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A lifetime habit: Confessing a family ‘addiction’

Morning, UP

November 6, 2010
By RENEE PRUSI, Journal Staff Writer

It's time for a confession: There's an addiction running rampant in my family, both on my mother's side and my father's side.

Children in our family don't stand a chance. It's passed along to each newborn. And this habit, if you develop it as a child, stays with you your entire life.

The addiction? Reading.

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We are book junkies. We are magazine fiends. We are newspaper hounds. The younger among us are Kindle-aholics.

Reading is an obsession with me, my siblings, my nieces and nephews, uncles and aunts, cousins... you get the picture.

My sister, Chris, lives in New Hampshire now but before her husband, Jeff, passed away, she fed her addiction in an interesting way when they lived in Alabama. Chris volunteered at the local elementary school and she read to the children there.

She would ask the teacher to assign her to the child who most needed help reading and off she would go. Before that youngster knew what had hit him/her, reading had become something fun rather than a burden.

Chris' grandchildren lived far away and while she of course sent them books and took them book shopping whenever she spent time with them, she missed the thrill of bringing books to life for a child.

Somehow I know the kids in Alabama Chris taught the joy of books have remained readers. We know we are not the only family with a book addiction. In fact, the other day I had a lovely time interviewing 94-year-old Fannie Ruuska for a Superiorland Memories story. Her son, George, was present during the interview and we got to talking, discovering we not only shared cousins through marriage, we shared great affection for a special lady. George, who was principal at Sandy Knoll School in Marquette for many years, told me about his childhood growing up in Black River Location near Republic during the 1950s. Every Saturday for years, he would listen to the radio for the "Auntie Lois" program.

Lois Holmgren was the young woman who did that broadcast. She would play requests and then read a story to her young listeners.

All these years later, George's eyes sparkled when he told me about receiving a book in the mail from Auntie Lois. He said he couldn't believe someone would send him something that special.

The years passed and George was talking one day to a young teacher who had joined his staff at Sandy Knoll. His name was Steve Sarasin. As they talked, Steve mentioned his mother had once been a radio broadcaster and was, in fact, "Auntie Lois."

"It was one of those moments I will remember my entire life," George told me. "Steve's Mom is 'Auntie Lois.' I was stunned."

Steve told his mother about his principal's reaction and that got Lois Holmgren Sarasin to searching. What she found was the thank-you letter Fannie Ruuska had written all those years ago on behalf of her son, George, for the thrill of receiving a book in the mail.

"I framed a copy of that letter and it hung in my office for the rest of my career," George told me. The story doesn't end there. After hearing I trade e-mails with Lois, a former neighbor who I have adored my entire life, George asked me to tell her hello. Of course I did and Lois was delighted. In an e-mail, she told me after George found her again, he had her come to the school once a month to read to children.

Lois won't mind me sharing the other part of what she said: "On the day he retired (George) had me come to his party at Sandy Knoll and had me go on stage in the gymnasium and read a story to all the classes gathered there," Lois wrote. "I brought a children's book that I had read on the radio when Little Georgie and his sister were listening.

"He had two chairs on stage (and) announced me. I came on stage, took bows and then he showed me what chair to sit on," she wrote. "Then he took the other chair and brought it over by me and he sat down right beside me. I had goosebumps and George had tears as I read my story to all the little wide-eyed children gathered in the gym ... and Little Georgie, who was sitting right beside me.

"It was a very special day and I was so honored to be there." And I am honored to share the sweet story of two more reading addicts. We book junkies need to stick together, after all.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is



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