— Sue Francis was doing a little research on her home computer a dozen years ago when she stumbled upon the surprise of her life.
She and famed author Laura Ingalls Wilder share ancestors. Ingalls Wilder’s grandmother, as Francis found, is her own fifth cousin.
“I discovered it myself,” said Francis, who has since confirmed her findings and was recognized as a descendant during a Laura Ingalls Wilder convention in Iowa in 2009.
“It was the highlight of my life.”
And for many fans like Francis, the second-ever Laurapalooza in Mankato will be the highlight of the year.
The three-day conference begins today on the Minnesota State University campus and has attracted more than 120 registrants from around the country with an impressive lineup of speakers and slate of events.
Though the event required pre-registration, organizer Amy Lauters said a limited number of $50 day passes will be available to the public. (Inquire on the second floor of MSU’s Centennial Student Union at the box office across from the Ballroom.)
Also available to the public are Alison Arngrim’s Friday presentation about her experiences playing the role of Nellie Oleson on the TV series “Little House on the Prairie”; and the Saturday silent auction that begins at noon (though, those that have not pre-registered will not be able to partake in the meal).
As for Francis, she attended the first-ever Laurapalooza in Mankato in 2010 and “loved it.”
This time around, she’ll be leaving her home in Tilton, Ill., to pick up a friend from Austria who is flying into Indianapolis and operates an Austrian-language site devoted to Laura Ingalls Wilder fandom.
She’s looking forward to many of the presentations — including those from Laura Ingalls Wilder biographer William Anderson, “Little House Cookbook” author Barbara Walker and Dean Butler, who played Almanzo Wilder in “Little House on the Prairie” — but she is especially keen to see Arngrim.
“We joke on Facebook,” Francis said of the actress who has come to embrace her role as “Little House on the Prairie’s” mean-spirited antagonist who was notoriously quarrelsome with Laura Ingalls. “She told me, ‘I beat up your cousin. Now it’s your turn to beat me up.’”