Clifford the Big Red Dog will be in attendance, along with high school friends of Kokomo native Norman Bridwell, to celebrate the author’s birthday.

The Kokomo-Howard County Public Library is throwing a birthday party from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Sunday to celebrate Bridwell’s 81st birthday. Clifford will blow out a candle on a birthday cake and dog bone-shaped cookies and punch will be served.

Bridwell created the much beloved character of Clifford in 1962, and the red dog the size of a house has since become a favorite for millions of children around the world.

Estella Lucas, who was a classmate of Bridwell’s and worked on the 1945 Kokomo High School Sargasso yearbook, has kept track of Bridwell’s career over the years.

She will be the first of the guest readers at the library and will read Bridwell’s first published book, “Clifford the Big Red Dog.”

A former kindergarten and first grade teacher in Kokomo, Lucas would read Clifford books on a regular basis to her students.

“They loved them,” she recalled. “I would tell them the author was from Kokomo in the hope they would tell their parents.”

During her youth, Lucas lived in Kokomo until the first grade, and then returned to Howard County when she started the ninth grade.

As editor of the yearbook, Lucas wanted Bridwell to design the cover but was overruled by the art teacher.

Included in the yearbook is a map of Kokomo Bridwell drew that went along with the Indian theme. In the lower right hand corner are the initials “NB.”

“We worked hard to get that map in the book,” Lucas said. “It was in line with the atmosphere of the book.”

Lucas said she went to a show several years ago at the Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, where Bridwell’s work was on display.

“His were the best,” she said of the exhibit. “The drawings were more skilled and had a caring for children.

“He was so talented,” Lucas said, “but he didn’t flaunt it.”

Lucas said a mutual friend kept her aware of what Bridwell was doing through weekly correspondence.

“There was a crew of Norman’s friends here in Kokomo,” she said. “We tried not to contact him a great deal.”

Lucas learned of Bridwell’s first book when a friend asked if she had been to the bookstore.

“I couldn’t believe he did it,” she said of that first Clifford book. “It was keeping with his personality. It was an imaginary story but you could believe it, the kids did, too.”

Lucas said she thought that Bridwell hit on a good idea for children’s books.

“I’m glad he’s working on a book with his daughter,” she said of Bridwell’s latest effort.

Lucas said she is amazed that people don’t realize Bridwell is from Kokomo. But the library is hoping to change that with a permanent exhibit titled “Never Give Up on Your Dreams” that will showcase his works.

“I think it’s fantastic what the library is doing,” she said.

Lucas said the birthday celebration is one of the best things that could have happened for Bridwell.

“We need something to boost the city,” she continued, “the community needs it. Kokomo has turned out a lot of people that accomplished things but have gotten lost in the shuffle.”

Ken de la Bastide can be reached at (765) 454 -8580 or via e-mail at ken.delabastide@kokomotribune.com

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