A lot of alumni from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University become authors.
And there are plenty of Bennies and Johnnies who go on to work in the publishing industry.
It’s not quite that often, however, that the writer and publisher of the same book both have ties to CSB and SJU. But that’s the case for Amber Wegwerth Ross ’02 and John Rahm ’98, who are collaborating on a children’s book set for release in October.
The book, titled I’m Going to Be a Hockey Star, is the fifth that Ross has written but first she has attempted for Rahm, who launched River Horse Books after more than 20 years as an editor and publishing executive for Macmillan, Pearson, Thomson Reuters and Capstone.
It was at the last of those where Ross and Rahm first met, well after both concluded their own hockey careers. Rahm played defense at Elk River High School, which made its first state tournament appearance when he was a junior and posted a 23-1-1 record when he was a senior. He came to Saint John’s, but to play soccer. He graduated the spring before Ross arrived at Saint Ben’s after her own prep career as a forward at Roseville Area High School.
“It actually was a big thing for me at the time because it felt like we were pioneers in that era,” said Ross, who joined her twin sister, Kelly, as members of the first class of hockey players to participate all four years with the new varsity program at CSB. “We liked the campus and everything, but we also really wanted to play and that was one of the deciding factors in going to Saint Ben’s.”
Hockey pioneer, communications major at CSB
Ross majored in communications and, while she didn’t know it at the time, her experience prepared her well for a career catering to young readers and the systems that serve as gatekeepers for their literature.
“I love to read, and I knew I wanted to do something with writing,” said Ross, one of three players to appear in all 103 games for Saint Ben’s from 1998-2002. “I loved researching and writing reports when I was in college. And, after my first couple of years working in a corporate setting, it didn’t take long before I discovered I want to be in children’s books. Some of the first ones I wrote were about dinosaurs. I love dinosaurs – and it’s because of a class I took at Saint Ben’s. I didn’t really care about them growing up and then I took this class for science credit, and I really took an interest. So, by that same thought process, it totally makes sense that at some point I was going to bring hockey out in some way.”
Ross joined Capstone, an educational publishing company, as a product planning editor in 2008. Rahm, who held the same position beginning in 2004, was a step or two up the ladder.
“We had an immediate connection because she was a Bennie and I was a Johnnie and we both love hockey,” Rahm said. “We worked closely for quite some time, and I could see Amber had a lot of talent and strengths for this business.”
In 2014, Ross left to join Red Line Editorial. But they reunited again for almost a year after Rahm joined North Star Editions, an affiliate of Red Line. But both found themselves searching for a new start after the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the publishing industry – among many others.
Launching River Horse Books
Rahm’s solution was to launch River Horse Books, which has four children’s books by different authors ready to launch between this fall and next spring.
“I wanted to produce books that are fun for kids, that reflect their world,” Rahm said. “I want to keep the adult world away from them when they’re really young because that’s not fun. I’ve always believed that if you give kids books they love to read, you’re developing lifelong readers. If you give them a book that turns them off, you’re going to make it that much harder for them to pick up another one.”
Rahm went to Ross with the idea for producing a children’s book about a confident young boy who was getting ready for his first hockey practice.
“John has quite a pulse on what does well in the market, and he wanted a book for hockey players who were young and just starting out,” Ross said. “It’s kind of a scary thing for kids to put on their skates for the first time. Some haven’t skated before and don’t know what to expect.”
Kids provide inspiration
Ross does. She and her husband, Dan, both coach youth hockey in White Bear Lake and they have a son and two daughters who play. During the winter of 2020-21, when the pandemic kept kids home from school and sports, they had a rink in their backyard. It got almost as much attention as homework.
Rahm, meanwhile, has 17- and 12-year-old daughters who have helped inspire him professionally. In fact, they even came up with the name for his publishing company.
“I was an English major and, even at Saint John’s, I knew I wanted to work with books in some way,” he said. “I never thought I’d start my own publishing company but, with the skill set I’ve honed over the years, it makes sense. While the rise of the digital media has impacted the number of publishers and bookstores, interest in books hasn’t declined – and in fact, the market for children’s books has grown.”
Assuming the first titles have success, Rahm – and Ross – will produce more. He’s seeking additional submissions from authors and illustrators, and she’s interested in perhaps writing non-fiction for juveniles, too.
Dan Ross, Josie Ross (6), Amber Wegwerth Ross, Charley Ross (short for Charlotte, 9), and Harrison Ross (11)
“I have some other books that I am working on in my spare time – whenever that is,” laughed Ross, who has been a managing editor for Lerner Publishing Group since mid-2021. “My kids are 6, 9 and 11. When they get older, I won’t be able to be as involved in hockey with them. I really want to be able to coach my girls because I want them to see a female presence on the ice. I want them to have some of the same influences I did.”
Including when she was in college.
“I think that Saint Ben’s trains you for a lot of the critical thinking that the world needs today,” Ross said. “I think it was great to be in a community surrounded by strong women. It was unique and helped make me who I am.”