Betty Sydow is no stranger to following her passions.
The Harwood Place resident has worked in chemistry, as a teacher and later as a nurse during her 89 years. Sydow simply explored what she was interested in, she said.
Her latest adventure? Publishing a book.
Sydow, a resident at Harwood Place, 8220 Harwood Ave., is the author of a recently published children's book titled 'The Adventures of a Sparrow Named Stanley.'
The Lutheran Home & Harwood Place staff helped Sydow publish the book as part of their new 'Bucket List Adventures' program in honor of the Lutheran Home's 110th anniversary celebration. The book's publisher is Milwaukee-based Hidden Timber Books.
Sydow, who grew up in Wauwatosa, said she took a creative-writing class offered through Harwood Place and ended up writing a fable geared toward children. Her instructor told her if she cut down on the number of characters and tweaked things here and there, she had a great start to a children's book.
'It was almost as if the fable wrote itself,' Sydow said. She chose to use a sparrow as a main character because the birds are often overlooked, she said.
'I didn't think anybody had written about sparrows,' she said. 'They're common and people don't pay attention to them.'
Sydow enlisted the help of her friend, artist and fellow Harwood Place resident Carolou Lennon Nelsen, 88, to illustrate the book.
'I told her 'I've never done anything like that', and she said, 'Well, I've never written a book before,'' Nelsen said of being approached by Sydow about the book.
Sydow, who wrote the book over a year and a half, said it's about a sparrow named Stanley who recently moved out of his mother's nest and finds himself lonely, with no one to play with. The young sparrow tries to become famous and learns tricks because he believes more people will like him. In the end though, Stanley discovers he should just be himself.
'What initially drew me to (the book) is the message,' Nelsen said. 'The lesson, be yourself, is really a life lesson for anyone.'
The primary medium in the book is watercolor pencil and Stanley evolved over time, Nelsen said. She began by studying sparrows in nature and has pages and pages of sketches to prove it.
Little by little, Stanley evolved.
When Stanley finally came to life, her granddaughter suggested adding eyebrows to make him appear more expressive. It wasn't long before Stanley was wearing a bright red vest, too.
'I never would have thought about adding eyebrows on a bird, but it helped,' Nelsen said.
The artist described seeing her name on a published book as 'unbelievable.'
'It's fun to work on something you believe in,' she said. 'You're never too old to be creative and to try new things.'
As for the creative writing class, Sydow said there's still a wealth of stories there that need to be told.