Seated along a table in the back room of Rough Draft coffeehouse on Sunday, seven local students laughed and chatted as they signed the product of four months of their work: A color-illustrated, 36-page book about Winona, the daughter of Hillsdale’s Algonquin Chief Baw Beese.
“It’s cool seeing now how it’s affecting a lot of people,” said Chloe Tritchka-Stuchell, 17, who helped write and illustrate the book. “Now that it’s printed and there’s all these people excited about it, it seems like we did something really cool.”
Tritchka-Stuchell, Sam Beach, Gretchen Birzer, and Hannah and Jack Cote — all high schoolers and members of the Hillsdale Heritage Association Youth Advisory Board — helped plot and write “Legends of Winona: A Special Gift” under the direction of Heather Tritchka, an executive board member of the Heritage Association. Angela Alvarez, 12, and Riley Coupland, 11, also signing books on Sunday, modeled the book’s two main characters — Coupland as Betsy and Alvarez as Winona.
For $10 each, the Heritage Association sold 122 of about 130 copies available on Sunday, but Tritchka said the group plans to sell 500 in the coming weeks. Proceeds from the sales will help fund Tritchka’s bear sculpture project, which she plans to unveil next spring at Baw Beese Lake.
The association still needs to raise about $19,000 for the bear project, and the book project might cover about a third of that amount, said Connie Sexton, the executive board chair and cofounder of the Heritage Association.
As they took turns signing books for the customers who walked in on Sunday, students said seeing the finished product for the first time was rewarding and exciting.
“I was kind of blown away,” Jack Cote, 15, said. “I had seen it all in pieces, and to see it all together was really cool.”
Beach, 16, said the project helped him learn to “trust in the process.”
“We slowly chipped away, and an hour ago I saw the final product, and it was awesome,” he said. He said his favorite customer response so far was his mother telling him she’d sent the book to his young nephew.
Delores Sanger, a member of the Litchfield Historical Society, donated several of the costumes the models used for the book’s illustrations and warmly engaged the students as they signed her copy of the book.
The book is “really cool,” Sanger said, noting that the costumes she donated were handmade by herself or others in her family — and some date back to 1957.
“I had no idea what they were going to do with it,” she said. “I knew they’d been working on it. It’s a nice opportunity for kids to do new and different things.”