A different twist on Independence Day
Monday, June 30, 2014 10:00 PM
It's the norm this week to write about our nation's 238th birthday. This is where scribes wax poetic about patriots, history and fireworks, not always in that order. Instead, here's a story about none of that, and yet all of it. This is a story about a sense of community and of doing for others. It's a story that doesn't directly connect to the 4th of July, but encompasses so many of the things the holiday is really about.
It won't surprise the three or four of you who are regular readers of these weekly wanderings to hear that I'm a fan of Claude Johnson. A big fan. Claude is one of those guys who lights up a room when he walks in. He's the epitome of a leader. Has been all of his life and never seems to stop finding ways to just make things happen.
The latest endeavor came from an article he read in a Rotarian magazine. Around the country small wooden boxes are popping up in various communities. Inside the box are books. Kids books. Adult books. Cook books. Books and books. Anyone can come along and take a book. Sometimes, they put a book in its place. Sometimes they read the book and bring it back. Sometimes they keep it.
"It's OK if they do," Claude said. "You can't steal it if it's free."
The idea is pretty simple. The boxes, little free libraries, are placed around communities for anyone to use. According to the website littlefreelibrary.org, in 2009 Todd Bol of Wisconsin built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a longtime teacher. The model was a little less than two feet tall and about a foot or so by a foot and a half. He filled it with books and stuck it in his front yard with a sign, free books.
The idea caught on and more little free libraries popped up. That's how the article came to be and it shouldn't be a great surprise that a light bulb went off above Claude's head.
"I virtually grew up loving libraries," Claude said. "Things were tough at home. My dad was a drunk. I spent a lot of time at the library; still do today. The thing is, if you or I want to go to the library, we hop in the car and we go to the library. But if you're 10 years old and live in Wingate or New Richmond or Waynetown, you don't have that (option). There's no library to go to."
So Claude decided to do something about it.
He went to Larry Hathaway, director of the Crawfordsville District Public Library. Claude said he got a great reception. "(Hathaway) said he could get us all the books we could use."
Getting the little libraries built was an issue, so Claude found Ben Fowler of Big Ben Construction to handle that. Each one will be about two feet by two feet and about 30 inches tall. All he had left to do was find a way to get everything paid for. Since the idea came from the Rotarian . . .
"I went to the board of directors (of the local Rotary Club)," Claude explained with a smile. "Like a lot of board of directors, if you do the work, they'll say yes."
Fast forward and the little libraries are becoming a reality. Claude said there will be nine placed around various Montgomery County communities, Alamo, Elmdale, New Market, New Richmond, New Ross, Shannondale, Waynetown, Wingate and Yountsville.
Of course this is the same Claude Johnson who has spent a lifetime doing things for others. One hot summer afternoon he and granddaughter Sophia bought a bunch of Cokes and threw them in a cooler with ice. "It was hot as hell," Claude said. "We just drove all over town with that cooler of Coke and we'd see some guys working on a street, or in a hot garage or whatever. We'd pull over and offer them a drink. Sophia would yell at them, 'Want an ice-cold drink. It's free!' "
It's also the same Claude Johnson who has sent many, many fire trucks to villages all over Mexico. There's no way to put a number on how many lives have surely been saved by that selfless act.
And that's why this is a story best told while we are celebrating another Independence Day. Claude and people like him represent what is best about this country. They are the minority who don't gripe, they do. They help others. They make their communities better places to live.
Claude's granddaughter, little Sophia, is 7 years old. I hope as she grows up she remembers her trips around town with her grandfather (this year, she said they're going to give out water, too). I hope she learns about the many other things he's done. I'll bet she turns out a lot like him. And when you really think about it, isn't that an awful lot of what Independence Day is all about?
Two cents, which is about how much Timmons said his columns are worth, appears periodically on Tuesdays in The Paper. Timmons is the publisher of The Paper and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.