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Prolific Christian author humbled by her literary journey

Author Janette Oke accomplishments go beyond many writers’ dreams.
Prolific author Janette Oke of Olds with a few of her older and more recent titles.

Author Janette Oke accomplishments go beyond many writers’ dreams.

She’s written about 70 books, and numerous television movies and series have been inspired by those books.

Oke, now 80, wrote her first novel when she was 42. Today, according to her publisher Bethany House, based in Minnesota, 30 million copies of her books have sold in 16 different languages around the world.

The author, whose Central Alberta roots run deep, began writing because she felt there was a void in Christian inspirational fiction.

Oke was born in Champion in southern Alberta but at the age of three she moved with her parents, Amy and Fred Steeves, and her siblings to the Hoadley area, about 25 km north of Rimbey.

That’s where she grew up, and where the family’s homestead is, which eventully became the Steeves House Museum for many years until it closed a couple of years ago.

The museum and the contents of Oke’s writing room have recently been offered to the Rimbey Historical Society.

Oke, described as an Evangelical Christian, has resided in Olds for the past 15 years. She remembers always being interested in writing and was a prolific reader as a youngster.

“As I grew older I found that being a person from the faith community I wasn’t finding the type of literature that I felt matched my world view.”

So, given her desire to write, and her Prairie background with a love for the pioneer period, she said it was a natural area for her to write about. Her books usually have a pioneer-era theme with female protagonists.

The first book she wrote was Love Comes Softly. It’s the story of a pioneer couple who head west. The husband dies accidentally and the wife is left alone and pregnant. Along comes a stranger, offering to marry her, and it goes from there. It became a movie in 2003.

Oke was working in a bank office in Didsbury when she began writing, which became her sole employment for many years.

She has retired twice before, but now says she really is retired. The first time she came out of retirement was when she was asked to co-author with another Christian writer, Davis Bunn. She thought she was done after that but she ended up co-authoring three books with her daughter, Laurel Logan.

“So now I think I am really done,” Oke said.

“I was doing for a number of years three books a year and it was absolutely exhausting. Besides that, once you’re a writer, people assume you’re a speaker, so there was all of this speaking engagements and whatnot that went along with it. That I finally decided I couldn’t carry both loads.”

Oke knows well the crews that do her movies, and she’s been on set in places like California and Southern Alberta. There will be filming in the new year in Langley, B.C., for a TV series based on her books. She does not receive any money for the movies.

Oke said her journey has been very humbling, particularly when she has received so many letters from people who share their lives with her.

“I feel like I am giving them an opening to express how they feel.” She still corresponds with some long-time letter writers. She doesn’t have a public email.

“People don’t change. Circumstances do. The basic needs of humanity are always the same. It doesn’t change over the years and it doesn’t change with the location so people are able to relate in a very special way.”

In the Nineties, the Steeves family decided to preserve the family farm, and make the homestead house, once the Hoadley post office residence, into a museum. The small home was restored in the era that the eight Steeves children grew up in, complete with wood stove.

The museum, which opened in 1998, drew visitors from near and far, including those who came to see where Oke got her start. It was sustained with revenues from a tea house on the property. The contents of a basement room in the tea house where Oke wrote have also been offered to the Rimbey Historical Society.

The museum was meant to share the time period with other people, Oke’s roots, and also a home base for family gatherings.

Oke said that rather than let the home deteriorate, they offered it to the historical society.

Cheryl Jones, administrator and curator of the Rimbey Historical Society, which runs the 10-acres PasKaPoo Park Historical Museum in town, said they have just become aware of the donation and the board will be discussing it.

They will need to find funds to relocate the building, Jones said.

“It would be a great addition to our historical museum.”