Author, philanthropist, teacher and Weber State University alumnus Ralph Vander Heide shares his knowledge of storytelling in his books. His books, “German Leaves” and “Chris and Louisa,” gave him the opportunity to put some of his thoughts and research on paper. His extensive travels and education have given him insight into the past and the stories of others.
“German Leaves” is about two Germans who fled Nazism, went to Chile and founded a magazine called “Deutsche Blatter,” or “German Leaves” in English.
“It’s a factual book,” Vander Heide said. “It’s actually based greatly on my Ph.D. dissertation.”
Vander Heide explained he wanted the book to be both informational and entertaining, so he spent a lot of time revising his original dissertation paper.
“When you write a dissertation, it’s cut-and-dry and academic,” he said. “They’re kind of cold and boring, so I put in personal stories. I write about the traditional horrible treatment of Jews on a German island up in the North. I tell about things like the Battle of the Bulge, where men were even bludgeoned with rifle butts, so there were anecdotal things added.”
Vander Heide has a Ph.D. in German and Hispanic studies. His research for the book included traveling to Chile and combing through archives in Germany. He said this firsthand knowledge contributed to the book’s success.
Vander Heide’s wife, Judy, was a creative writing major at Stanford University. She came up with the idea for a novel based on the history of Mormonism, titled “Chris and Louisa.” Co-written as a husband-wife team, the book follows the life of Louisa, a fictional wife of Joseph Smith, and Louisa’s great-granddaughter, Chris.
Vander Heide said he and his wife were the perfect pair to write the book. “It begins in Nauvoo, Ill. My wife is from that part of the country, so she understands that well. And I’m from here, so I added that part. I was reared LDS, she was not, so that’s two opposing views. We were a good twosome to work together on that subject. The research is truly impeccable. I think it’s entertaining reading, but it’s not fluff or filth.”
In addition to Vander Heide’s published books, he has some works in the making, including another piece on religion. “It probably won’t be published, but it’s again about Mormonism and what the missionary experience was like in my day,” he said. “I chuckle because I don’t know quite what I’m doing with it. You have to put the pen on the paper . . . and suddenly you’re in a position where your whole book is taking a new tact. I used to tell students that.”
Vander Heide also serves on the WSU Arts and Humanities Advisors Council, while Judy is president of the Ogden Opera Guild. Vander Heide said he considers the humanities a deeply important part of life. “It’s the sweet side of life,” he said. “It’s the side of life that’s not completely technical. It speaks to your very soul, and I actually believe that. If you leave that out, life is just one-sided and the soul is neglected.”
Travel also plays an important part in Vander Heide’s life. He is fluent in Dutch, German and Spanish. “We’ve been to Europe several times,” he said. “My field is languages, and you sort of have to do it (travel) because you want to practice the languages and steep yourself in the culture.” Vander Heide said he also looks forward to using his Dutch-speaking skills to understand Afrikaans during an upcoming trip to South Africa.
Vander Heide said he never wrote with the purpose of fame or fortune. Instead, he said, he writes to give something to people. “It truly is a contribution. There are many other stories like ‘German Leaves’ that need to be told, but never will be,” he said. “I got one trapped and put it between the covers.”
Vander Heide’s books can be purchased at the WSU Bookstore and online.