Her niece, nearing death, brought a book character to life with penciled illustrations, Eyota author Peggy Vevang says.

It was last summer when Vavang hired her niece, Sarah Hackenmiller, to illustrate her book, "Wretched Richard," which is set in the World War II era.

Hackenmiller, a longtime graphic designer for IBM and Rochester Community Education, whose maiden name was Sarah Siebenaler, researched the 1940s to make sure the clothing and automobiles were right.

Hackenmiller handed Vevang nine pencil drawings shortly before she died on Aug. 4, 2013, at age 36 due to complications from a lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis and a recent double lung transplant.

"The book was already finished and done, and then I asked Sarah if she would illustrate this," Vevang said. "At that point she had already had a lung transplant. She said, 'Oh, yes, I will.' Bit by bit she worked on it. It was hard for her, I believe, to finish the drawings when she was feeling so bad."

But, from the perspective of the book, it was time well spent. The drawings "brought wretched Richard to life," Vevang said.

The book follows young Richard as he goes from living with a mean farmer to living with a kind grandmother. With the grandmother, he goes to the dentist, doctor and barber and also learns how to write.

Vevang had been telling this redemption tale for years before finally writing out while waiting for a flight in the terminal at Rochester International Airport.

Last summer, she put the 30-page book together with Hackenmiller's drawings. Vevang believes Hackenmiller's photos may have been self-portraits, as she resembled young Richard.

Vevang sold copies of the book to people at her church, Rochester Seventh-Day Adventist, and her 12 siblings and other family members.

"My granddaughter, after reading 'Wretched Richard,' said I wrote an allegory," Vevang said. "She said our lives are kind of wretched and God takes us out of them at the end and we live happily ever after. I never thought of 'Wretched Richard' being like that.

"And then she said, 'It's possible that I wrote an allegory of Sarah's life because she battled cystic fibrosis and a lung transplant and then she died of the fungus in her body, but she also gets to live happily after ever after."

Vevang has been crafting other short children books for a decade. She hopes to publish "Wretched Richard" in paperback soon. She's also thought up three or four sequels to the story.

One dollar from each book sold is donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.


Book notes

"Wretched Richard" is $10. For purchasing information, email Peggy Vevang at peggyvevang@gmail.com.