A History of Riverwind  Storytellers, Co

In October of 1982, a group of storytellers from the Metro-St. Louis area went to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. Susan Lucco, the head of the Edwardsville Public Library was familiar with the Illini Storytelling Guild that met in central Illinois. She spear-headed a meeting after an after-telling party and decided to form a storytelling group that met in the Metro-St. Louis area. The Illini tellers duly dubbed the group a full-fledged storytelling guild and the Riverwind Storytellers, Company was born.

The first meeting, after they returned home, was in Glen Carbon, IL at a local restaurant. About 15 interested people came. Susan Lucco became the first president with Jean Eilering as secretary and Marilyn Kinsella as editor of the newsletter. Later, Jeanne Rhoades became the group's treasurer and Riverwind applied for a not-for profit status.

Over the years, Riverwind has met in a variety of restaurants - Rusty's in Edwardsville, Western Sizzlin' in O'Fallon, Red Lobster in Fairview Heights, Sawyers near I-270, Fischer's Restaurant in Belleville, The Fireside Inn in Maryville and since 2003 - Ravanelli's in Granite City and Ponderosa in Collinsville. The meetings follow the same format - order dinner and talk over the storytelling biz, eat, pay, and sit back to enjoy the stories.

Usually, in August, the Riverwind storytellers meet at someone's home for a pot-luck picnic. In December they usually go to someone's home for a Christmas party. Lady Christmas, Gwen Dake, has hosted the party on numerous occasions.

It wasn't long before an idea came to the group - to hold their own workshop. In 1984, the first "Riverwind Whirlwind Weekend" was held. They have held that workshop annually since that time. Read "A Short History of the Riverwind Whirlwind Weekend."

As their storytelling skills blossomed, different groups over the years have invited Riverwind to come to tell. The money they make goes into the treasury to help subsidize the Riverwind Whirlwind Weekend. They have told at picnics, Halloween events, First Night, art fairs, and family reading nights in the Metro-St. Louis area.

They have also held special benefit performances when tragedy happens - Story Tsunami after a wave killed thousands of people in SW Asia in 2004, Storytelling for the Mississippi River Flood Victims in 1993 and The Jackie Torrence Storytelling Benefit, 1998. They have also given generously to various causes throughout the years. When the need arises, they have offered a "scholarship" to the Riverwind weekend.

Marilyn Kinsella wrote several Madison County Arts grants using the Riverwind as the fiscal agent to secure jobs for storytellers. Many underserved groups heard stories through the grants - nursing homes, Head Start, literacy, etc.. Riverwind also participated in library grants that brought storytellers to many libraries and Head Starts around Metro-St. Louis.

Marilyn Hill's husband, Jim, an art teacher, designed the Riverwind logo. It has been a part of Riverwind since the early 80's. It's been on our flyers, brochures, banner, and now our website as a symbol of what Riverwind means. Interesting side bar: Elizabeth Ellis once told us that in the Native American culture, the two symbols for stories are water and wind...hmmm.

Another interesting tidbit came up at a meeting one night. Someone asked where their first storytelling experience was. Of the 10 or so charter members, most said they attended a workshop in Carlyle, IL with The Folktellers. We laughed...that was a full year or so before Riverwind was formed and we didn't know each other back then.

Joy McLaughlin spear-headed Riverwind taking part in Tellabration! - a nation-wide storytelling event. Since 2000, Riverwind has participated. It's an evening of stories for the "adult heart" that is held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. They held this event at the Edwardsville Public Library until 2005. After that they began to move the event. Be sure to read about the latest Tellabration! on the Riverwind main page.

Since 1981, many tellers have come and gone, but the meetings usually have between 10-15 in attendance. There are about 4 of the charter members still attending. The past officers include:

President - Susan Lucco, Donna Meyer, Marilyn Kinsella, Marilyn Hill, Mary Lu Bretsch, Rod Adams. Lynne Beetner

Secretary/Newsletter - Jean Eilering, Marilyn Kinsella, Marilyn Hill, Carol Hill

Treasurer - Jeanne Rhoades, Joy McLaughlin, Mary Lu Bretsch

Elizabeth Ellis, a storyteller from Dallas TX, has been the workshop leader three times. Whenever she passes through the St. Louis area, the group has hired her to come and spend an evening or afternoon. She single-handedly mid-wifed many newbie Riverwinders into full-fledged storytellers. For her many gifts that she bestowed on the group, she was made Riverwind's official "Fairy godmother." In 1998, at one of the impromptu "Evening with Elizabeth" events, she was given a proclamation, a crown, fairy wings, and a ton of gold fairy dust to make her official. Later, when she came to the 20 year anniversary of the Riverwind Whirlwind Weekend in 2004, she was upgraded to Riverwind's Storytelling Goddess.

Riverwind has also help sponsor the St. Louis Storytelling Festival Under the Arch. Many of the Riverwind tellers are regional tellers year after year and some have been even been featured tellers. They were also supportive of the Belleville Storytelling Festival that began in 2009.

In 2007, Riverwind took an active part in bringing the National Storytelling Conference to St. Louis. Mary Lu Bretsch is the RW rep on the committee. Many of the members are heading the many committees for the conference.

In 2012, the Riverwind decided not to hold the workshop. Instead they held a "Squeaver Story Fest" in Hannibal, MO. Everyone came with a story and everyone was welcomed to tell.

New challenges come to the Riverwind - whether its a new story, story program or event. Changes in the make-up of Riverwind change the face but not the heart of Riverwind. If you love stories...Riverwind is the place to be.



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