JEFFERSON — One of the most magical moments in each day for Pastor Kellen Roggenbuck comes in the evening, when he snuggles close to his son Levi, 5, to share a book together before Levi’s bedtime.
Roggenbuck is double lucky in that he gets to share these moments with thousands of other families as well through the children’s books he’s written.
Roggenbuck’s first book “My Dad Has a Beard,” just sold its 10,000th copy last month.
Known in Jefferson as the pastor of Immanuel United Methodist Church for the past four years, Roggenbuck has always been a storyteller of sorts. When his son came along, he found he enjoyed embellishing silly details onto a tale, the kind kids love.
“When I held Levi as an infant, he’d always pull on my beard,” Roggenbuck said. “I got the idea of writing a book celebrating dads with beards.”
The Jefferson pastor envisioned creating the story for an audience of one — his son — but he wanted an actual book to hold.
Fortunately, one of Roggenbuck’s old neighbors had a small publishing company.
He asked the neighbor, “How do you print books? I just want to print one.”
Once they saw his work, though, the company wanted to print a full run, and the work spread in popularity, first slowly and then gaining speed until this past month it reached a milestone of 10,000 copies sold.
Since that first book came out in 2017, Roggenbuck has gone on to publish another five books in the interim, all aimed at young kids, and has bought out his publishing contract.
Roggenbuck’s next work was “Great Beards of History” which brings up famous people with beards, then includes the narrator’s dad in the bunch. Though next to all of the famous folks the dad looks pretty ordinary, to his son he is famous.
Then he published “The Awkward Dinosaurs” celebrating different characters’ quirks and asserting that, “The best and most interesting people are a little strange.”
Next came “My Mom is Always Right,” which celebrates the effort a mother (who appears to be a single mom, though the book doesn’t come right out and say so) puts in to care for her rambunctious daughter.
The fourth book Roggenbuck published was “Off To Be a Pirate,” starring a group of hatchling owls in Wisconsin who set off to become pirates, having numerous misadventures along the way. At the end, they decide they’re happy to be just plain owls, because “owls are great.”
His newest release is “Hardworking mermaids,” featuring a group of mermaids who have taken on non-traditional careers such as businessperson, electrician and chef.
The message to young female readers is that they can be whatever they want to be.
“I had a lot of fun doing all of those stories,” Roggenbuck said. “Along the way, I learned a lot about the business aspects of publishing.”
His books have become known primarily through word-of-mouth.
All have reached audiences both near and far, but his first book has proven the most popular.
“At the start of 2020, it had reached 50 reviews on Amazon, and then it started popping up in searches more,” Roggenbuck said. “After that, it was like rolling down a hill. It kept gaining speed. Now that book has around 700 reviews.
Roggenbuck, who does graphic art work, created the own illustrations for his book.
And yes, the father character on the front cover of “My Dad has a Beard” is supposed to look like him. Before the pandemic, he did have a huge bushy beard just like that, but once he started wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, he found that big, bushy beard made his mask flip up. So now he wears his beard trimmed a lot more tightly to his face.
The child in “My Dad Has a Beard” is based very strongly on Levi as well. At the time Roggenbuck created the illustrations, his then-infant son had stick-straight hair but Roggenbuck decided to give the boy’s hair in the book a little curl. Coincidentally, Levi’s hair soon took after that of the fictional character: a case of art imitating life and life imitating art.
Author and minister
Though his books have brought Roggenbuck a degree of attention across the nation, at home in Jefferson he is known by his more public role, that of pastor at Immanuel United Methodist Church.
“I’ll celebrate four years at Immanuel July 1,” he said.
Roggenbuck had studied music education in college, but he felt drawn to the youth ministry, and he started working in that area 15 years ago. Falling in love with that role, he did that for around 15 years.
In the meantime, around eight or nine years ago, he moved to Wisconsin, working in youth ministry in Elm Grove.
The pastor there encouraged Roggenbuck to take a more active role in the church, giving him opportunities to preach and urging him to apply to a seminary to become a pastor.
Thus Roggenbuck started the process, finding out that everything he loved about youth ministry was also present in ministry as a whole, just more so.
“I love working with people,” he said.
He landed in Jefferson and said he felt immediately at home in this small, tight-knit community.
“Not being from Wisconsin, I actually had to Google Jefferson to find out where it was,” he said.
This little riverside community, much like the town of 4,500 in which he grew up, gave the new pastor a sincere welcome.
“It’s such a friendly place,” he said. “I feel safe raising my son here. I love my neighbors and my community.
“I can’t go into Walmart without bumping into a member of my congregation — so I have to be prepared for the trip to take awhile,” he said with a chuckle.
Roggenbuck has tried to keep his roles as author and pastor separate, not wanting church members to feel like they have to buy a copy. As well as being available on Amazon, his books can also be checked out of the local library, he noted.
The whole experience has been really special, Roggenbuck said.
“It’s just really neat to hear from someone that they loved a book I wrote,” he said.
“I know my son loves to read the same books again and again and again. It’s amazing to think that somewhere, some family is doing the same thing we are — that maybe one of my books is in the ‘top rotation’ their child’s favorite three books that they’re reading over and over and over.”