Scarback’s Journey

Kress hopes to ease grieving with new children’s book

It’s a book written in a dream. 

Don Kress didn’t set out to write it. In fact, he never knew it was being written until it was done. He had woken up from a nap one day and recalled a vivid dream that he recounted to his wife, Carol. 

The story moved Carol so much that she immediately wrote it down, then shared it with their daughter, Gwen Austin. Together, they hatched an idea to turn it into a book for their family. 

Kress’s dream was of an old wolf he had named Scarback, who in reality would occasionally be seen around their home in Sun Valley, Idaho. The book, Scarback: the wolf, follows him through his journey after death.

“I wanted it to be happy and bright and light,” Austin said. “It’s a story about taking the fear out of death. There’s a beauty in transitioning to the next life.”

To bring the vision to life, Austin turned to Sturgeon Bay illustrator and artist Mike McCartney, who is renowned for his illustrations of dogs. Once she saw his illustrations, she decided the book could become something bigger than a family heirloom. When she witnessed the reactions from people who read the story, she thought it could bring a level of comfort to those who are grieving a pet or a family member, and help parents discuss loss and grief with their children. 

On Don Kress’s birthday, Austin presented him with a demo copy of the book to read. As he read through it, Austin said he looked at it with this wonder, and he was commenting on it, but it took him a moment to digest that it was his story, his book. 

“He was really touched by it all,” she said. “It’s been really cute to see the different thoughts that he had about being an author.” 

The Kress Pavilion in Egg Harbor is named for Donald and Carol Kress, who were also named Door County’s 2023 Philanthropists of the Year. The book is different in kind, but not type, from the more familiar ways the couple tries to help others and their community. In the book’s case, Don Kress said he hoped the book would bring peace to those who’ve lost somebody they love very much. 

“Scarback went on to go home,” Don Kress said. “All his loved ones were there. His pack. His litter. All of them were there, and isn’t that what we hope for us and our loved ones? And perhaps a child who has lost a grandpa or a mother or a dad or an uncle, maybe this book will give them some hope or some joy that in the end they will be back with them again.”

Photos from the book, Scarface: the wolf.

Austin said the book isn’t tied to a religious belief system. 

“Whatever your belief system is you can lay into your own terminology of what it all means,” she said. “His words are going to help a lot of kids and adults go through the grieving process. You can’t take away all of the sadness, but you can show the beauty in it.” 

Scarback: the wolf is available at Novel Bay, Madison Avenue Wine Shop, Door County Nature Works and Main Street Market, as well as at Door County Library branches.