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Reading anew

After a lifetime struggle with words, Olympian’s story sparks change for Eagle Grove man

September 29, 2013
By HANS MADSEN, hmadsen@messengernews.net , Messenger News

EAGLE GROVE - When Archie Willard was in school, he knew there was something wrong when he tried to learn to read.

He didn't know exactly what the problem was.

"I knew I wasn't stupid," the 83 year-old said.

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Archie Willard, of Eagle Grove, poses with a copy of his book, “Last Reader Standing,” which tells the story of his struggles with reading and how he got a new start at 54. Willard will be sharing his experience from 10:30 a.m. to noon Oct. 16 in the Iowa Central Community College library.

In spite of his extreme difficulty, he graduated and went onto junior college, then onto work.

"I worked at Hormel for 31 years till the plant closed," he said.

He coped with his lack of reading skills during that time in a variety of ways.

"I had a good memory," he said. "If I was asked to read, I'd say I forgot my glasses."

While he always knew there was something wrong, it wasn't until his wife read him an article about Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner overcoming his own reading disability that something struck a chord. Jenner is dyslexic.

"It sounded like my life," he said.

She obtained several books on the condition.

"It sounded like that was what I had," he said.

They made an appointment at the University of Iowa to have him tested. He was 54 then.

"They said I was very dyslexic with above average intelligence," he said.

The next step - getting help - was one of the hardest things Willard ever did.

"I had a hard time making myself go," he said. "My family really had to push."

Even walking through the door at his first session of one-on-one tutoring with Maxine Thomas at the Iowa Central Community College Adult Reading Program was a hurdle.

"I drove around the block a few times," he said.

The third time around was the one.

"I said to myself, 'If you don't go in now, you're not going to go in,'" he said.

They tested his reading level. Willard said it was a high fourth- to low fifth- grade level.

That first session changed his life.

"I felt different," he said. "I felt like I had hope in my life. Without it, it's like a race with no finish."

He attended the program two days a week for two-and-a-half years. It was difficult.

"There was a lot of times I wanted to quit," he said.

He also realized he wanted to write a book. He enlisted the help of Colleen Wiemerslage to do so.

That required picking up a new skill.

"I learned to use a computer," he said.

The book was published on Sept. 5.

"I didn't write it for money," he said. "I wrote it to bring hope to people."

He said that while his reading skills have improved greatly, he still reads slowly.

"It's work. I still struggle," he said.

He said that the quality of his life has improved greatly. He knows from experience that most of those with reading problems face a stigma.

"There are very few that are open about it," he said.

He would like them to seek help like he did.

"Listen to my story," he said. "No matter what, you can always make improvements."

Willard will be sharing his story from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Oct. 16 in the library at Iowa Central Community College.

 
 

 

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