Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Area natives revive Civil War, set for book signing event

By PAT VINING, Special to The Ottawa Herald | 12/9/2013

RICMOND — Though separated by 25 years when they were at Central Heights schools and then Pittsburg State University, Franklin County natives Todd Mildfelt’s and Pamela Peters’ recently published books have much in common.

A book signing for Mildfelt and Peters is planned for 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Richmond Community Museum, 119 E. Central Ave., Richmond. Visitors are encouraged to learn more about the authors’ works — “Almost to Freedom” by Mildfelt and “The War Within” by Peters — as well as the museum’s local artifacts and albums that show Richmond’s history, event organizers said.

RICMOND — Though separated by 25 years when they were at Central Heights schools and then Pittsburg State University, Franklin County natives Todd Mildfelt’s and Pamela Peters’ recently published books have much in common.

A book signing for Mildfelt and Peters is planned for 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Richmond Community Museum, 119 E. Central Ave., Richmond. Visitors are encouraged to learn more about the authors’ works — “Almost to Freedom” by Mildfelt and “The War Within” by Peters — as well as the museum’s local artifacts and albums that show Richmond’s history, event organizers said.

Both books’ stories are set in the Civil War era, but that’s where the similarities end.

“Almost to Freedom” tells the tale of a true incident along the Underground Railroad in the Berea community of southeastern Franklin County in the winter of 1858-59. Eleven fugitive slaves are hidden by friends of abolitionist John Brown, but their presence is discovered by young Billy Samuels who has to decide if he is going to help them or allow them to be recaptured.

The book, and Mildfelt’s previous work, “Wagon Train to Freedom,” are written for children ages 10 to 12, but also are appropriate for adults.

The follow-up take was satisfying, Mildfelt said, because it comes full circle for him emotionally.

“I wrote a research paper about this Underground Railroad event in the Berea area when I was in college, and my grandparents, Alfred and Naomi Sigler, helped me with research and were actively supportive,” he said.

“As I learned more and more, the story kept growing, and led me to believe I could do a series of books for young readers,” Mildfelt, a special education teacher, continued.

Although his first published book, “The Secret Danites: Kansas’ First Jayhawkers,” was for adults, his next two are children’s books, he said, and he has plans for more books to be written for both youth and adult reading levels.

Mildfelt credits his mother, Dorothy DuVall, an elementary teacher for 37 years, for encouraging him to read extensively and to write what he felt, he said. Later, a college instructor and his adviser, Dr. Dudley Cornish at Pittsburg State University, challenged him to do careful and analytical research that has provided necessary factual information.

Mildfelt and David Schafer, also of Richmond and another former Central Heights and Pittsburg student, now are working on a biography of Col. James Montgomery of Civil War fame.

Peters also was an avid reader since her elementary school years, and continues to read widely as part of her work as a third-year instructor of mass communication at Lane College in Jackson, Tenn. Like Mildfelt, she has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Pittsburg State University.

“The War Within” is the fictional story of a man who has to rediscover himself by facing the demons that haunt him following his Civil War experiences. It focuses on the psychological challenges soldiers can face when they have to adapt to life after war combat.

The young author said it was five years between her initial thoughts about the topic to the book’s publication. She first wrote parts of what eventually became the story when writing for a historical documentary in graduate school.  

“My father, Dennis Peters, introduced me to the love of history,” she said. “Then, I was very much inspired by my grandfather, Loyd Peters, when I began to learn about his years in the Navy. Later, he pushed me to write and be published, and all my family have been very supportive.”

Some of Peters’ earliest motivation for the story came from interviewing her grandfather’s World War II Navy shipmates, which she did when she accompanied him to ship reunions. The interviews resulted in a video-documentary, “The USS Dunlap: Recollections of Those Who Served,” which can be viewed at the Richmond Museum.

Civil War battlefields and sites have been favorite places for Peters to visit for years, she said, and now that she’s living in Tennessee during the school year, she has the opportunity to visit more of them and gain much from the experience. She often includes these feelings in her writing.

Peters is working on a sequel to “The War Within,” and in a few months plans to release her first photography book, “Photographing Kenya’s Backyard,” which will be published by her other business, Wild Radiance Photography.

“My purpose is to make people more aware of our world and our history so they learn to respect everything about it,” she said.

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