I was about seven years old when the teacher at my one-room school suggested that I read Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It seemed really daunting at first, but soon I was totally engrossed in the story of Pa, Ma, Mary, Laura, and Baby Carrie starting a life in a place not that far from where I called home. I made a little nook for myself on the floor of the walk-in closet in the bedroom my little sister and I shared and missed many different calls for supper that first evening!
From that point on, the social studies became a passion! With the encouragement of my parents, besides finishing the “Little House” series, I was constantly reading books covering a variety of topics from the Civil War and settlement on the Great Plains to World War II and the Titanic. During the first Gulf War (at the age of 10), I found myself poring over maps of the Middle East and trying to learn everything I could about the region that was being shown on TV every evening. As I got involved in a range of activities at my small high school including sports, music, and drama, my favorite novels in English class still had a common historical theme, and for quiz bowl I memorized just about every fact about the Presidents that could be handled. It certainly was not a surprise when I decided early on that I wanted to be a social studies teacher; as much as I loved the subject, I also felt driven to inspire others to see how important the social studies are.
Thankfully, I have always had an opportunity professionally to utilize that love of the social studies and encourage others in learning about those topics whether it was on Capitol Hill, in my classrooms in Indiana and Nebraska, or now through Chautauqua, Capitol Forum, and the grant programs that we fund. Especially fitting is the opportunity I have now to help communities engage with history and the humanities through our current Chautauqua theme, Free Land? 1862 and the Shaping of Modern America, where the public encounters important historical figures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the lady whose words started it all for me, Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Kristi Hayek has been a Program Officer at Humanities Nebraska since October 2009. As part of her duties at HN she serves as the coordinator for both the Chautauqua and Capitol Forum on America’s Future programs along with handling a portion of the grants HN awards.
She is a fifth-generation Nebraskan and grew up on a farm near Friend. A graduate of Concordia University in Seward with a degree in education and an emphasis in secondary level social sciences, Kristi has served as a deputy legislative assistant in Senator Ben Nelson’s Washington, D.C. office, a social studies teacher at Concordia Lutheran H.S. in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and an instructor in American Government at Concordia University. When not involved in the humanities, she enjoys watching and playing sports, music, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.