Tribute to Randy Bowling

Today I would like to pay a special tribute to a new friend of mine by the name of Randy Bowling. But first, a little background: back in 2005 when I founded the "Bookcase for Every Child" literacy project where we give a personalized bookcase and a starter set of books to preschool children being reared in low-income homes, I was not prosperous enough to pay for all of this out of my own pocket. It was at this time that another long-time friend, Carolyn Wilson, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association, suggested that I develop a book of my columns, sell them and give all the profits to our bookcase project.

Well, I took her suggestion, and another friend, the late Dr. Dennis Schick, director of the Arkansas Press Association for 25 years, secured the services of a good number of award-winning journalists from across the country to read all my columns and select those to go in the book. We were on our way, and I followed through, and in a few months had several thousand books that we titled, "Learning, Earning & Giving Back." This is a neat concept, as the first third of our life is for Learning or Education, the second third is for Earning, as in getting a job, and the last third is for Giving Back, assuming we have done well enough to have a little left over.

The first three years I sold enough books, along with some corporate donations, to buy the lumber and supplies to build 50 bookcases each year for 50 Head Start children. What a thrill it was to see their smiling faces when they got their very own personalized bookcase. The thing that was so exciting for me is that our project was all volunteer, as no one personally earned a penny for their good work. We also knew we were doing some good, as the Head Start people reported that parents were checking out large numbers of books to read to their children at home.

Then I had a brainstorm to start an annual Bookcase Literacy Banquet to raise the funds to build the bookcases. My next-door neighbor, Tom Voegele, was the assistant principal of the Bob & Betty Courtway Middle School here in Conway and they had a large cafeteria that would seat about 400 people. With Tom's help, we secured this cafeteria as the location to hold our banquet. What was so neat is this was the school where many of our Head Start children would later attend school. This was perfect and we held an annual banquet there for about 12 years until the COVID virus hit and we missed a couple of years. We came back in 2021 to start again, praise the Lord. With age creeping up on me, I knew I had to make a change, so I offered the project to the Conway Kiwanis Club, the largest and best civic club in our community. They took it over where I left off.

Now, to Randy Bowling. I had several thousand books left over, not helping anyone, so I decided to give them away. I gave Randy a case of these books and he gave them away in short order. He also has given books to every member of the graduating class of Morrilton, Nemo Vista, South Side and Sacred Heart High Schools, plus dozens of others, around 1,200 altogether. He is still going strong. He loves to help people and that is why I am paying a special tribute to him.

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