Little Free Library volunteers, grantor come together for unveiling

DOWAGIAC — In the middle of Huston Park sits a new Little Free Library decorated with Marvel Comics characters and well-known superheroes. Inside, the library holds an assortment of stories, but the library itself has a story of its own.

Megan Wheeler and her sister, Amanda Fuller, decorated and designed the Marvel-themed library to honor their younger sister, Alyson Wheeler, who unexpectedly died earlier this year.

The memorial Little Free Library was unveiled on Tuesday in front of committee members, volunteers and John Krsul, the interim executive director at the Pokagon Fund. The Pokagon Fund awarded a grant to the Little Free Libraries program to install 12 libraries throughout the three wards of Dowagiac.

The Pokagon Fund is funded by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians. The band members who serve on the board are supportive of the work done in the area of literacy and with the Little Free Libraries program, Krsul said.

Standing next to the newest library, Megan described her sister as a book hoarder with tubs and tubs of books stored in her room, reserved for a preschool she dreamed of opening one day. She also was a fan of “Spiderman” actor Tom Holland and loved all of the Marvel series. Alyson, who had worked at Justus Gage Elementary, was also invested in the children of the community.

“A lot of kids love and recognize those characters,” Megan said.

The location for the library in Huston park was chosen because Amanda lives in the neighborhood, so both she and Megan can keep an eye on the library to ensure it stays fully stocked with books.

Two years ago, Heather Nash, the then principal of Patrick Hamilton Elementary, collected volunteers to help install the city’s first libraries. Little Free Library is a world-wide, nonprofit movement that helps provide access to books. The Little Free Libraries use an honor system of “take a book, share a book,” to allow members of the community to share their books with others.

Bobbie Jo Hartline, the secretary to Dowagiac’s city manager, said volunteers sat down with a map and agreed they could install an additional dozen Little Free Libraries across the city. They talked to partners and volunteers and wrote a grant to the Pokagon Fund, who loved the idea, Hartline said.

The Pokagon Fund has three main pillars of activity for which it works: community vitality, reducing poverty and education.

“In the area of education, literacy has really become the most important thing that we believe we can have an effect upon,” Krsul said. “We think it’s important to start young and to get books in front of kids, teach them letters, teach them words. Getting them to read will help them in school, make them better citizens and really introduce them to books for the rest of their lives.”

On Tuesday, Krsul was given a tour of the community’s constructed Little Free Libraries and noticed the personality each one conveyed.

“It’s very special and its personal,” Krsul said. “I think the people that have this attachment to the Little Free Library are going to make sure it’s always staffed with books. They will work hard with all the kids in the neighborhood to get them to use it.”

Hartline said she is proud of the continued stewardship of the community for their Little Free Libraries. She has witnessed neighbors, groups, clubs and coworkers come together. Children are donating books from their own personal collections, all the way up to senior citizens, who are looking to downsize and will donate boxes of books.

“All the seeds that you plant, we may never be able to see bloom,” Hartline said. “But, I guarantee that they are that important.”

On the side of the Little Free Library dedicated to Alyson, a sticker reads, “reading is my superpower,” which Hartline said is the spirit of the Little Free Library program. 

“Because of the Pokagon Band, they made us superheroes, to allow these people to be superheroes to their neighbors,” Hartline said motioning to Megan as an example.

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