Seen & Heard: 'Blue' book adds value to Hiawatha Homes

Vail, Mark.jpg
Kasson native Mark Vail, a former Rochester Broadcaster, was inducted into the Kansas Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

While you're at the Hiawatha Homes Foundation's Festival of Trees this year, keep an eye out for a new children's book, "In Blue's Shoes," by two local authors, Laurie Brownell and Cynthia Thoreson-Arnold. Elizabeth Grace Hixon, of Storm Lake, Iowa, illustrated the book.

It is the story of the adventures of a mobility assistance dog, Blue, and his travels. The book tells children about the job of a service dog.

"I wrote the book with Cindy's (Cynthia's) help," Brownell said. "Cindy is actually who Blue works for. Blue was trained with Can Do Canines Assistance Dogs in New Hope, Minn."

Because the book is being released with the Festival of Trees, the story has a Christmas theme: Blue has an adventure with Ellie the Elf, the adorable stuffed elf you've probably seen who is the Good Will Ambassador for the Festival of Trees.

"We thought she helped tie it in to being whimsical, all while being educational, too," Brownell said. The last pages show what Blue does for Cindy and has pages that show Blue when he is not working, just having fun without his vest.


"We've always tried to educate children (that) if you see an assistance dog with his vest, he is working, so you can't play with him or pet him without asking his owner," Brownell said. "Cindy and I have been teaching disability awareness together in southeastern Minnesota, teaching as a team, for over 30 years."

The self-published book (under the imprint they created, "Blue Elf Publishing") is actually their second publication. Their first was a coloring book, no longer in print, to teach children about children with disabilities.

"The dream of writing a children's book is one I've had for a long time, because I'm a collector of children's books," Brownell said. "For years, Cindy and I have wanted to collaborate on a book, and it couldn't have been done without all of the people that have been willing to help us out and give us advice and partner with us."

Those partners include Rochester Community Education, which received a grant for the duo's disability awareness education program in the schools, and the Hiawatha Homes Foundation, whose funding helped print the book. All proceeds from the book sales will benefit the Hiawatha Homes Pet Therapy Program.

Vail enters rare air

Kasson native Mark Vail, a former Rochester broadcaster, was inducted into the Kansas Association of Broadcasters (KAB) Hall of Fame in October during its annual convention.

Mark started in 1976 as the midday host and farm director on KOLM-AM, then did similar work at KROC-AM and KROC-FM. He hosted the "Newswatch at Noon" on KTTC-TV from 1981 to 1983 before heading to Kansas.

Vail was cited for his nearly 30 years of work in Kansas broadcasting, as well as his service to the Kansas Association of Broadcasters. Besides being on the air, he's served as the national president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters and was the vice president and chief operating officer of 22 radio stations.


Vail served several terms on the KAB Board of Directors and was the chairman of the association.

"I recently moved to Nebraska," Vail said. "My wife is the director of nursing at a big medical facility here in Nebraska, and I recently sold my interest in some stations in Missouri and now I'm here in Nebraska and doing the consulting. Most of my career has had an agricultural background, since my time starting out at KOLM, through my time at the Kansas Ag Network, even serving as the national president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters, so this consulting is a good fit and and just an additional way to stay involved."

Megan Kennedy is a longtime midday radio personality on KROC-FM. Seen & Heard highlights local people with interesting stories. Send tips to

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