WESTBROOK, Minnesota (STPNS) --     Walnut Grove — From its small beginnings in the sweltering heat of the high school gymnasium, in July of 1978, Fragments of a Dream was born. Over the years hundreds of people have either been cast members,  crew, or other support  personnel donating thousands of hours to making the pageant a success over the past 40 years.

    Pageant Director Erin Richards, when asked about the fortieth anniversary, says,  “It seems unbelievable that it has been that long since the pageant started, and of course I was not yet born when it started.”  But she literally grew up in the pageant when her father Bill was the architect of building the sets, and its director for many of those years.

    Richards is more  than optimistic and very enthusiastic about the pageant continuing on for many more years. It seems like the community really gets behind it and supports it in many different ways, she says.

    “I like hearing the stories from the early years about the pageant and its different characters. Those people were pioneers of the pageant, and I like to get that across to the current cast members,” she  said.

    She noted that as part of the 40th celebration they will have a sign in table next to the souvenir stand for former members to register  and they will get a name badge of who they are and what parts they played. During the Pageant Singers performance they will be asked to stand up for recognition. Richards said, “I hope a lot of them show up for this honor.” She also hopes many people from the area who have not seen the pageant before or who have not seen it for several years will make a special  effort to come to the show.

    She says this year they have fewer kids in the cast, and more adult women, and they have switched some of the parts to different people.

    For the most part she says, they stick pretty close to the same script, but everybody will interpret their parts differently, so some time they will deliver a line a bit different then the script.

    There are a few practices left before  the first performance on Friday evening. “We call  this our fine tuning week,” she says.

    Richards takes notes during the fine tuning week — and after the run throughs she goes over the things that need attention or changes that will make the scene work better.

    This is Richards third year as pageant director,  and she is assisted by Sam Malmberg who is in his first year as assistant director.

    Errol Steffen, who plays the part of Pa Ingalls, is the longest cast participant who has been involved since the first year it was presented in the high school gym.

    When asked how long he would continue in the pageant Steffen replied, “Until they find someone better to take over the Pa part — although I still wouldn’t  mind doing a smaller part like Doc Hoyt, or Reverend Alden.”

    He says they made a couple of small changes in the “grasshopper scene” and when Pa goes to Mankato to look for work.

    In the first year the pageant was presented in play form and some of the scenes present in today’s pageant were eliminated due to logistics of some of the scenes.

    The play was directed by Greg Anderson, a former classmate of  the Author James Merchant, from Southwest State University.

    Some of the main characters were played by Karen Larsen who played Caroline Ingalls. At that time the play was presented through her eyes. Tom Farber played the part of Pa Ingalls, Shirley Knakmuhs played Margaret Oleson, Errol Steffen played Reverend Alden, Jon  Elam was Doctor Hoyt, Dean Fujan was William Oleson, Patty Pacholl was Mary Ingalls, Susan Pacholl was Laura Ingalls, Brad Farber played James  Kennedy, Deb Knakmuhs was  Nellie Oleson, Jeanne Alcorn was Willie  Oleson.

    By 1982 the pageant site on Al Farber's land near Plum Creek was developed with several buildings and movable sets of the Kennedy House on one side and the Ingalls’ house on the other side. The church set was a clever addition which provided the cast to actually construct the building in one  of the scenes, another scene shows the inside of the church for the Christmas scene. The Oleson Store building is another scene that the front opens up and the inside of the store is pulled out for a couple of scenes involving the town council.

    Ross Alford, Walnut Grove took over the directors job after the play was moved into the natural amphitheater on the Farber land.

    That year Deb Kuehl played the part of Caroline Ingalls, Jesse James played the part of Charles Ingalls, Mary Ingalls was played by Tina VanDeWiele, and Lachelle Giese played the part of Laura.

    Along the way the Pageant Committee continued to make up-grades to the site adding a ticket booth and a new concession stand and new bathrooms. Technical aspects of the pageant have continued to be up-graded through the years with professional sound and lighting in a concrete bunker on the side of the hill.

    In 1984 the Pageant Singers performed for the first time, and have continued to provide a variety of music in the hour prior to the start of each show.

    Early on Pam Steffen wrote and performed the song “Fragments of a Dream” which was recorded and is now played for the opening scene of the pageant each night. On the pageant site the song does a wonderful job of taking you back to the late 1800’s on the prairie of southwest Minnesota.

    By 1983 Errol Steffen was one of two cast members to have been in all 16 productions, Al Farber was the other person,  he played James Kennedy.

    Caroline  was played by Constance Knott, Laura was played by Jessica Boerboom, and Mary was played by Dayna Christianson. Ronald  Kuehl played William Oleson. Beth Kleven played the older Caroline Oleson and provided narration between scenes.

    In 2002 the pageant celebrated its 25th anniversary. By this time Bill Richards had several years under his belt  as director.

    In the prologue that year Richards commented  — In a blink of an eye, 25 years have passed, In the blink of an eye, 175,000 people have seen the powerful story of hope on the Banks of Plum Creek. In a blink of an eye, a community  created and nurtured a monument to the pioneer spirit, devotion and determination.

    Today, In the blink of an eye 15 more years have past, and the people of Walnut Grove look to the future as they celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Wilder Pageant, “Fragments of a Dream.”