Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2013 | People

Teaching Future Pickers

By Shelbi Thomas
Mike Wolfe of American Pickers and Lily Sprengelmeyer inspire youth to become future pickers.
PHOTO: LILY SPRENGELMEYER
Lily Sprengelmeyer, 08BA, [back right] welcomes Mike Wolfe [back left] of American Pickers to her third-grade classroom. The two co-authored Kid Pickers: How to Turn Junk into Treasure, which is published April 16.

L ily Sprengelmeyer watched her students’ eyes fill with wonder as a surprise guest entered the classroom. excitement mounted when the third–graders realized that Mike Wolfe of American Pickers–the guy from TV!— knew their teacher.

Wolfe posed for photos, signed autographs, and talked antiques last year with the starstruck class. It turns out adults aren’t the only ones watching the popular History Channel reality show that follows Wolfe and his friends as they scour the country for memorabilia, historical artifacts, and family heirlooms. “The kids were shocked,” says Sprengelmeyer, 08BA, a teacher at East Dubuque (Ill.) Elementary School, who expects Wolfe to visit again this spring. “The ones who talk all day were suddenly quiet; they didn’t know what to do.” Sprengelmeyer and Wolfe recently co-authored Kid Pickers: How to Turn Junk into Treasure, a book that aims to instill in elementary school–aged children an appreciation of antiques and history. A love for old treasures came early for Sprengelmeyer, who grew up in Galena, Ill., and spent much time at her father’s antique store, La Belle Époque. Wolfe also frequented the shop, so when he decided to write a children’s book, Sprengelmeyer came to mind.

Sprengelmeyer brings to Kid Pickers both her expertise as an elementary school teacher and her childhood experiences. She has fond memories of attending auctions as a child, sitting on her dad’s shoulders and being fascinated by fast–talking auctioneers. She began collecting pocket watches, harmonicas, and other mementoes–a hobby that endures today. “My garage is filled with old bicycles,” says Sprengelmeyer. “I can’t even park my car there.”

With this book–and the hands–on activities she does in her classroom–Sprengelmeyer hopes to spark a new wave of interest in antiques among young people. Kid Pickers covers everything from exploring ancestry and talking to relatives about heirlooms to determining how much an item is worth and starting a collection.

“[Picking] isn’t about a find that will make you millions, but finding something that resonates with you,” says Sprengelmeyer. “It connects you to the past and teaches you about who you are.”