By Marianne Mueller

Family, friends, and community gathered inside After the Vine on Saturday, April 30 for a very special dedication.

Kelly Baumgartner and Cheryl Butler, the two Librarians at Rockton Grade School had a dream to build a story walk.

Watching this become a reality Baumgartner and Butler welcomed everyone to the official dedication of the “Gail Johnson Memorial Story Walk; the Gail Trail” which is  now located along the walking path in Settlers Park.

“We are here to celebrate such a special person; Gail’s life and love of children, “Baumgartner said. COVID-19 has affected all of us, and it was never more evident than in  2020 when Gail  passed away due to complications from Covid-19.

Gail Johnson had a heart for teaching and for her community. She was a kind 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.

Johnson earned her degree at Illinois State University and St. Xavier University with a Masters degree.

She primarily taught Kindergarten at Rockton Grade School touching the lives of her students and had a true passion for teaching.  Johnson retired in 2014. After retiring she ran for a seat and was elected as a member of the Rockton School Board of Education.

Johnson was a member of Rockton United Methodist Church where she displayed 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.

Gail loved to play piano and to tell stories. She also loved to bake.

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 Street.

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 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 are 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 the 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 “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.

“It takes a village to build a story walk, “Butler said. A special note of thanks was  given to Cornerstone Fencing in Roscoe, IL 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.

“We understand the value of proper placement, “Butler said. She credited Balsley Printing for creating a prototype and little friends at Rockton Grade School who were the first to test the prototype.

Butler added, “Don’t put the last page next to the first one.”

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 in Rockton.

“This special project is made possible with memorial funds in honor of Gail Johnson, honoring her passion for literacy.” The emphasis of the project shows the power of a message in a children’s book; one we often  remember from our childhood,” Butler said.

This project is a collaboration of the Rockton School District Board of Education, the Village of Rockton and Talcott Free Library. Special thanks was given to Rockton Village Planning and Development Administrator, Tricia Diduch for helping all who were behind these efforts learn the ins and outs of an intergovernmental agreement.

 The Gail Trail’s inaugural story was  “The Summer Nick Taught his Cats to Read; written by Curtis Manley and illustrated by Kate Berube.

The story is a delightful tale of one boy’s attempt to teach his two pet cats to read over the summer.

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

A ribbon-cutting completed by Gail’s husband commemorated the Gail Trail followed by refreshments made by Sara Henderson.  Every time the trail is visited Gail Johnson’s memory lovingly lives on every day.

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