Beth Ingalls (living relative of Laura Ingalls Wilder) Exclusive Interview!

Hi Beth! Thanks for letting Prairie Fans interview you about your family heritage!

 

1. Hiram Ingalls was your great-grandfather; did your parents ever share any memories with you about Charles and Hiram or even Laura and her sisters?

 

Yes, Hiram was my great-grandfather. He and his wife and children lived in the Rock Elm area…..north of Pepin a little way. His family moved north to the area of what is now Webster, Wi., in about 1884 and my Grandpa Ingalls (Hiram Leroy, a/k/a Roy) was only about 2 years old. He had no memories of Laura because Charles and his family had left the Pepin area before my Grandpa was born. Laura was about 15 years older than my Grandpa Roy. A lot of stories about Hiram have been passed down through the years. Before he sold his farm, he donated 2 acres to be used as a cemetery. He and many other of the Ingalls family are buried there. A great deal of family history lies in those two acres.

 

Stories of the family that have been passed down to me would be about my Grandpa and his siblings, and of course, Hiram. My 92 year old aunt still tells me things about the family when we get together. She recalls family discussions about family, such as Aunt Docia, Uncle George, etc. She recalls how Uncle George would get out and jig at dances, etc. The whole Ingalls family enjoyed music and dances and parties.

 

Grandpa Hiram entered the Civil war when he was nearly 15 (the age limit was 16) and he was a drummer boy and also played the bugle. The Civil War rifle was in our house for several years because my father was the younger Ingalls. However, since I’m not a boy and have no brothers, the rifle was given to my cousin, Lowell, who has it now. It will be passed on to the youngest Ingalls at such time as is necessary.

 

2. Did you ever meet Laura and Almanzo or any of her family she has written about in her books?

 

I never had the privilege of meeting Laura or Almanzo. Laura died a couple years after I graduated from high school and obviously I did not have the money to travel to Mansfield in my younger days.

 

3. What is your favorite "Little House" book and why?

 

It is difficult to say what my favorite book would be. Perhaps Little House in the Big Woods, because I was born in an area north of there and am familiar with the area that she talks about. But, I like all the others too.

 

4. When Laura Ingalls Wilder was alive she declined any film offers because she was afraid they wouldn't capture her books and characters like she had written them, years after Laura passed away her books were developed into a television series by Michael Landon. Have you seen the NBC version of Little House and the Disney and CBS versions that followed? What are your thoughts on these productions? Do you think Laura would be pleased?

 

The television series…what wonderful family viewing and entertainment they all were and still are. I can’t speak for Laura as to whether or not she would be pleased with each weekly show. The original series would stray from the facts and stories, but we must remember they filled 9 years of weekly shows. That is a lot to get from the books. I also liked the Disney series (I just watched that again this week) and the CBS followed the books quite closely. I think Laura would be very pleased to know how loved her stories are by the entire world, much of which is a result for the television productions.

 

5. On the subject of television, Laura has been played by three wonderful and talented actresses who brought something unique to each performance, what are your thoughts for each actress about their performances?

 

The performances of the people cast as Laura all did a great job. I really wanted to hug little Kyle when I saw her again last week. And of course, look at all the young people who grew up with Melissa Gilbert. She has really become a tremendous actress in my opinion. And of course, Meredith Monroe also did a great job. I think the cast of the original series must have studied the Ingalls family history. They had the Ingalls walk, laughter and sense of humor, and other family traits down pat.

 

6. When the NBC series first aired you wrote to Michael Landon and he wrote you back. Would you mind sharing with the fans and myself what Mike wrote to you?

 

When the NBC series first started I wrote to Michael Landon. I had to give him some Ingalls advice you know. I suggested that Charles wore a beard most of the time, and that he loved to play the fiddle. I felt the music as a necessary part of the Ingalls life. I got a reply from him, and I take this with me to my presentations. He thanked me for my suggestions and said he would pass them on to the Producers. He also said he was enclosing an autographed picture of the cast, but I never received that, much to my sorrow.

7. Have you ever met or talked to any of the cast from the old and new "Little House?"

 

No, I have never met or talked to any of the cast. That was always my dream, but I have to accept the fact that will never happen now….I’m 69 years old….but still hang onto that dream. Maybe someday...

