Gail Johnson had a heart for teaching and for her community. She was a kind, gentle person who was well loved and respected by everyone who knew her.

Johnson’s community roots ran deep. She was a student and graduate of Shirland Elementary School and was a 1970 graduate of Hononegah Community High School.

She taught Kindergarten at Rockton Grade School touching the lives of her students. Johnson retired in 2014.

Johnson was a member of Rockton United Methodist Church where she shared her musical talents both in singing and playing in the hand bell choir. She also served as the Director of children’s choirs at the church. Johnson remained active over the years by serving on numerous committees.

Further extending her love for youth Johnson ran for a seat and was elected as a member of the Rockton School Board of Education.

In 2020 Gail Johnson passed away due to complications from COVID-19.

To keep her memory alive in a unique way a “Gail Johnson Memorial Story Walk; the Gail Trail” is now located along the walking path in Settlers Park at 150 E. Hawick St., Rockton, Ill.

The idea for the Story Walk has been a dream of Kelly Baumgartner and Cheryl Butler, the two Librarians at Rockton Grade School.

This special project is made possible with memorial funds in honor of Gail Johnson. It is a collaboration of the Rockton School District Board of Education, the Village of Rockton and Talcott Free Library.

The Story Walk has been successfully installed and is ready to be dedicated on April 30 at 10 a.m., in memory of Gail Johnson for her years of service to Rockton Grade School and  in the surrounding community. There will be a brief presentation including a ribbon cutting.

Everyone is invited to enjoy refreshments while you participate in the Gail Trail’s inaugural story, “The Summer Nick Taught his Cats to Read;

written by Curtis Manley and illustrated by Kate Berube. This book is a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and A Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year. The story is a delightful tale of one boy’s attempt to teach his two pet cats to read over the summer. One kitty who is fond of fish takes to the books right away. The other proves to be a difficult case. It’s not easy to teach a cat to read, but one boy tries to anyway.

A Story Walk is a book that has been deconstructed, the pages laminated and presented page by page in aluminum display cases along a walking trail. Visitors can access the “Gail Trail” by parking on Hawick St.

The story begins at the flagpole and is a one third of a mile loop, which is handicapped accessible. It provides an opportunity for adults and children of all ages to combine literacy and healthy exercise as they walk the loop reading story pages at 20 posts. Each page includes different activities associated with the story.

Questions will be included to stimulate conversation about the book plus prompts to encourage a variety of physical activities to perform from one post to the next. To extend your experience, a QR code at the end of the trail will link you to other books of the same kind, coloring pages, music, or craft ideas to complete at home. In conjunction with Talcott Free library, stories will be changed out seasonally and to support special events in the community.

The joy of reading and the outdoors are not mutually exclusive. The “Gail Trail” offers a great way to blend the two and enjoy time with your family and friends or to take a quiet walk alone.

Donations to fund future ”Gail Trail” stories can be made by check to the Rockton School District Library noting “Gail Trail” in the memo.

A special note of thanks is given to Cornerstone Fencing in Roscoe, Ill., for the professional installation of the posts and frames.

Gratitude is also extended to former Rockton School District student, Hanna Bergstrom, for designing the Gail Trail logo.

Balsley Printing was instrumental in printing a pilot story walk and creation of the dedication panel.

A commemorative copy of each “Gail Trail” book will be available for purchase at the new independent bookstore booth, “Rockton Reads,” located inside Frosted Farmhouse at 112 Hawick St. in Rockton. The Story Walk concept was created by Anne Fergeson of Montpelier, VT and developed in collaboration with the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition and the Kellogg Hubbard Library.)

The new “Gail Trail” is definitely a fitting dedication to someone who gave back to so many.

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