroidery items.
Betsy is thankful to her parents for providing a loving family and instilling a love for reading. When Betsy was attending Iowa State Teachers College, she received weekly postcards from her Dad that began "Dear Daughter," in which he wrote news from home or shared some life thoughts.
"The kids in my dorm were jealous," Stoelting says of her Dad's frequent postcards.
Stoelting says she's been a voracious reader - reading herself to sleep and often keeping up a book-a-day pace. She particularly enjoys mysteries and English humor.
"I like all the Victorian English writers," she says.
She also enjoys jigsaw puzzles and crossword puzzles, including British ones, which she says can be tricky.
After she retired from teaching, Stoelting moved back to Iowa from California. She and her parents lived in Lake City for awhile, and after her Dad passed away, Betsy and her mom lived in Carroll. Rose Stoelting lived to age 102. Betsy is a sister of Phyllis (Mrs. Lyle) Skinner of Lake City, and her late brother, Kenneth Stoelting, worked at Chief Clothing Store in Sac City many years.
Will more of Stoelting's stories be published in the future?
"We'll see how this one does," Tara Nicholson says.
Meanwhile, Stoelting will continue reading and writing.