Mary Louise Huiskamp Wilkins
Mary Louise Huiskamp Wilkins
August 3, 1926 – October 27, 2015
Mary Louise Huiskamp Wilkins, also known as Mary Calhoun (children’s book author) passed away peacefully on October 27, 2015, at Brookdale-Boulder Creek Assisted Living in Boulder, CO at the age of 89. A long time Steamboat Springs, CO, resident, Mary moved to Boulder in September 2012.
Mary was born on August 3, 1926, to William Clark Huiskamp and Louisa Belle Waples, in Keokuk, IA. After graduating high school in Keokuk, she attended the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, where she received a BA in Journalism. While at the University, she also worked as an intern on the local newspaper, the Daily Iowan, writing for the social column. After graduation in 1948, she and her close college friend, Phyllis (Shearer) Ince, departed for Chicago, IL seeking success in their respective fields (newspaper journalism and advertising). According to Phyllis, Mary did not remain in Chicago long due to family pressures, so Mary relocated to Omaha, NE and took a job at the Omaha World Herald.
It was in Omaha that she met her future first husband, James Franklin (“Frank”) Calhoun, also a journalist. They were married in September 1948, in Portland, OR and settled in southern California, where Frank worked on various newspapers and Mary settled in as a homemaker to raise their 2 sons, Michael and Gregory.
During the mid-1950’s, when her sons were young, she started to reconnect with a period from her own childhood, remembering stories that her mother told her as well as simple stories she developed on her own. The gestation of her storytelling career, which would carry on through most of the rest of her life, began with the simple requests from her sons: “Tell me a story”. Eventually, some of these early stories were developed into manuscripts, and after many rejections, were published first in children’s magazines and later as books. Her first book, “Making the Mississippi Shout”, was published in 1957.
Around that time, the Calhoun family moved to Mount Vernon, WA where Frank took a job as a photojournalist at the Skagit Valley Herald. Mary began her writing career in earnest, developing the serious writing habits and routine which would carry on for many years: write until noon, after the children were in school, and focus on other responsibilities the rest of the day. During the years in Mount Vernon she started the first of the “Katie John” series of chapter books for pre-teens, a series that became popular and renowned, based on her childhood growing up along the Mississippi River in Iowa.
After Frank Calhoun’s sudden death in August 1961, Mary continued to live in Mount Vernon for another year with her 2 sons until her high school sweetheart, the Rev. Leon R. Wilkins, came to seek her hand in marriage. They were married in November 1962 and settled in Rangely CO, where Leon was the pastor of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church. Mary and Leon then moved to Steamboat Springs CO in 1971.
Mary’s writing career continued to develop and flourish during these years, publishing both picture books for younger children and chapter books for older, pre-teens and teens. In all, over her career between 1957 and 2001, she published over 50 books. One of the best received was the picture-book series featuring Henry the Cat, of which “Cross Country Cat was the most popular.
Besides writing, Mary continued to love to tell stories directly to groups of children, in school and library settings. She loved nature and was fond of traipsing among the wildflowers in early summer, in the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness area north of Steamboat Springs, often with a few friends in tow.
Mary also served in the Episcopal churches where her husband Leon officiated as a member of the Altar Guild, singing in the choir, and teaching Sunday school.
Mary touched many people, young and old, through her writing, her imagination, and her simple, yet profound truths. She was an independent, spirited woman, a good friend with sharp elbows. As one of the characters in her books says: “I’m darned if I do and darned if I don’t! And darned few snakes can straddle a stump, so I’ll please myself.” And she did.
Mary is survived by her son Gregory Calhoun and daughter-in-law, Patricia Calhoun, of Longmont, CO; her daughter-in-law, Jodi Calhoun, of Friday Harbor, WA; and, 4 grandchildren (Copper, Kirsten, Koben, and Sean). Her husbands, Frank Calhoun and Leon Wilkins, as well as her son, Michael Calhoun, preceded Mary in death.
A memorial service, followed by an interment of her remains in the church columbarium, will take place this coming summer at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 846 Oak St., Steamboat Springs, CO. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Steamboat Springs, CO.
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