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Saturday, November 28, 2015

W. Wilson Rawls

Dreams Can Come True

Portrait of W. Wilson Rawls
Reprint of article in the Post-Register, October 4, 1998

"Dreams Can Come True," Rawls statue

By Paul Holland

One boy was so thrilled with Jack London's Call of the Wild that he dreamed of writing a book like it. He stated, "This was quite an ambitious dream for me. I didn't have an education, and my parents were too poor to buy paper and pencils for me."

That dream became a reality in 1961 when Wilson Rawls, with help from his wife, Sophie, published Where the Red Fern Grows. That book was written while Wilson Rawls lived in Idaho Falls (1958 to 1975) in a house on 11th Street. The book has become a children's classic and is used throughout the United States to teach reading. Where the Red Fern Grows was also made into a successful movie.

A second dream began when Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook, came to Idaho Falls for a speaking engagement. A standard part of his talk related to Wilson Rawls and Where the Red Fern Grows. Many people who had never heard the story of Wilson Rawls, were amazed. Dave Schjeldahl, Principal at Temple View Elementary, thought a statue commemorating Wilson Rawls' life and book would be invaluable to the community. He approached Mayor Linda Milam with his conception, and she thought it was a wonderful idea. He also spoke with local artist Marilyn Hansen about creating a statue based on Where the Red Fern Grows.

model of statue

To help make this second dream into a reality has taken more than a year of fund raising. The grant that put us "over the top" was recently awarded by the Idaho Commission on the Arts and National Endowment for the Arts. The grant check was presented to the library by State Senator Melvin Richardson. Paul Holland, Library Director says, on behalf of the Library Board and staff, "Thanks to all who contributed to provide the money to build the statue. A special thanks goes to all of the schools which sponsored money-raising projects for the statue."

The dream is now in the hands of Marilyn Hansen who will design and sculpt the statue. Her work on the statue will be funded by the Idaho Commission on the Arts. The fulfillment of this dream will be celebrated at the statue's dedication.

Along the way, the Idaho Falls Public Library was helped by another project funded, in part, by the Idaho Humanities Council. This project allowed us to collect information about Wilson Rawls, develop a display about his life, and convey his story to the public through storyteller Madelaine Love. Photos and interviews are now available to the public and are housed in the Idaho Room at the library. This project, while not directly related to the statue, officially helped to create interest in making the dream become a reality. Holland credits Love's efforts on the project and fund-raising events with much of the success in the progress of the project.

Wilson Rawls once said in an interview, "When speaking in the schools, I tell youngsters to keep reaching our for whatever goals they set for themselves. As long as they are honest and truthful and don't hurt anyone along the way, they will have help in reaching their goals. I know I did."

The statue which Marilyn Hansen is creating has the working title "Dreams Can Come True." We want children to know Wilson Rawls' story, to dream ambitious dreams, and with the help of schools, libraries, and friends, have these dreams come true.

"I hope when you drive by the statue on Broadway a year from now, it will serve as a symbol to you that your dreams, and more importantly, the dreams of your children, can come true," remarks Holland. "The statue was born out of a dream to recognize a dream that came true."

Rawls' Homepage This information was drawn from the materials collected by Madelaine Love in 1997 as a part of the "Woodrow Wilson Rawls: Dreams Can Come True" research project funded by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council and the Idaho Falls Public Library. The original interview tapes and transcripts, photographs and other materials are housed in the Idaho Room of the Idaho Falls Public Library and used with permission. Any use without permission is expressly forbidden.
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