Jan. 29, 2007

Author to speak at Holy Trinity to promote his books on Opa & Oma

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Patrick (Packy) Mader, a ‘72 graduate of Holy Trinity High School, captures a bygone era of rural living in his two children’s books, which focus on the years he grew up on his parents’ farm in St. Bonifacious.

The stories he shares are from memories of his parents, Opa, German for grandfather, and Oma, German for grandmother, and farm life.

Some experiences he did not appreciate while he was younger, but has learned to value as an adult.

The books are beautifully illustrated and have a simple text for children to read. It was important for Mader to show positive family values and he also wanted to show how rural life is changing.

During Catholic Schools Week, Mader will be speaking to students at Holy Trinity School Wednesday, Jan. 31, about his published book, “Opa & Oma Together,” and his new book scheduled to be released in May, “Oma Finds a Miracle.”

Mader lives in Northfield with Karen, his wife of 17 years, their son, Karl, 15, and daughter, Ellen, 14.

He is a teacher at Morristown Elementary, where he has taught for more than 20 years. He is currently teaching sixth grade with a concentration in math, but has also taught fourth and fifth grades.

There have been many changes that Mader has seen throughout his years of teaching.

“Both positive and negative,” Mader said. “A positive thing would be technology has improved to help teaching. A negative is family life is just not nearly as together as what I portray in my books. At least where I teach, we have some very sad home situations.”

Mader had never really thought about writing a book, although he had made some contributions on a local history book about Waconia Lake and its island, for the town of Waconia, where he once taught. He researched and published a family genealogy, and even had a few guest column articles printed in newspapers and newsletters.

However, it was his daughter, Ellen, who really got him to thinking about writing a book.

She had been chosen to attend a writers’ workshop in Rochester, where she had purchased four children’s books. She was excited about the books and shared them with her parents. One of the books really impressed Mader.

“It had a very positive message and a very simple story and the illustrations were wonderful,” Mader said. “It was just a simple story and I blocked the pictures out and just looked at the text. I thought, ‘I could do this.’”

Two years went by, and Ellen was in sixth grade. Thanksgiving day, she and Mader were doing the dishes together and she told her father that she was thinking of becoming an author someday. Mader told her that he, too, had thought about writing a book about the farm he grew up on, and his parents, George and Mary Margaret, whose first language was German.

That Christmas, never realizing what a very special gift she was giving her father, Ellen gave him two drawings and a cover letter tied together with ribbon.

Mader still has the drawings. One was his dad, Opa, baling hay with his John Deere tractor, and the other was his mother, Oma, quilting. Ellen’s letter told him the pictures were for his book.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” Mader said. “After that, I would be driving and I would think of how I would write the book. When I actually went to write it, I had been thinking about it for three or four weeks and I just sat down and I wrote the story in one morning.”

“Opa & Oma Together” was released in October 2005, and the first printing of 1,500 copies sold out in six months. It is in more than 100 libraries in many states, but primarily Minnesota because that is where the story takes place.

Mader has been to about 40 schools, libraries and book stores to talk about the book and to promote it, something that he has really enjoyed doing.

“When I had gotten the first book published and it looked like it was doing okay, right away, I started thinking about a second book because it was such a rewarding experience,” Mader said.

There are many memories Mader easily recalls of his younger years on the farm and the busy times, like his mother getting the kids off to school in the morning. According to Mader, his mother just about invented multi-tasking.

“She could juggle George as a baby and pack our lunches, because they did not have school lunch at St. Boniface, laundry was going, and something baking, and the hydrant was probably going, too. It was pretty amazing all of the things that she could juggle.”

Most memories of his father involved carpenter work that was done on their home. Mader remembers his dad performing “phenomenal tasks” for a man who only weighed 175 pounds.

He remembers quiet times, too, like the early morning hours when he walked to the barn to milk the cows.

“It was so dark and the sky was dark with lots of beautiful starlight and you could hear the cows gently mooing, and the calves,” he said.

His very favorite memory of the farm was, “playing with my brothers after the work was done. The work came first, but then, we would play games like baseball, and in the winter, we would flood the yard and ice skate.”

Although neither of his parents had much while they were growing up, they made sure their children had the things they thought were valuable – their major priority was education.

Mader’s mom drove his brothers and sisters, MaryJo (Edina), Fr. Stan (Mound), Greg (Rochester), Barb (Tacoma), and George (Nevada), to school at Holy Trinity a total of two hours every day until Mader was able to get a driver’s license. Mader’s oldest brother, Jim (Edina), graduated from Benilde High School.

‘Oma Finds a Miracle’

With so many childhood memories to choose from, Mader’s second book is made up of two true stories that he has combined. The book’s title is “Oma finds a Miracle.”

The story is about a calf born in a field, during a snowstorm. Oma finds it and saves the calf’s life by bringing it home on a toboggan.

Once again, it only took Mader one morning to write the second book because he had been thinking about the book for awhile.

This book will be available in May.

Both of Mader’s books have been self-published. He made the decision after researching the publishing business online and checking out books at the library.

Finally, he met with a book representative in Minneapolis, and she read his first book and told Mader that he had a good story.

Then, she explained that the book would go to an editor. Following the initial acceptance of the book, there is still a two- or three-year process. An illustrator is chosen, the title, designing, and editing is picked. They are in charge because they bought the rights to the book.

The book representative told him there are approximately 10,000 submissions and they print fewer than 200 of those a year.

Mader left, thinking, “I am a math teacher and my odds were not good. I had less than a 2 percent chance. I thought, ‘my chances just are not in my favor.’”

Because he did not want to see the book changed and because his chances were small to have it published soon, he chose the self-publishing route.

Self-publishing requires a professional editor, a professional proof-reader, and a professional graphic art studio.

Even with self-publishing, both books went through a professional editor with four revisions.

Mader liked the editor, although he admitted it kind of hurt to see the corrections. However, with each revision he made, he felt the books got better.

Self-publishing let the author make personal touches to the book, and that was a real benefit to Mader.

In the first book, the dog tag on the dog running across the farmyard has the name “Rex” on it. It was the name of the family’s favorite dog.

The second book shows a snow sculpture of a tractor that the grandchildren had once done. The cow tags have numbers that indicate special family dates.

Andrew Holmquist is the same illustrator in both books. He was only 19 when he did the first book, and there were many good comments about his work.

“He is great! I think he is eventually going to be very successful. He is attending a prestigious art school in Chicago,” Mader said.

Most of the pictures illustrated in the book were made from a number of photographs of Mader’s parents’ farm and their family.

Mader has plans to write a third book. The title is not certain, but Mader is thinking of calling it, “Big Brother has Wheels,” with a subtitle, “and sees the country.”

“We just didn’t get out very much, but once my brother Jim got his driver’s license, we had the world opened to us,” Mader said. “He took us to Twins games, restaurants, and ice cream parlors we had never been to before or we couldn’t afford – it was just an eye-opener. He was a great big brother!”

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