Thanks so much for letting me interview you and for having a copy of Legendary Locals of St. Charles sent to me by Arcadia Publishing. With Legendary Locals of St. Charles, I think you two have hit another home run!
The vintage images in your book portray the story of St. Charles from its very beginning all the way to modern times. The photos capture images and tell the stories of early settlers, such as Louis Blanchette, St. Philippine Duchesne, and Lewis and Clark, as well as living legends, such as Grace Nichols, the first female mayor of the City of St. Charles; Mark Buehrle, Major League Baseball pitcher; Bobbi Smith, New York Times best-selling author; Art Holliday, award-winning journalist and newscaster, and many others.
Along with the visually stunning images, your book includes historical -- and some surprising -- information in the captions. As an example, your book answered a question I’ve had for a long time: Who was responsible for erecting the lovely shrine on Highway 70 near Mid Rivers Mall? (Answer: Ralph Borgmeyer, page 67)
Because Don and Dianna were so generous with their time and shared so much fascinating information in their answers, I’ve divided their interview into two parts.
The six questions in Part I (below) include a glimpse into how Dianna and Don approached, researched, and organized this amazing project, along with some background on Don and Dianna, which I believe reveals their passion and dedication not only to this book, but also to the City of St. Charles.
1. In Legendary Locals of St. Charles you’ve created another historical gem. What prompted you to tackle the project of compiling and writing Legendary Locals of St. Charles?
Thanks, Donna, for featuring us on your blog.
Arcadia Publishing emailed us in late 2014 and asked if we’d consider taking on the project for the company’s new Legendary Locals imprint. In 2009 we did a book for Arcadia titled St. Charles: Les Petites Côtes, and it did pretty well, so we guess that’s why they contacted us. We wish we could say it was that easy, but even though Arcadia had contacted us to do the project and not the other way around, they still required us to develop a thorough book proposal and obtain sample photographs before they issued a contract.
2. Will each of you share a little of your backgrounds and how they meshed to write your latest book?
Don: I have lived in St. Charles all my life except when I was away at college, and my family has lived here for five generations.
Dianna: I spent a good deal of time around the Main Street area as a child, even though my family lived in St. Louis. My grandmother lived here, and my uncle was a police officer here. Most of my dad’s family lived here.
Based on recollections from our early years, we are certain we crossed paths in St. Charles many times as children. We were often in the same place at approximately the same time. Members of our families knew each other. Ironically, when we finally met face-to-face as adults, it wasn’t in St. Charles—it was in New Athens, Illinois! As for the book, Don has always been interested in regional history, and Dianna has an editorial background, so blending our experiences and interests together to compile a book about the town in which we’ve spent most of our lives made sense.
3. Legendary Locals of St. Charles includes wonderful photos over an extended period of time period from a variety of sources. How did you gain access to the historic photos, archives, and other sources?
Don: I sat on the board of directors at St. Charles County Historical Society for five years, so we already had contacts and friends there. That made it easier to obtain permission to use some photographs and get answers to questions that came up as we did research. (A percentage of our profits from this book benefit the historical society.)
Dianna: My flexible work hours enabled me to spend afternoons at the historical society or at the Kathryn Linnemann branch of the library doing research. I was also was able to interview some subjects in person, like Donna Hafer of the Mother-in-Law House, Ernie Dempsey at Pio’s Restaurant, and Cordelia Stumberg, civic leader and pianist, who played her beloved piano for me one afternoon at her home—a real treat.
By lucky accident, we received some interesting photos and information from Scott Grimwood at the SSM Health Archives. We’d contacted him for permission to use a photo of Sister Mary Elizabeth Becker, one of the founders of SSM Health St. Joseph Hospital–St. Charles. He not only arranged for us to receive permission for the photo from Franciscan Sisters of Mary, he sent early photos of the hospital and of a few early St. Charles doctors, along with some great historical tidbits from the archives.
4. Your meticulous research shines through in the informative captions, which go beyond a description of the photos to include historical tidbits. How did you balance photos and captions in the layout of your book?
That is kind of tricky because of our publisher’s format and guidelines for the imprint. Word counts for captions differ depending on whether you have one or two pictures on a page, whether the pictures are horizontal or vertical, etc. Sometimes we cut the captions short when we actually had more information to include, based on Arcadia’s guidelines. After we saw the proofs, we realized that in some cases we would have had room to lengthen our captions. So that was a little bit of a disappointment, but it’s really a learning process.
5. Can you share a bit about how you decided on and organized the chapters, which range from Chapter 1: Settlers, Famous Visitors, and Early Residents -- to Chapter 6: Military and Law Enforcement (which I thoroughly enjoyed).
We based our chapter titles on the pattern we observed in other Legendary Locals books from around the country. Where we diverged a bit was with the chapters on Educational Leaders and Military and Law Enforcement. We really wanted to recognize some dedicated teachers we’ve known, and we both felt compelled to honor all of the law enforcement officers who died while serving in St. Charles, one of whom was Dianna’s uncle, Al Musterman.
One challenge with the organization within the chapters was that we wanted to arrange photographs chronologically. Since each chapter had to end on an even page with no blank pages, and since we had two pictures for some subjects and one for others, it didn’t work out that way.
6. This is your fifth book you’ve co-written. How long did it take from concept to completion, and how did you divide the workload?
Our contract provided about eight months for completion. We didn’t really think of it in terms of dividing a workload, so that’s a hard question to answer. Since we are married, we’re together most of the time, and we just worked on it when we could. At times, one of us was working on it more than the other.
Check back on Friday for Part II of my interview, in which Don and Dianna share some surprises, a few favorites, and their plans for events and signings, where readers can meet them in person.