Idahoans owe a lot to the Little Free Libraries that have sprung up in neighborhoods throughout the state. The one in my neighborhood has introduced me to books I never would have discovered without it – and reunited me with a pivotal figure from my past.
The libraries hold roughly 30 books. You can go to public libraries with acres of books and come home empty-handed, but with just a few you’re less selective. You choose books you wouldn’t at a big library and more often than not are pleasantly surprised. Some of my favorite books of recent years have come from my neighborhood’s mini library.
A recent pick was “The Osage Rose,” by a University of Arizona professor named Tom Holm. The most surprising thing thing about it was the inscription:
“For Roy Schiele: Writing about this was pretty easy because it takes place where I grew up. Best wishes, Tom Holm, 2008.”
Roy Schiele? Not exactly a common name. Could it be the same one?
A Google search found a Roy Schiele with a nearby address. Not quite in the neighborhood, but not far away. If it was the same guy, he changed my life. That Roy Schiele played guitar in a band called the Squires. They played at my high school’s Welcome Freshmen Dance.
I went to the dance with a friend, Justin Bonner. We were 13. It was the first time either of us had seen a live band, and it’s an understatement to say that we were smitten.
Justin decided that night that he wanted to be a drummer. I spent most of the evening watching Schiele, the beginning of a lifelong love affair with electric guitars. We started taking lessons, started a group. A few years later, we were running our own ballroom. It was the most fun we’d ever had.
A lifetime later, I’m still playing guitar in an evolution of that group. And it all started with Schiele and the Squires.
Prepared to be disappointed, I called the number from the Google search.
No answer. I left a voicemail identifying myself and asking whether it was the number for the Roy Schiele who used to play in a band called the Squires. A few days later, he called back.
It was the same Roy Schiele.
“You’re kidding!” he said upon learning the impact he and his guitar had had on me. “That’s amazing.”
He said his wife bought the book that turned up in my neighborhood’s Little Free Library for him at a book fair in Arizona. Its author was there signing books so she asked him to inscribe it to her husband.
“We took some books to the Little Free Library in our neighborhood a couple of months ago,” he said. “Someone must have taken them from there to yours.”
We met for coffee, and he updated me on his life since high school. The Squires were fairly short-lived, he said, but two of the band’s members went on to play with an excellent group called Dick Cates and the Chessmen, still fondly remembered by a generation of southwest Idahoans. Schiele went on to Gonzaga University, became an electrical engineer and later started his own telecommunications consulting company.
He had quite a run, consulting for major corporations and living all over the world – Los Angeles, New York, the Mideast, London …
“I did a lot of work in Russia,” he said. “I’ve traveled to Russia something like 40 times.
“… But Boise has been my headquarters forever. We always maintained a home in Boise. When I retired, we moved back here.”
Why go to the trouble and expense of maintaining a home in Boise when you spend most of your career working and living in other parts of the world?
“Because I had such good memories of growing up here,” he replied. “Boise was maybe 40,000 people then. You could ride all over town on your bike. You could go swimming in the river. It was a great place to grow up. Boise’s changed a lot. It’s bigger and more vibrant now. But it’s still a good place to raise a family.
“I wanted my kids to experience that. All of them spent at least part of their growing-up years here.”
Retired for four years now, Schiele is giving back to the community that gave him his start. He volunteers for the Anne Frank Memorial and serves on the board of Idaho Public Television.
He still plays the guitar for his own enjoyment, still has the guitar he was playing the night he made such an impact on a high school freshman – without ever knowing it. He was gracious enough to bring it to the coffee shop, where I got to play the guitar that changed my life.
All because of a Little Free Library.
For those unfamiliar with them, Little Free Libraries are the wooden boxes on posts that seem to have popped up everywhere. You take a book; you leave a book. The first Little Free Library went up in a Wisconsin neighborhood in 2009, and the idea caught fire. There are now more than 50,000 worldwide. Boise has about 50.
The one in my neighborhood is decorated with solar-powered Christmas lights that come on at dusk. A nice touch. A neighbor, Jill Jasper, put it up about three years ago.
Those little boxes of books have a way of connecting people. Jasper says she’s gotten acquainted with people she never would have met if they hadn’t stopped for books at the library beside her house. Strangers have become friends there, united by a mutual love of reading.
Stories like that abound on the Internet. A shooting victim in Ohio wanted to do something for the children in his neighborhood while he recuperated, so he built a Little Free Library that looks like a rocket ship. An elderly man with Parkinson’s Disease filled a wagon with books for the people in his neighborhood. A California man dedicated the one in his neighborhood to his grandmother and hid a memorial to her behind the books.
Book lovers have come up with all sorts of unique twists on the libraries’ designs – bird houses, a telephone booth, a boat, a phone booth, a movie theater …The designs are creative, entertaining and give artists and craft workers opportunities to express themselves.
They’re secondary, however, to the libraries’ real purpose: to make books easily available, fostering a love of books and reading.
And you never know what characters from the past – fictional or otherwise – you might meet in the process.
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Statesman and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Got an idea for an interesting column subject for him? Contact him at email@example.com.