|NewsTribune photo/Tamara Abbey
Mendota High School students Amy Kofoed (left) and Lucas Anderson work with Walt Willey in the auditorium as they prepare for Willey’s upcoming one-man show, “Wild Bill! An Evening with James Butler Hickok” at 6 p.m. Sunday. Willey first performed the show in Mendota two years ago and he’s doing an encore presentation in conjunction with Troy Grove’s annual Wild Bill Hickok Day also on Sunday.
TROY GROVE — It’s time again to strap on the six-guns and grab the sun bonnets as Troy Grove celebrates the birth of wild west legend and native son James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok on Sunday.
The village of Troy Grove first celebrated Hickok in 2010, and the one-day celebration has become an annual tradition. Members of the Old West Regulators will again entertain crowds between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. with re-enactments and shootouts on the village’s main street. The cowboys also will have a gun and photography exhibit during the day.
Cemetery walks highlighting local history, free games for children and horse-drawn wagon rides also will be part of the celebration.
Also returning is Walt Willey, first as himself and then later in the day as Wild Bill in the Mendota High School auditorium. Willey, a La Salle County native, has long had an interest in the western legend and developed a show about Hickok that will be presented at 6 p.m. in Mendota.
“I began to research this man’s life and I was fascinated,” Willey said. “Even with the myth and fable surrounding him stripped away, his life is as exciting as any of the fiction written about him. And he’s six-foot two, blonde and blue, so it wasn’t much of a stretch.”
The first-person narration follows Hickok’s life from his birth and adventures in Illinois, through his years as scout and sharpshooter, spy and lawman, gunfighter and gambler, to his assassination in Deadwood, the infamous mining camp.
The show features audience participation. After the presentation there will be a discussion and question-and-answer period.
Willey developed the show that debuted in Mendota two years ago during the observance of the law man’s birth. Best known for his 25-year stint on ABC’s “All My Children,” Willey is an avid supporter of performing arts. He has worked with students in workshops and will use local students Amy Kofoed and Lucas Anderson as his tech crew during the performance.
MHS teacher Amy Wilson has worked with him before and said she looks forward to helping with Sunday’s show.
“He genuinely likes working with the students and requests them to do backstage duties, such as run the lights and sound,” she said. “This says a lot about his dedication to fostering up and coming talent in the fine arts.”
Since the show is at the end of the school year, Willey will return in the fall for a workshop with students.
“He’s just a very nice person and it’s an honor to work with someone who has made his living in ‘the business’ and still remembers his roots in the Illinois Valley,” she said. “MHS and the fine arts department are really lucky to have the opportunity to have him come in and do the show and then come back to mentor the students. It’s a win/win situation for everyone.”
Tickets for the show will be available at the door and also during the celebration in Troy Grove.
Tamara Abbey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.