Children's Author and Business Manager
2005 Alumni Achievement Award Winner
Elizabeth Harler Van Steenwyk '48 says the lessons she learned during her
time at Knox have served her well throughout the rest of her life, leading to a
career as an award-winning children's author and business manager. "That experience taught me that I could expand my horizons in countless ways and always be reaching for more."
Van Steenwyk found her Knox experience was less than she wanted it to be. A Galesburg native, she lived off-campus, and even with a scholarship, she had to work to meet all her expenses. "I knew I was missing something, that my circumstances isolated me from a full college experience."
Not one to sit around moping, Van Steenwyk says, "I began to have dinner with my sorority sisters on Monday nights at Whiting Hall, met new people as I caught early breakfasts at the Gizmo, and played golf on balmy afternoons with classmates, which also satisfied P.E. requirements."
She adds, "Sounds like I didn't study, but I did -- going to Seymour instead of the public library that had been my library home for so many years. This helped complete my integration into college life. Fortunately, I learned early that I had to recognize what was missing and reach out for it."
After graduating with a bachelor's degree in English, Van Steenwyk kept reaching for opportunities that interested her. Her early career was spent writing for radio and television, including work with NBC's flagship station KTSM-TV in El Paso, Texas, before turning to writing children's literature. Eventually, she was even "thrust into a business career" managing Adelaida Cellars, her family's winery.
Although she continues to have success managing the winery, it is her writing that she is best known for. She is the author of more than 70 fiction and non-fiction books for young people, including A Traitor Among Us, When Abraham Talked to the Trees, and One Fine Day, which was awarded a Teachers' Choice Award for children's books. While the subjects of her books vary, many focus on historical figures and children's lives during important historical events. Her most recent works include First Dog Fala, which centers on Franklin Roosevelt's dog, and Abraham Lincoln: A Prairie Life, a non-fiction narrative of Lincoln's early life.