MANKATO – In 2010, actress Betty White paid tribute to Mankato’s best-known children’s book author, Maud Hart Lovelace.
White portrayed a children’s librarian in an episode of “The Middle”. Her character tells a little girl about her love for Betsy, Tacy, and Tib stories as she recommends Lovelace’s book series. Mrs. Nethercott then becomes mean to the next child who approaches her desk. She threatens to prevent the show’s main character, Brick Heck, from upgrading if he doesn’t return the 30 books he borrowed.
Mankato’s Lona Falenczykowski recently revisited the scene from the May 19, 2010 episode via a clip posted to Instagram shortly after White’s death on December 31. White’s 100th birthday was only a few weeks away.
Falenczykowski is a member of the Betsy-Tacy Society and a movie buff.
“The Betsy-Tacy series was of course mentioned in ‘You’ve Got Mail’,” she said, referring to a 1998 romance movie starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
The company has no knowledge of White’s visit to Mankato, which Lovelace renamed “Deep Valley” for his semi-autobiographical series based on the lives of a group of children in the early 1900s.
White did, however, visit Minnesota and she had two long-standing roles as characters with roots in that state. She played Sue Ann Nivens, a male-hungry Twin Cities TV personality on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”. Her sweet and naive Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls” was often reminiscent of her hometown of St. Olaf, Minnesota.
White visited the St. Olaf College campus in Northfield in May 1992.
The college newsletter summarized White’s schedule: “The visit itself was a flurry of activity for the five-Emmy-winning actress. White created a wave of excitement when she showed up to a women’s softball game in St. Olaf. She attended both a rehearsal and the St. Olaf Choir’s Spring Concert, joining the choir to sing the college fight song, “Um Yah Yah”. The next morning, she had breakfast at the Ole store and a tour of the Northfield Historical Society museum. Seeing a photo of outlaw Jesse James, she said, “Look at his eyes. Is it any wonder Fonda played him?”
White was given a driving tour of Northfield and then returned to campus for a chapel service. St. Olaf President Melvin George spoke on the topic of “Becoming Like Children …” and concluded his speech by thanking the character of Rose Nylund “for reminding all Americans, even if they giggle nervously to some of the things you do, that being open, humble, dependent and vulnerable as a child is something to admire, that naivety isn’t that bad, and that happy endings are, in fact, what God had always in the lead when he made the world.
Nylund’s absurd and slightly wacky stories about life in St. Olaf were a running gag on the show and came to define the character – so much so that the acclaimed St. Olaf choir was able to visit the Hollywood set of “The Golden. Girls “during her 1989 tour, according to a 2012 St. Olaf magazine article by alum Susan Hvistendahl.
The Betsy-Tacy Society is also grateful to White for promoting a local author and State of Minnesota.
Falenczykowski noted a link last fall when an East Coast film critic arranged a tour of the Mankato neighborhood featured in most of Lovelace’s books. “Steve Mears brought his mom to town to see the Betsy-Tacy Houses.”
As they prepared to leave Mankato, the couple asked Falenczykowski for directions to Saint-Olaf.