Book about growing up in North Dakota in the 1950s wins national award, headed for the big screen

BISMARCK, N.D. – Windmills are an iconic piece of the North Dakota landscape. Early settlers used windmills to pump water from wells for livestock and household use. By 1954, most farms in the state had electricity, and windmills started to be phased out.

But for the Pfeiffer sisters, who grew up near Menoken, the windmill on their farmstead was a key part of their lives and formed many of their childhood memories in the 1950s. It was so impactful, the family windmill inspired them to write a book.

And what’s happened since their book, “While the Windmill Watched: A Slice of Rural America in the 1950s” was published is good news.

Jackie Pfeiffer McGregor and Janine Pfeiffer Knop have a passion for the 1950s. So much, in fact, the decade is the focus of their You Tube channel, “The 1950s Fun Chat.”

“Each week, Jackie and I record with someone who lived in the 1950s or whose life has been influenced by the 1950s,” explained Knop. Their guests are from all over the world. “It’s just a delightful way to learn about other people’s experiences in the 1950s,” said Knop.

But the sisters have a soft spot for North Dakota. They grew up on a farm near Menoken in the 1950s.

“The first 10 years of my life were spent in the decade of the 1950s,” said Knop. “It was imprinted in us, our community, our neighbors and how we lived that life back then.”

Those memories and photos of their childhood were the inspiration behind their book, “While the Windmill Watched: A Slice of Rural America in the 1950s.” The book is written in four voices: each sister, the sisters together and the windmill. It includes many photos of the sister’s childhood.

“We realized while we’re writing the book that we were blessed,” said McGregor.

They share stories of their 4-H days, dance and piano recitals, and life on the farm. Their book was recently recognized with a National  Independent Press Award for Distinguished Favorite and soon, it will be made into a motion picture.

“I think 1950s North Dakota is a very beautiful time and a cool thing to capture on film,” said Daniel Belinski, founder of Canticle Productions, the Bismarck-based company that will make the film.

Production is expected to start in 2023. Meantime, the sisters will continue sharing their memories from the decade that shaped them.

“While the Windmill Watched” is available at several bookstores in Bismarck, as well as in the NDSU bookstore and online at whilethewindmillwatched.com.

The sisters will be on a book tour across North Dakota next week. You can find all the details of their stops on their website.

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