Michelle (Shelly) Dill who grew up in Luther got her love of country music, especially Dolly Parton’s songs, from her grandfather. He was a successful truck driver and dairy farmer until his land became part of Lake Arcadia in about 1981, and the family moved a little east toward Jones. Shelly didn’t realize until she was a teenager that her grandpa couldn’t read.
She recalls driving while he was riding along, and he “read” a billboard on their way to town. She told him that’s not what the sign said. He told her, “I can’t read I can make it say anything I want.” That makes her laugh now remembering her Grandpa David who died about ten years ago.
Shelly also recalls how he tried to learn to read as an adult, but eventually concluded he was “too old” to get the knack of it. There was the teacher friend that gave him spelling books, and early readers that he dutifully completed. Shelly remembers that he’d bring in the bills to her Grandma, and she would write the checks. She thought that’s just how they worked out the teamwork of their marriage and running their business.
“I know there are people out there who can’t read or don’t enjoy it. My grandpa faked it for a long time. When my sister was learning to read, he would get the paper, and sound out the headlines. But reading a paragraph and sounding out each word provided no comprehension. ‘Little thing, come read this to me,’ he’d say. I thought he was helping her learn to read, I didn’t know it was because he couldn’t.”
A few years ago, Shelly heard Dolly talk about her Imagination Library in an interview and it stuck with her.
“I had this voice in the bank of my head for six months, driving in the truck by myself, and the voice told me I should check on that, and finally I said all right,” said Michelle.
She pitched the idea to her sister, a certified public accountant, who soon helped her set up the Read With Me Foundation nonprofit.
“I started in Luther because I wanted to start small enough so I could fund it myself if I had to. She visited Apple Creek Daycare and started spreading the word to sign up kids.
So far, over 350 children have signed up and about 70 have graduated!
“The only part we have to do is sign up kids and fund it,” she said. The funding comes from donations of friends, family members, and supporters she has met at the Luther Pecan Festival and other events.
It was a connection at last year’s Pecan Fest that led her to apply for a grant from the Central Community Foundation. She said Dennis Delano gave her the tip about the Central grant when he visited her booth. She applied and received a grant earlier this year. (Thanks Dennis and Central!) In addition, the Oklahoma State Department of Education is helping to fund Imagination Libraries with a goal to take the program state-wide (so far it’s in about 35 counties). It costs $25 a year for each child.
Michelle’s territory has expanded to Jones, enabling the Read With Me Foundation to serve children, from birth to their fifth birthday in the 73054 and 73049 zip codes.
Shelly has heard from moms and grandparents telling her how excited their little ones are to get a book in the mail just for them, and the joy they have in reading the books together.
Thanks Shelly for being a vendor and a friend. Like Dolly, your passion (and love of country music) inspires children to love to read and learn! Find Shelly’s Read With Me Foundation booth at the 2022 Luther Pecan Festival, Nov. 19 -20, from 10 am – 4 pm. You can’t miss her with her stacks of books, and poster of Dolly!
- If you have a child under five and live in 73054 or 73049 zip code, you can sign them up at www.imaginaitonlibrary.com.
- Donate through PayPal at email@example.com.
- Go to Imaginationlibrary.com and click the donate button. Select designate to a specific affiliate and choose OKLUTHER from the list.
- Go to smileamazon.com and select Read With Me Foundation. Every time you shop with smileamazon.com they will donate .5% to the foundation.
- Send a check to: Read With Me Foundation, PO Box 730, Luther, OK 73054.
- For children outside of Luther and Jones, sign up for the Imagination Library through the Metropolitan Library System.
“Hi everybody. This is Dolly.
“Before he passed away, my Daddy told me the Imagination Library was probably the most important thing I had ever done. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me because I created the Imagination Library as a tribute to my Daddy. He was the smartest man I have ever known but I know in my heart his inability to read probably kept him from fulfilling all of his dreams.
“Inspiring kids to love to read became my mission. In the beginning, my hope was simply to inspire the children in my home county but here we are today with a worldwide program that gives a book a month to well over 1 million children.
“Of course, I have not done this alone. The real heroes of our story are the thousands of local organizations who have embraced my dream and made it their own. They raise millions of dollars each year and wake up every day with a passion to make sure their kids have every opportunity to succeed.
“It’s been quite a journey but we have so much more left to do. I would love for your community to join our family so please take the time to explore our website. Let’s share this dream that all children should grow up in a home full of books.
“The first step is always the hardest, but you’ll never know unless you try…”