Life and Work
Marilyn Halvorson, daughter of Irene and Trygve Halvorson, was born January 17, 1948 in Olds Alberta. She was raised and still lives in her childhood home on the land her father homesteaded near Bergen.
Marilyn's interest in ranching and storytelling developed early. She tagged along after her father as he worked their ranch and ran her own toy ranch under the piano stool from the time she was very young.
The fall Marilyn was five, X.P. Crispo, the school inspector, asked her mother to teach at Bergen School. When Irene declined because she had a five year-old daughter to care for, he said, "Bring her along and put her with the Grade 2's (there were no Grade 1's that year)." Irene took the job and became Marilyn's teacher for grades 1 to 6.
By junior high, she was breaking and training her own horses. Marilyn won a lot of races in Sundre on a little mare named Goldie. "My Goldie era was probably the best time of my life," Marilyn says.
After graduating in 1964 from Sundre High School, Marilyn managed to endure life in Calgary long enough to earn a degree in education. Her introduction to teaching was in Didsbury where she taught Social Studies to two Grade 9 classes.
Although she went into teaching with no great enthusiasm for the job, Marilyn came to love it. Her years teaching Grade 5 and 6 when she and her students did special things like cross country skiing, baking Christmas cookies and compiling year-end books of students' writings are her favorite teaching memories.
Marilyn wrote her book Cowboys Don't Cry while she was teaching Grade 7. She submitted the manuscript to a contest sponsored by the Alberta Government and Clarke Irwin Publishers. Her story won the contest and was published. Marilyn's writing career was underway as Clarke Irwin gave her a contract to write nine more books.
Over the next 15 years, she wrote 12 books. Her only non-fiction work, To Everything A Season, written in 1989-90 was one of her favourite writing projects.
After her father's death, Marilyn and her mother lived together on the ranch until the 1980s when Irene's failing health led her to move into Foothills Lodge in Sundre. Today, she cares for several horses, more than 50 Simmental/Hereford cows, a couple of boisterous dogs and a wonderful array of cozy cats to keep her company.
Letter of Appreciation by Marilyn Walker
To come up with words to describe a friend who uses words so well is a daunting task indeed. My friendship with Marilyn Halvorson has spanned more decades than I care to number. During our senior high school years Marilyn introduced me to the exhilarating world of horseback riding. Marilyn and Pepper, the only horse I ever really trusted, became my special buddies. Not only did Marilyn provide me with a captivating insight into ranch life, she and her wonderful parents, Trygve and Irene made me feel a welcome part of their loving home.
I was always aware of how Marilyn excelled academically. Her gift for writing was apparent from the time she was very young. I have read the exquisite letter that Marilyn wrote, when she was nine years old, inviting her cousin to come and visit. It was also evident Marilyn possessed two additional qualities which later enabled her to become an effective teacher and a successful author: She had great empathy for the underdog and a vivid imagination.
She skillfully wove her experiences and talents in the creation of youth fiction. Her love of horses and ranching coupled with her storytelling abilities have been cleverly merged together. She has provided a dynamic contribution to the field of literature for young adults.
Marilyn currently enjoys a well-deserved time of cats on laps, good books, cheery, warm fires, conversation with friends and the honest toils of ranch life.
Memories of Marilyn Halvorsen
The addition of cooking and housekeeping chores to her usual three jobs, plus a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, convinced Marilyn the time had come to slow down. She was tired of working three jobs, but couldn't decide which one she would give up. Her decision was made one cloudy morning, when she stepped out onto the porch to drink her morning coffee and stood feeling the chinook breeze play across her face. Her peaceful enjoyment was short lived as a voice in her head urged her to hurry up and get ready for school. She rebelled, saying, "I don't want to hurry!" Realizing that her life was half over, she didn't need to teach to survive financially and that her heart wasn't really in teaching anymore, she resigned and gained the freedom to explore her interests in animals, conservation, gardening, painting and reading. She also gave more of her time to the community through the Bergen Ladies' Aid, the Sundre Library Board and the Bergen Church.
In the spring of 2001, she bought a paint horse with a little attitude to keep her on her toes. Living close to nature with her animals' unconditional love and trust enriches Marilyn's life and gives her a sense of being a part of something bigger than the petty human rat race. Marilyn credits her success in life to her parents who provided her with a wonderful, secure childhood, the encouragement to be herself and the freedom to live in her own world; her good-hearted friends who have never let her down and a faith in God that gives her peace and security. "When I have a problem that I don't know what to do about, I turn it over to God," she says.
Marilyn is not writing at the moment but hopes to start again one of these days, perhaps with a Noreen Olsen type of newspaper column, although, "There is no pleasure like seeing my own book on a bookstore shelf" she says. Marilyn, often asked why she writes mostly about boys, says that she does so for two reasons: first, boys are more likely to get into the kind of predicaments that interest her and second, so that both boys and girls will read her stories, since girls will read about boys but boys will not read a book about girls. She hopes her readers learn from her books that: it is important to treat animals right, it is okay to be who you are, it is okay for boys to feel things, girls can be as strong and adventurous as boys, and everybody has tough times and is strong enough to get through them. Her advice to new writers is: start with a journal, write about what effects you deeply - the good and bad, write about what you know and remember it is important to be accurate. To the generations after hers, Marilyn says," Toughen up! Be capable. Do well." To young women: "Stop worrying about being somebody's wife and be somebody."
Her writing career has expanded Marilyn's world and given her friends in many parts of Canada and around the world. Research trips for her books and author visits to Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and throughout Alberta have been great fun. Marilyn has grown from the very shy teenager, who had to deliver her 4-H Club speech to a spot on the back wall, to a very confident and entertaining speaker. "The farther from home I am, the easier it is to speak and the farther east I go the bigger my ranch gets," she laughs. "Naming my characters is great fun, too. They are like the children I never had." Receiving letters from kids who find themselves in the same situation as the characters in her books; hearing from a reluctant reader who finally finished a whole book; or knowing that a dying child found comfort in her stories, feeds Marilyn's soul. A Swedish girl, who has been corresponding with Marilyn for two years, is actually coming to the ranch this spring to do a practicum for a high school course on animal care.
-Recorded by Edna Bakken from a conversation with and notes from Marilyn
- Recorded by Edna Bakken from a conversation with and notes from Marilyn Halvorson