Anonymous benefactor continued: OZ Literacy Fund

Oz Books closed on March 17, 1997. My still unknown anonymous benefactor decided to set up a nonprofit for me to run so I could continue providing literacy programs on Mount Desert Island, Maine.

I found out my “guardian angel” was around 70 at the time, a quiet woman who visited the bookstore every summer. She wanted to help me make the transition from being “the Oz lady” to regular life. She paid me a larger salary for three years than I ever made running Oz. What a joy it must have been for her to be a mystery-woman philanthropist.

The Oz Literacy Fund was born. No more bookstore but other treats were in store for the MDI community — and me.

The Oz Literacy Fund was administered through Harbor House Recreation Center in Southwest Harbor. After “The Soul of a Business: Managing for Profit and the Public Good” by Tom Chappell of Tom’s of Maine came out, we sponsored a business breakfast/talk that drew more than 200 people.

The fund brought children’s authors like Vera B. Williams (“Chair for my Mother”), Ashley Bryan (“Beautiful Blackbird” and many more), Margy Burns Knight and Anne Sibley O’Brien (“Talking Walls”) and then Maine Poet Laureate Baron Wormser to schools around the island.

It was a joy for me to continue bringing such talent to our local schools. I returned to my first career, teaching social studies, at MDI High School. I’ll never forget when Baron visited my Honors U.S. History class. I had given my students the somewhat nebulous assignment of writing a history poem. Baron and I were blown away by the passion and creativity in the room that day. So were the kids.

Their enthusiasm was partly due to knowing Baron would really listen, that he believed in the power of poetry to make history come alive. And it was a different kind of assignment; I think they appreciated that. I was never a teacher for answering the questions at the end of the chapter; guess I wasn’t even one for reading the quotidian chapter (always wanted to use that word!).

Back to my second career. Oh the places I went (Thank you, Dr. Seuss) during the years of Oz Books. I’ll never forget the summer of 1990, when Judy Blume came to town. I wasn’t a fan of her books, but was gracious when I spotted her in the store trying to remain incognito, wearing a kerchief over her head and big sunglasses.

I invited her to lunch. We debated the worth of “Blubber,” one of her books that turned me off. She made some valid points. We became friends that summer.

Wait, here’s her inscription in my copy of “Fudge-A-Mania”:

“To the best “Sheila” in Southwest Harbor! (even though I had to rename you “Dorothy” for this book). Thanks for your friendship, which made a cold summer warmer.”

I haven’t seen Judy and her husband, George, in years. They never returned to Southwest Harbor — because, uh, it was too cold — but I visited them in New York City. I learned that she too was a caring philanthropist.

Wish I knew who my benefactor was.

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4 Responses to Anonymous benefactor continued: OZ Literacy Fund

  1. Lucy Tracy says:

    Hi Sheila, I remember so well Vera Williams and when you and Ellen had your debate on Fairy tales.
    Do you know I made a chair for my father, before he died in part inspired by A Chair for my Mother.

    Sweet memories.

    Lucy

  2. sheilawill says:

    Sweet memories for sure, Lucy! I didn’t know about your chair. I always wanted a big comfy, flowery chair, just recently bought a giant leather one. Happy Spring!

  3. Lesley says:

    Lovely story.

  4. sheilawill says:

    Thanks Lesley. Dredging up a lot of memories here. Who knows what’ll be next!

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