Winkler encourages children to follow their dreams at SOKY Book Fest

BOWLING GREEN, KY. – 4/20/13 – Bowling Green author Gary West waits to greet attendees of the Southern Kentucky Book Fest on Saturday, April 20, 2013. West writes Kentucky related sports and travel books and went to WKU in 1961.

Jacob Parker

Henry Winkler, perhaps best known for his role as Fonzie in the 1970s sitcom “Happy Days,” and as the author of the Hank Zipzer children’s book series, headlined the 15th annual Southern Kentucky Book Fest.

Before the conference began in the Carroll Knicely Conference Center on Saturday morning, hundreds of people lined up, anticipating “the Fonz.” Applause erupted as he walked in.

Winkler spoke about his early life, troubles in school and struggling with dyslexia.

“English was hard, history was hard, French was hard. Never took French,” Winkler joked. 

Growing up, Winkler said his parents never gave him much encouragement, but he had a dream of being an actor, and after applying to 28 different colleges, he was accepted to two. He eventually earned his MFA from the Yale School of Drama in 1970, before beginning his career as an actor in commercials, eventually becoming Fonzie on “Happy Days.”

All the while, Winkler struggled with dyslexia, but didn’t find out he was dyslexic until they went to diagnose his son, Jett, and Winkler recognized that he shared the symptoms. When Winkler finally found out about his dyslexia, he was 31 years old. 

Winkler said he was relieved to know there was a name to what had been plaguing him. He said it’s essential to encourage children who have dyslexia, so that they know they’re not just behind everyone else.

“Without self image, living is almost impossible,” he said. “You’re constantly trying to play catch-up.”

Winkler said up until that point, he would have friends and co-stars help him to read scripts. Winkler attributes his success to never letting go of his dream. 

“If you will it, it is not a dream,” he said. “If you know what you want, and you don’t have to know it right now, but once you know, don’t ever let your dream leave the forefront of your mind.”

Winkler spoke to the children in the auditorium about their capabilities, and how they can achieve anything they set their minds to.

“How you learn has nothing to do with how powerful and intelligent you are,” he said.

Winkler said everyone has their own special talent, and they should pursue it. Winkler’s children’s book series is about a dyslexic fourth grader, Hank Zipzer, based on his own life growing up.

He recently published a new series with co-author Lin Oliver, called “Ghost Buddy.” Winkler said readers shouldn’t be surprised if the relationship between the main characters resembled that of Fonzie and Richie on “Happy Days.”

Winkler closed with a question and answer session, which included, by request, a rendition of the classic Fonzie character. Afterward, he held a book signing.

Marilyn Hopkins, Edmonson County native, and her grandson, Skyler, attended the event. Hopkins said she loved Winkler as “Fonzie.”

“I think he’s a great person, he relates to everybody,” she said. 

Skyler, 10, said he’s recently gotten into Winkler’s book series. Skyler said he likes that Winkler talks about a serious issue like dyslexia.

“His speech was good, because it shows he’s not just being funny,” he said. 

Loleatta Hyman-McKinney, Bowling Green native, said she’s been a fan of Winkler for a long time and, after meeting him, found him very friendly.

“He came all the way over to meet me, and he was very down to earth,” she said. 

Hyman-McKinney said she thought Winkler was a good example for children.

“He can inspire other children, if they have a problem, that they can do anything,” she said.