All across America, ordinary people are going out of their way to help one another and make our country a better place. Unheralded, unrecognized, and often taken for granted, these citizens continue their good deeds, happy just to make a difference.
Hometown Heroes tells the stories of fifty such people from all over America, including Moody, Alabama, Ellisville, Illinois, and Lander, Wyoming. Spanning ages fourteen to ninety-three, the heroes inside this book show that it's never too early or too late to lend a helping hand and make inspiring choices. Capturing the true spirit of America—one of generosity, courage, and tireless devotion—these heroes warm our hearts and reveal a face of America we rarely hear about.
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About the Author
Celebrating the people, places, and things that make America great, American Profile is the fourth largest weekly magazine in the United States, with a circulation of over 9 million copies each week. Hometown Heroes is based on their most popular column.
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Real Stories of Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things All Across America
Little Library, Big Heart
At 9 A.M. on Saturday, Helen Myers troops four blocks to the little library in Ellisville, Illinois, and unlocks the door. She hoists the flag outside, then settles down with a good book and waits for company.
"If I have two people come in, it's a big crowd," says Myers, 79.
The great-grandmother could write a book on patience and dedication. For more than 40 years, she's kept the library humming, spending 37 of those years in a dilapidated shed-sized building. Since 2003, however, her library has resided in a tidy new building built on faith, donations, and old-fashioned sugar cookies.
It all began in 1966, when Myers opened her library with 400 books from her home shelves at the prompting of a grade-school boy in the community service group she was shepherding. "He noticed that I had a lot of books, and he said, 'I sure wish we could have a library here in town,' " Myers recalls. That's all the motivation the bookworm needed.
"I can't remember ever not reading," says Myers, who was raised in Ellisville and taught school one year there at age 18 with an emergency teaching license issued during World War II. During her life, she's worked as a wallpaper hanger and secretary and has been the village treasurer for 32 years.
"If you can read, you can do anything," Myers declares. "Today, though, people don't read. They watch TV and play those darn video games."
That hasn't discouraged her from faithfully opening the library from 9 to 11A.M. on Saturdays to share her love of literature. One of her favorite books is Jack London's Call of the Wild, which she read four times in high school. She prefers nonfiction, though, and is continuously reading two biographies or self-help books at home and two at the library.
"When you consider the size of this town, it's pretty amazing what Helen has done," says Bonnie Powell, who has worked alongside her friend for more than 20 years in the Ellisville Goal Getters. The town's mothers organized in 1983 to build a basketball court, and they've been holding monthly fund-raising feeds ever since.
The library, though, has always been Myers's pet project. In the 1970s, when the roof and floor rotted beyond repair in the donated 10-by-14-foot building, she began saving dollars for a new structure.
The foundation was built from sales of sugar cookies. Myers rolls out the giant 50-cent cookies on the first two weekends in October during the area's Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive fall festival. The event brings visitors from miles around to Ellisville and to the library's front door in search of Myers's homemade cookies. She bakes and decorates about six dozen shaped like Fulton County, and they're bestsellers. The cookie money now helps pay the library's utility bills.
As publicity spread about the state's tiniest library, donations started coming in. First lady Laura Bush, a former librarian, sent seven books and a note congratulating her on her dedication in maintaining a library in such a small town.
With $8,000 in donations, cookie sales, and her own savings, Myers built Ellisville Library II, which opened October 26, 2003, on her own property, four blocks from her house. The building, with white siding and green trim, is 14 feet by 22 feet and stacked with 3,500 donated hardbacks, new and used.
Displayed atop the children's bookshelf are new Harry Potter books. Fiction is arranged alphabetically by authors' names, and nonfiction is grouped by subject. Baskets on the floor hold free paperbacks.
No fines are charged because that would discourage reading. "I've had some books overdue since 1981," Myers says with a laugh.
Only 20 books are ever in circulation at one time, and most weeks Myers opens and closes the library and never sees a soul.
"My daughter said, 'Mom, why don't you give it up and close up?' " Myers relates. "I said, 'No. Somebody, some day, may read. Who knows? A future president of the United States may come in and get a book.' "
Be patient and faithful in all you do.
Patience is an often overlooked virtue.
Real Stories of Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things All Across America. Copyright © by Eduardo American Profile. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
What People are Saying About This
“Hometown Heroes is a blueprint for building the kind of communities in which we all want to live.”