A tribute to John

By vocation, Risha Formanowicz is a registered nurse who works at Elementary School 4 in Dunkirk. Recently, she began an avocation, – steward of Little Free Library 13660 located at 630 Park Ave., Dunkirk.

A Little Free Library is a hand-crafted structure that contains a changing collection of books. To be recognized as a Little Free Library, there must be an official sign, number and listing on the Little Free Library website. There are about 70 Little Free Libraries in New York state and it is estimated there are 15,000 worldwide. Risha’s is the first in Chautauqua County.

Risha said, “My sister-in-law and brother-in-law Ginger and Laroy Burgess, Jr. from Rochester learned about this and ordered one for me for my birthday.”

Risha’s in-laws knew the gift would be appreciated.

Risha dedicated her little library to the memory of her husband, John Formanowicz, who passed away in 2009. Risha is an avid reader as was her husband.

“John believed that reading was the key for people to better their lives,” Risha explained.

In addition to reading himself, John tried to encourage literacy locally. For many years, he served as the treasurer of Literacy Volunteers of Chautauqua County.

Minda Rae Amiran, longtime volunteer tutor and former president of the organization’s board of directors said, “John Formanowicz joined the board of Literacy Volunteers in 1999 or 2000, and served as our treasurer until his untimely death. To say that he served as treasurer is scarcely to define what he did for the organization: in his enthusiasm for reading, he did everything from securing promotional bookmarks to putting up our informational tent in Barker Common, from renting a truck and hauling books for our then-annual sale at SUNY Fredonia to carrying cartons of books to sell at his office in the Masonic Building. His kindness and delicacy of spirit sustained us during difficult times. We miss him every day.”

Some background about the Little Free Library is in order. The movement’s website is littlefreelibrary.org. Its mission is “to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide” and “to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.”

The site acknowledges that book exchanges are not a new idea. The two people who started the movement in 2009 were Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin and Rick Brooks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Bol built a model of a one-room schoolhouse to honor his mother, a former teacher who loved to read. He stocked it with books and put it up on a post in his front yard with a sign “Free Books.” His neighbors and friends liked it; he made several and gave them away.

Brooks, a youth and community development educator, joined forces with Bol. The two point to a number of sources of inspiration including: Andrew Carnegie who supported public libraries in the 19th and early 20th century; Lutie Sterns, a librarian who brought books to about 1400 locations through “traveling little libraries” between 1895 and 1914; “take a book, leave a book” collections in coffee shops and public places; and grassroots movements in other countries.

One of the initial goals was to create more libraries than Andrew Carnegie who supported 2,509. This was achieved by Aug. 2012. In May of the same year, Little Free Library was recognized as a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin. It also received tax-exempt status from the federal government.

Important to the movement’s evolution and success are the stewards who watch over each little library and care for it.

The website states, “LFL Stewards are key to the success of the Little Free Library Concept … With your active enthusiasm and engagement they (the libraries) can become a real asset to not only your neighborhood, but can also bring you new opportunities to connect with people that may share your interests (particularly your love of books) and can provide a fulfilling experience.”

The Little Free Library on 630 Park Ave. is already stocked with books. It has an inviting look. The structure is flanked by flamingos (John had a collection). Summer flowers and inspirational stones are part of the design. In the coming summer days, the neighbors can enjoy books and comment on them in a notebook stored in the little library.

John would certainly approve.

Comments on this article may be directed to dchodan@observertoday.com