10-year-old helps distant town in need

NEIGHBORS

August 26, 1999|By Diane B. Mikulis | Diane B. Mikulis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LAST WEEK, 10-year-old Kirstin Shipp learned an important lesson about life. "Wow, one kid really can make a difference," she said.

Kirstin was referring to the 9,000 books she collected for the town of Mulhall, Okla. The school and library there were destroyed by a tornado May 3.

"I was watching the news reports and I wanted to help the people in Oklahoma because they lost all their books -- the library was flattened," Kirstin explained.

Then a fourth-grader at Clarksville Elementary School, Kirstin placed a box in her school for pupils and teachers to drop off books.

She placed one at the Giant store in River Hill Village Center, too. Later, boxes were placed at Value Food in Kings Contrivance and Savage United Methodist Church.

Books began pouring in.

Kirstin said she received all kinds of books -- children's, teen and adult literature, sets of encyclopedia, books on tape, National Geographic and Smithsonian magazine collections.

"Every kind of book you can think of," she summed up.

With help from her mother, Roberta, Kirstin regularly collected the books and packed them in sturdy cardboard boxes. The Shipps had help from Kevin Oxenrider, Ryan Haden and the Brosius family -- all from the Allview area of Columbia, near the Shipps' home.

It soon became obvious that the family garage would not be big enough to hold all of the books. Roberta talked with several storage companies, and Storage USA in Columbia agreed to rent a unit for half the regular price.

The Cook family of Columbia helped the Shipps transport the boxes to the storage unit.

Early in the project, Kirstin talked to officials in Mulhall to let them know what she was doing. She spoke with the mayor, a congressman, the school superintendent and the librarian. They appreciated her efforts and looked forward to the arrival of the books.

The only detail left was how to get the books from Maryland to Oklahoma.

One of the officials in Mulhall suggested that Kirstin contact North American Van Lines. After a call to the corporate headquarters in Fort Wayne, Ind., Kirstin was put in touch with Betty Swigelson, owner of J-TABS Inc., a North American-affiliated moving company in Hurley, N.M.

Swigelson regularly donates the use of her trucks and drivers for national emergencies. She has provided transportation for relief shipments in the aftermath of earthquakes and the Oklahoma City bombing. She moved families after flooding in Mississippi.

She was glad to help the book drive and excited to meet the 10-year-old girl who organized the effort.

Swigelson adjusted her travel plans to include a "detour" to Howard County on the way from New Mexico to California.

"This is my way to pay people back for all they've done for us," Swigelson said. She is a strong believer in Jesus Christ, she says, and tries to live as one of his followers.

"I hope my work will inspire others to do good things," she added.

Last week, when the door to the storage unit was opened, there were 224 cartons of books. Roberta Shipp says the cartons contained from 10 to 60 books each, depending on size. She estimates the average to be 40, which puts the total number of books at just less than 9,000.

Kirstin beamed as she watched the heavy cartons being loaded onto Swigelson's truck. She helped carry a few of them.

Then, to recognize Kirstin and Swigelson for their efforts, Roberta presented each with an inscribed plaque commemorating the day.

"I'm really proud of you," she told her daughter.

A little while later, Swigelson jumped into the cab of the truck with Dave Hock, one of her drivers, and her kitten Smokey, who lives in the truck. They drove directly to Mulhall, arriving about noon the next day.

The books were taken to the Orlando-Mulhall School, which will serve as both elementary and high school for the two towns until a new elementary school can be built in Mulhall.

Their school year had already started, so there were plenty of teachers and students on hand to carry the books into a portable classroom, where they were unpacked and sorted.

Orlando-Mulhall school librarian Jean Rollow was thrilled with the delivery. She said they are still figuring out where to put all the books.

"Everybody appreciates it so much," she said.

And how does Kirstin feel now?

"I feel a little sad that it's all over," she said. "It's weird not going around and getting the books every day."

Her mother is wondering what Kirstin will get involved in next. She believes there will be many more opportunities to help others for her daughter, who will attend Columbia Academy this year on a scholarship.

Welcome to Poplar Springs

Thanks to the efforts of its residents, Poplar Springs has a new welcome sign. The sign was dedicated Saturday in memory of William Thomas Hood Jr., on whose property it sits.

Jane Fleming, a lifelong resident of Poplar Springs, came up with the idea for the sign and its dedication to Hood.

"It's on his property and he was a native of Poplar Springs," she said. "We dedicated it to him because he was very protective and interested in the history of Poplar Springs and saving it."

Hood collected newspapers and other published accounts of life in the town.

Fleming worked with Hood's widow, Pauline, and resident Mary Streaker to create the sign. The three of them painted it together.

The sign reads: "Welcome to Poplar Springs, circa 1741, Old National Pike town, in memory of William Thomas Hood, Jr. August 21, 1930 to August 3, 1998."

Take a drive out there and see this lovely addition to the town landscape. The sign is on Route 144 at the entrance to Poplar Springs, going west just past the Lisbon traffic circle.

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