|Archives / Archived News - June 2001|
Once upon a time ...
The Story of Maggie Kimmel
|The Division of Geriatric Medicine at the University of
Pittsburgh has won the clinical research award.
In the steel town of Gary, Ind., there once was a young
girl, Margaret Mary Kimmel, whose family gave her a gift
so wonderful that she has devoted a lifetime to sharing
it with as many people as possible.
“And Uncle Andy had an oversized book of fine art prints,” she continues. “He would hold up the pictures for my brothers and sisters and me, and he’d make up stories about the scenes.
“We grew up taking all this for granted. The dinner table conversation with the adults included us children. And sometimes it got us in trouble. I knew the word idiosyncrasies in second grade because Aunt Kate used it when talking about one of the neighbors. So when I mentioned to my second grade teacher that I thought she had several idiosyncrasies, the teacher called my mother. Mother suggested that we only use that word at home,” Kimmel recounts.
So while Aunt Kate’s words may have created a minor fuss on that particular day, what she and the rest of the family instilled in Kimmel was worth it. Their gift to her was the gift of story and, in particular, the power it can have in the lives of children.
“If you want to reach the children, you can get to them through stories,” says Kimmel. “Our children are starved for story. The old saying that what the heart feels today, the head will understand tomorrow is absolutely true. The power of story is that it can stimulate one’s imagination because without imagination hope cannot survive.”
A LESSON FROM “STINKY”
Kimmel enrolled at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., as a history major with plans to become a teacher. She spent the first couple of summer breaks during college back home in Gary working in the U.S. Steel’s billing and invoice department, which provided her with money, if not stimulation; or as Kimmel put it, “That job gave me an incentive to finish my education.”
But during the summer between junior and senior year, no job was available at U.S. Steel.
“So I went to the public library I haunted as a child and got a job working their trailer, which was like a bookmobile,” she recalls. “In six-week cycles, we’d go to school parking lots, where I got to work with books and kids, telling stories and getting paid for it. I was hooked.”
Kimmel, who completed her bachelor’s and master’s degree work at Dominican, was recruited as a librarian by the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore — a move Kimmel’s mother approved only because she had two sisters living there. While at Pratt, Kimmel taught in the graduate program at Catholic University, only 45 minutes away in Washington, DC.
She also met a second grader in Baltimore with the unenviable nickname of “Stinky,” who would leave a lasting impression on her.
“He didn’t get the name ‘Stinky’ because of his hygiene, but because of his behavior,” Kimmel explains. “He was a holy terror — but a good kid down deep. On Mother’s Day, he stole two flowers, one for his mother and one for me. I knew he couldn’t be all bad. One day, ‘Stinky’ chased some kids into the library with a butcher knife. I confronted him and demanded he turn over the knife. With bigtears in his eyes as he gave me the knife, he said, ‘Hey, miss, does that mean I can’t take home no books today?’
ANOTHER STEEL TOWN
Kimmel left Baltimore to spend two years as a visiting professor at the College of
Librarianship in Wales, then joined the faculty at Simmons
College in Boston.
With all intentions of returning to Simmons, Kimmel took a leave of absence from teaching, moved to Pittsburgh and enrolled a Ph.D. program at the University.
“I grew up in a steel town,” says Kimmel. “Everyone in my family was in steel. I didn’t want to go to another steel town. But when I got here, I felt comfortable and, eventually, never thought of going anywhere else.”
Kimmel joined the faculty of the Department of Library Science as an associate professor in 1978, becoming a full professor in 1983, and chairing the department from 1990 to 1995. From the beginning, her impact, her passion for story, and her commitment to the community have been felt throughout the region, nationally, even internationally.
Her consulting, lecturing, and writing on children’s literature and literacy programs have carried out this long time commitment to children and their families. She participates on numerous professional and community organizations (See list at right.) and consults with staff from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a responsibility she both enjoys and takes very seriously.
“Peggy (Hodges) had worked with Mr. Rogers when she was the Story Lady at WQED, and she started an archive of the tapes of the program,” recalls Kimmel. “So in the mid ‘80s, I wrote a proposal to analyze the tapes and put them into a data base. It was not a simple task. Mr. Rogers did not create the Neighborhood with librarians in mind. We would debate for hours such metaphysical things as the nature of a puppet. And question what to do with the imaginary friend of a puppet - Daniel Striped Tiger had such a friend, you know. These are things a researcher would want to know!”
THREE GOLDEN RIVERS
In addition to working as a consultant with the staff at Family Communications, Inc. (the production company for “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”), Kimmel has reached out to children and their families in other ways as well. She works with Beginning With Books, an organization co-founded by her friend and writing collaborator, Elizabeth Segel.
And she was instrumental in convincing the University of Pittsburgh Press to introduce a new imprint - Golden Triangle Books - stories set in Pennsylvania, especially Western Pennsylvania, previously published but now out of print.
“I had been working with the University Press helping to review books,” says Kimmel. “I suggested that they consider reprinting Duffy’s Rock, a story set in McKees Rocks, written by Edward Fenton. But they said the time wasn’t right.
“Later, at lunch with two colleagues, Sally Buchanan and Edie Rasmussen, we were talking about books we had enjoyed as children. Sally mentioned Three Golden Rivers, a book set in Pittsburgh. I had never heard of it, which meant, of course, that I thought she might be mistaken. But the next day, she placed a well-read copy on my desk.”
With Three Golden Rivers, written by Olive Price, under her arm and Duffy’s Rocks still fresh in her mind, Kimmel approached Cynthia Miller, director of University of Pittsburgh Press about publishing a series of such books. Golden Triangle Books were born.
“I choose the manuscripts, write a forward and afterward, and help create a website for each book, encouraging parents and teachers to consider different aspects of local history,” says Kimmel. “We’ve get six books now out, with others to come.”
Kimmel’s lifetime of commitment to children and story has not gone unnoticed; her list of honors and accolades is impressive. For example, she has been named a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania and a Distinguished Alumna of the Year by Dominican University. Next Monday, at the annual conference of the American Library Association, she will receive the Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Library Service to Children.
Several years ago, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh ensured that Kimmel’s legacy will be maintained when it established the Margaret Mary Kimmel Scholarship to support staff development. It provides full tuition for Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh staff enrolled in any Master of Library and Information Science program.
It has been a long and mostly pleasant trip from Gary to Pittsburgh, says Kimmel. Nearly 12 years ago after her father died, Kimmel brought her mother to live in Pittsburgh at Canterbury Place, a residence for elders in Lawrenceville.
“The staff at Canterbury made it possible for our family to share a real life with my mother, even as her Alzheimer’s dementia progressed,” says Kimmel.
Caught in a moment of reflection, Kimmel remembers the words of one of her college professors. “She told me that I should forget this library business because I was born to be a teacher,” Kimmel says. “But here at Pitt, I have the best of both worlds.”