By Lisa Stukel, Contributing Writer
Northborough- While many first-grade students doodle in their notebooks, stare out the window at the playground, or pull their neighbors pigtails, future author Lisa Wingate was dreaming up stories. Back in 1971, Wingate was a shy transfer student in Mrs. Krackhardt's first-grade class at Peaslee Elementary School in Northborough.
“We were having indoor recess, and I didn's have any friends yet, so I was sitting at my desk writing a story,” Wingate said. “My teacher came by and started reading over my shoulder, and when I was finished, she picked up the story, tapped it on the desk, and said, “You are a wonderful writer!” Those few words completely changed the way I thought of myself.
“In my mind, I went from being a shy transfer kid with no friends to a wonderful writer. I felt that writing was something special, and I was something special.”
After that, Mrs. Krackhardt began reading Wingate's stories to the class, and the young author discovered the joy of having an audience.
Mrs. Krackhardt's words of inspiration deeply affected Wingate.
“I realized that writing was a way to bridge the shyness gap, and that storytelling was a special gift., she said. “Things were never the same after that. Even though we moved again and left that school behind, I always thought of myself as a writer because Mrs. Krackhardt told me I was.”
Mrs. Krackhardt wrote on Lisa's first-grade report card, “Keep that pencil working with that wonderful imagination, Lisa!” and “I expect to open a magazine and see her name listed among the contributors.” With those statements, Mrs. Krackhardt foretold Lisa's future. Today, Wingate is an award-winning journalist, magazine columnist, popular inspirational speaker and national bestselling author of 16 books.
Wingate got serious about freelance writing and selling after she graduated from college, married and started a family.
“I knew that I wanted to write novels, and that I wanted to write books that meant something, that explored the human soul and our need for a vibrant connection with the God who created us,” she said.
One day, Lisa came across a notebook in which she had jotted down some of her grandmother's stories, and she had the idea of combining her real-life stories with a fictional family who were like and unlike her own family. That idea became her first mainstream novel, “Tending Roses” published by Penguin Books in 2001.
After “Tending Roses” came out, Wingate emailed the Peaslee School looking for Mrs. Krackhardt, but she was told that the teacher had moved out of Northborough.
“I also searched through Yahoo, and at the end, I kind of gave up,” Wingate said.
Her latest book, “The Language of Sycamores,” which revisits the characters from her national bestselling novels, “Tending Roses” and “Good Hope Road,” is dedicated to her first-grade teacher.
“When I sat down to write the dedication for ‘The Language of Sycamores,’ I thought immediately of Mrs. Krackhardt,” Wingate said. “I knew the book should be dedicated to teachers, and especially to her. There is a young girl in the book who is just as lost and lonely as I was in that first-grade classroom, and she desperately needs someone to discover her special gifts and help her to believe.”
Last year when the “Language of Sycamores” came out, Wingate's mother sent the book and Wingate's report card to Peaslee, as well as a letter asking how to reach Krackhardt, but the Wingates received no response. Luckily, Jane Clark, who works at a Westborough bookstore, saw Krackhardt enter the store and told her about Wingate.
Recently, Wingate received information that a teacher at Kent Phoenix Academy in Kent, Wash., decided to forgo the district reading list, so that her English students could read and discuss one of her books, called, “Dandelion Summer.”
“It's so amazing and sweet the think that Mrs. Krackhardt's teaching legacy has traveled on to another classroom, through one of my books,” Wingate said. “Mrs. Krackhardt really did make a writer out of me all those years ago in the first grade. The impact one teacher can have is exponential and amazing.”