‘Georgie would have loved it,’ new reading house built in teacher’s memory

GEORGIE'S READING PLACE  was designed and built by David Leddy.

GEORGIE'S READING PLACE was designed and built by David Leddy.

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Georgie Forney always took great pleasure on watching a young child’s face light up and eyes sparkle as he or she read a good book.

Georgie had two passions in life — teaching and reading. She adored her students and looked forward to sitting on the floor of the library teepee to read stories.

This past March, Georgie passed away at the age of 73, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.

To honor her memory, Georgie’s husband, Bob, and family members decided to make a “generous” donation to Stevens Brook Elementary School to purchase new books.

“It was a very generous check, which was great at a time which the library’s budget has been slashed due to financial constraints,” SBES librarian and longtime friend, Martha Jackson, said. “When the kids saw all the new books on display, I asked them how much did they think they cost? When they finally got to $700, they just said, ‘Wow.’ I told them that is why they really need to take care of the books, all of the books.”

But, the Forney family wanted to do something special.

“The family came to me and said they wanted to do something for the library. They said the sky was the limit. I talked with some of the staff members. We used to have a teepee in here (the library), which I had for ages. It was really dilapidated, held together in some spots with duct tape,” Jackson said. “How about a playhouse — reading house? I talked with the family, and they loved the idea.”

THIS PARTIALLY COMPLETED oil painting of Georgie Forney is being created by Freddy Slock.

THIS PARTIALLY COMPLETED oil painting of Georgie Forney is being created by Freddy Slock.

Jackson shopped around and later contacted Lake Region Vocational Center to see if students there could build a reading house. David Leddy, who had just retired as LRVC’s residential house construction teacher, took on the project. He developed a design and started construction during school vacation. Lumber was brought into the library, and Leddy built “Georgie’s Place.”

Instead of an elevated doorway, Leddy went with a flat entrance, thus eliminating the need to include a ramp to accommodate a wheelchair.

The next question was where to situate the reading house. The teepee once sat near a set of windows, but that spot posed issues — too close to an overhead sprinkler and it would negate a good reading spot. Eventually, the reading house was positioned a short distance from Jackson’s checkout desk.

“It’s like it has always been there. I came in one morning, and I really like it right there. Five book cases had to be moved, but that was okay. This was for Georgie!” Jackson said.

The Reading House drew immediate rave reviews.

“The (Forney) family really liked it. I can’t put it in words. They looked around and we chuckled, knowing Georgie would have fit right under there,” said Jackson as she pointed to the reading house’s entryway.

When children returned to school, youngsters were surprised and thrilled with the new library addition. The biggest question was who would have the first opportunity to go into the wooden house. At first, three children at a time read inside the house. Now, Jackson has two readers inside at one time.

“It has worked out great. They truly respect it,” Jackson said. “The only problem is that it is dark inside. (Art teacher) Cathy Grigsby and I have talked about painting it a light color and maybe include book characters. For now, the kids use flashlights, it’s so cute.”

When Jackson is at the computer checking books in and out, she still can see what’s happening inside the house.

“Our principal (Cheryl Turpin) made a good point that you can’t see everything all the time,” Jackson said. “I chuckle. When the little ones are in there, I can see lights flashing on the ceiling as they ‘explore’ the house. I want them to know that reading is fun. It is not always just ‘shhhhh!’ I told the kids that when they go to some libraries, it will be very quiet. But, we have ‘levels’ here in regards to noise.”

Georgie left the teaching ranks at the age of 66 to spend more time with her family and pursue other passions, such as learning how to play the piano. So, Jackson enjoys telling children what an inspiring teacher and friend Georgie was.

FAMILY PLEASED WITH PROJECT — Left to right are George Forney, Barbie DelCamp, Bob Forney and Scott Forney.

FAMILY PLEASED WITH PROJECT — Left to right are George Forney, Barbie DelCamp, Bob Forney and Scott Forney.

“I tell the kids this: She would bring her classes into the library, and she would sit down with two of the kids, be it in the tee-pee or on the floor somewhere. She loved books. She loved kids. I want the kids to know why the house is here,” Jackson said.

One of the kindergarten teachers knows of someone who is going to create a pencil drawing of Georgie, which will be placed somewhere within the Reading House.

“I will put a story under it. It will always be in there,” Jackson said. “I have a number of parents who had her as a teacher. She was a very close friend. She would be thrilled about this house.”

Georgie began her career in the school district as a study hall monitor, deciding to attend college in 1979, graduating as a teacher in 1982. In her obituary, Georgie was described as having “a welcoming smile” and was “as attentive as she was kind, as patient as she was compassionate.”

At the moment, the house has a “natural” look, but is decorated for the season with leaves on the rooftop and fake cobwebs and spiders hanging in the windows with Halloween just around the corner.

Like her late friend, Jackson knows her days at the school are numbered. Having been a librarian at SBES since 1982, starting in a part-time role, Jackson has seen more and more of her friends retire.

“They always ask when am I going to retire? I still love it — the kids, the creative piece, I am not sure. You never know. Eventually, I will know. I don’t have the stresses the classroom teachers have. I enjoy coming to school (four days),” she said.

Jackson still enjoys the challenge of luring kids into the magical world of reading. In today’s world that is full of other “distractions” — from video games to the Internet — getting a child to sit down and read a book is not very easy.

“One way to do that is to find books that kids are interested in. For example, graphic novels — which are similar to comic books — appeal to them. As I have tried to do since Day 1, I am trying to connect kids and books. It’s very hard — my biggest challenge. When they bring a book back, I ask them if they read it? They might say, ‘No, I didn’t read it all.’ I bribe them. They can take two books out at a time, but I might say they can take three if they keep reading the one they had stopped reading. I ask them, ‘Don’t you want to know what happened with so and so?’”

Last year’s fifth graders, Jackson says, were “amazing readers.”

“It was wonderful. It was like feeding them candy. They enjoyed it and kept coming back for more,” she said. “I think it also comes down to parents encouraging their children to read. Shut off the TV or monitor. There is nothing like the print. They could never read enough to satisfy me.”

Since money is tight, Jackson is careful when it comes to book selection.

“I go for authors I can rely upon. With Georgie’s money, I bought a good number of picture books that would appeal to kids, as well as replaced some popular books — classics that you know more kids will want to read them — that were either lost or were starting to show their age,” Jackson said. “It’s more difficult to choose books with a low budget. I listen to the kids, I see what they take out and what they finish. They give me recommendations, which is really neat. They go to the public libraries and buy books at the book store.”

When it came time to buy Georgie’s books, Jackson visited Justin Ward of Bridgton Books.

“Now with my budget so low, I buy a big percentage of my books from him because he is fantastic. If it is in print, he can get it in a few days. He is very supportive of schools, giving us discounts,” Jackson said.

When school reopened in late August, there was a freshness and new life inside the library. New books lined the shelves and a fun place to read awaited.

“We are very fortunate to have this house,” Jackson said. “Georgie would have loved it.”

Jackson will always remember her dear friend’s special bond with children.

“Georgie was sensitive to their developmental age. She knew whether a child was ready for certain instruction. Whatever was going on in her life, Georgie was always up and positive,” Jackson said. “Even when she had Alzheimer’s, she was still a sweetheart. Her last words to me were, ‘You’re on your own now.’ I always enjoyed being with her.”

Now, there is a place at Stevens Brook Elementary School where young, eager children can develop a passion for reading. Georgie Forney would be proud of that.

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