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Man continues wife’s mission to develop young readers

November 22, 2018

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) — Every year, Larry Hutchinson of Council Bluffs delivers hundreds of dictionaries to third-graders in several Iowa schools.

He delivered some to Titan Hill Intermediate School in October. He also took some to two schools in nearby Omaha, Nebraska, and schools in the West Harrison, Adair-Casey and Charter Oak-Ute Community School Districts.

He has done it all but two years since his wife, Nancy, passed away in 2006.

“Nancy was a reading teacher (reading interventionist),” Hutchinson told The Daily Nonpareil . “She had books all over the place, and she took pride in helping kids with their reading. She started reading to our kids the day she brought them home from the hospital. I have pictures of her sitting in the rocking chair with them.”

She was not just a teacher but a literacy advocate, said Barbara Grell, principal at Kreft Primary School and the last administrator Nancy worked with.

“Nancy was just an incredible promoter of literacy,” she said. “She just had a love for literacy, and that’s why Larry continued that on. Because of her passion for literacy and literacy teaching, she was definitely a person who was well read on best practices — instructional practices.”

She also wanted to get books to children who needed them and spearheaded an effort to send books to schools affected by Hurricane Katrina, Grell said.

Hutchinson started distributing dictionaries just two months after he lost Nancy. He had recently seen an article about an organization called The Dictionary Project. The nonprofit organization in Charleston, South Carolina, distributes “A Student’s Dictionary,” a paperback book with more than just words and definitions. The second half of it contains the names of every U.S. president, the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence and something about every nation in the world. The 540-page book is just $3.

“I sent for a sample kit and, by the time it came, she had passed away,” he said.

Hutchinson asked a teacher and a principal about the organization and decided to buy through it. He gave to second-graders the first year and then switched to third-graders, he said.

“The goal is for all third-graders to have their own dictionary,” he said. “At third grade, kids are transitioning from learning to read to reading to learn.”

The reward for Hutchinson is seeing the students’ reactions — and knowing that he is, in a sense, carrying on his wife’s mission.

“A lot of kids get pretty excited,” he said. “For some, it’s the first book they’ve ever had.”

The two years that Hutchinson didn’t distribute dictionaries, the Elks Lodge did, he said.

“They gave to every school — public and private — in Council Bluffs,” he said. “They just couldn’t sustain that.”

The Dictionary Project donated some dictionaries for one of the early years of Hutchinson’s effort. For a couple years, he, too, gave to all Council Bluffs schools and some others, he said — but, again, he couldn’t keep that up.

At that time, Kiwanis International of Iowa was providing dictionaries for many Iowa schools, he said. The Treynor Optimist Club provides them to Treynor students, and Rotary Clubs in some cities donate them to local schools.

Hutchinson would like to see organizations sponsor dictionaries for other local schools, he said.

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