 

8. You mentioned to me that you give presentations about Laura Ingalls Wilder's life and travels to elementary students. Do you have any found memories from this experience? What are some of the student’s reactions from your presentations? How can fans and schools contact you to present at their schools?

 

The presentations have left me with many pleasant memories. I have talked to elderly groups, mixed ages, families, and third and fourth graders at their schools. I will be going back to the Fall River School for my third year. My favorite, of course, are the school children. They are always so interested in Laura and have so many questions. And, if I ask them questions, they have the answers on the tip of their tongues.

 


Beth pictured with fans who attended her presentation. Lorrie, left, Beth, middle, Marilyn, right, and a friend of Beth's who played Carrie in a play in which she performed the song "In the Sweet Bye and Bye" for the presentation, she is only 10 years old and was great.

 

At the end of my first presentation I was embarrassed because I turned around and there was a long line of children with paper and pencils in hand.wanting autographs. And, there were mothers with cameras wanting to take pictures. Now, I am just a plain ordinary lady who happens to be lucky enough to have the Ingalls name (and I’m very proud of it) and am so happy to know that all of these people love Laura and her stories. I am not a pro at public speaking and do not charge for my sharing of family history. I am just thrilled that they all read Laura’s books.

 

9.  When you are not talking about your heritage to fans of Little House what do you enjoy doing as a hobby?

 

I retired six years ago and have been busy ever since. Besides doing the presentations I love to play the piano and sing with a church choir and an oratorio group. I also like to knit and crochet, and do other crafts. Also volunteer at community organizations and health facilities. I don’t know when I ever had time to work! 

10. Laura Ingalls Wilder's legacy has grown so much and seems to be growing everyday from books, TV shows, movies, Web sites. What are your thoughts to all this?

 

I can’t believe all the web sites….what would Laura think of all those? I bet she would be thrilled and right there on her computer surfing the net!

Thanks again for letting me interview you and I feel the fans of Little House will enjoy reading this interview as much enjoyment I had putting it together. Do you have any words or anything you would like to say to all the fans around the world?

 

To all the fans around the world, keep reading and enjoying the stories of my family. Laura loved all her readers. Just think how many people she would have out there loving her today.

 

* Beth Elaine Ingalls Biography:

 

Beth Elaine Ingalls was born on September 8, 1937 in a one-room house in northern Wisconsin outside a little town called Danbury, Wisconsin. Beth and her family moved from her birth home in 1938, but only about 2 miles from the original birthplace. Beth and her family lived in the same area, but moved into Danbury where she attended grade school. Beth attended high school and graduated in Webster.

Following graduation Beth started working at the Burnett County Welfare Department in Webster. And remained there until 1969, when she moved to Dodge County and transferred from Burnett County. Beth retired from there in 2000 and have been busy with projects ever since. Beth has mentioned that her calendar is fuller now than when she was working.

Beth is a volunteer for Church Health Services, which is a non-profit medical facility where eight doctors volunteer a day and a month of their time. Beth also performs in her church choir, sign with the Beaver Dam Oratorio Society, and does whatever she can for the Breast Cancer Foundation plus anything else she may be asked to do. Beth is a proud breast cancer survivor since 2001.

Some of Beth's favorite retirement time is spent speaking to schools (usually third or fourth graders), church groups, community groups, etc. about Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Beth is proud to be an Ingalls and she finds great joy and gratification in speaking to people about Laura. Laura had passed away two years after Beth graduated from high school, and was unfortunate not to have been able to meet her. Beth grew to know her just like all the other fans, through her books and the TV shows and movies.

Beth's current presentation is about the Ingalls’ Travels. She starts with their move from New York, via Chicago, Oconomowoc, Pepin, etc. all the way to Mansfield, MO for Laura and Almanzo. Beth talks a little about the museums and Ingalls sites…where some of the family treasures are, etc. The presentations in the schools usually ends with a line of children asking for autographs and requests to have their pictures taken with her. This experience embarrassed Beth the first time it happened, but now she is use to it and finds that it makes the fans very happy to know and talk to a relative of Laura’s.

Beth plans on continuing with her presentations as long as she is able and people continue to call to request that she presents this for them. It makes her as happy as it does them.

 

Webmasters Note: Interview was done on July 2, 2006.

 

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