For Rick Iekel, history is more than a record of events stretched along a continuum. Rather, it is the DNA of our humanity, all the “stuff” that makes us who we are.
As a young boy, he observed his mother creating poetry.
“I would see her in the kitchen, her head moving in concentration. I’ve concluded she would create a line that was the pivotal line. And then she would create a poem out of that line.”
Iekel believes he got his writing skills from his mother, Helen Corrigan Iekel. The first book he published, Life Lines, was a selection of her poems, with commentary from him. Later, a friend and mentor urged him to write his mother’s biography, and so The Candles of My Life tells the story of this remarkable women.
“When I got done with these two, I thought, ‘okay I’m going to get off the Freudian kick and write about something else.’” That “something else” was his childhood home, built in 1854.
Iekel’s House with a Heart, beautifully illustrated by local artist Patricia Iacuzzi, is narrated by a most endearing character. “Arthur” is lonely without people to care about. He has an amazing memory for a character pushing 166 years old this year. “Arthur” is Iekel’s childhood home, a house with a tender heart. In Iekel’s book, Arthur tells two young ladies (who seek shelter in his rooms from a storm) the story of Michael and Sarah, the real family that built him.
Iekel said Michael and Sarah “moved from the Mohawk Valley to Cattaraugus County. He was a hard-working farmer. He didn’t have time to become a mayor or commissioner. There was nothing out there.”
The reader follows this young family through the challenges of eking out a life in what was a formidable wilderness in mid-19th century upstate New York. While not a suspenseful page turner, Iekel’s book fuses education with pure enjoyment. His exhaustive research makes House with a Heart an excellent resource for New York state teachers, who are required to teach about the pioneer era. The book includes photos and excerpts from historical records of Michael and Sarah’s town of Ashford in northern Cattaraugus County.
How did you manage all the data you collected for your book?
“I was very archaic about that. I’ll take a notebook and all my research is on pages of that. At one point, I take that notebook, and reorganize it into another book. I think that’s part of my processing. I’ve got all this stuff. I have to put this here and that there. Those go together. This ties together.”
He added, “I like dialogue…That’s how I got the house talking… I’ve had a number of readers who said they fell in love with Arthur.” (When Arthur cries, rain trickles down his windows.)
What is the hardest and the easiest parts of writing for you?
“The hardest is editing…I’m a story teller not a story shower. Making sure I’m showing is really the hardest part for me. That comes a lot in the editing.”
“The easiest part…once I get on a roll, is to keep writing. If I start with an idea, I can usually roll it out very badly. But it’s out there. That gives me something to work on, to settle into. Gives me direction.”
Do you have a writing schedule?
“I usually get up about 6. My wife likes to get up about 8. When I was writing my books, I was pretty much out on the front porch in the morning with a cup of coffee, and depending on the weather, a coat. It’s my quiet time.”
Iekel’s next book will be a history of the Monroe County International Airport, which will turn 100 soon. Since he had been Assistant Manager of the airport for 16 years, and Manager for 4 years, Iekel is eager to delve into its past through the lens of one who spent 20 years keeping planes safely flying thousands of people in and out of Rochester.
Perhaps that accounts for the name of Iekel’s blog — Flying with Rick. He said he started his blog so he would write on a regular basis. But it turned into his heart. “The books are my head. It’s (his blog) turned into a kind of ministry.”
He recently became involved with U Lab, a process much like, but far beyond, Total Quality Management (TQM), which had been the rage among upper management years ago. His U Lab group decided to continue meeting because they wanted to see what they could do with what they learned.
“It’s about coming together and affirming the notion that a more perfect union begins with us…It’s understanding diversity…How can I be a bridge to help diversity be acceptable instead of where we are in the world today?”
He sees it as a ministry. “A small amount of people can change things. We don’t know exactly how, but it does.”
Indeed Rick, isn’t change the stuff of life and how history’s DNA is formed?
Iekels’s print and e-books are available at Amazon. For more information, visit Rick’s Facebook page, “Rick Iekel, Author” or contact Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org.