The staff of The Van Wert Pregnancy Life Center poses with Fran DeWine. Shown from the left are Jody Wannemacher, Mrs. DeWine, Julie Dorsch, Staci Yenser and Heidi Kline. (DHI Media/Brian Hess)
The staff of The Van Wert Pregnancy Life Center poses with Fran DeWine. Shown from the left are Jody Wannemacher, Mrs. DeWine, Julie Dorsch, Staci Yenser and Heidi Kline. (DHI Media/Brian Hess)

By Brian Hess

Times Bulletin Editor

editor@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT — First Lady of Ohio Fran DeWine visited Van Wert’s own Pregnancy Life Center on Market Street last Wednesday. The occasion was a tour of the Center and to promote the Imagination Library. The Library was founded by Dolly Parton in 1995 to encourage reading among poor children in East Tennessee. Any child under the age of 5 can be signed up by parents and every month until the age of 5 he or she receives a free book in the mail. Parents or guardians can read to their children and the kids grow up associating learning with love.

Since 1995 Imagination Library has grown tremendously, and Mrs. DeWine spearheaded the effort to bring it to Ohio. The Times Bulletin spoke to her about the program.

Why did you decide to bring the Imagination Library to Ohio? “I was with my grandkids one day when their books came, and I saw how excited they were to get the books with their names on them, and they said ‘read to me, grandma.’ I said to myself this is wonderful. When Mike ran for Governor I knew this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to make this available to every single child in Ohio.”

So it’s available to any child in Ohio under the age of 5? “Yes, under the age of 5. They have to be signed up at Ohioimaginationlibrary.org. They get a free book every month until they turn 5 years old. The Little Engine That Could is the first book they get, no matter what age they are. That’s Dolly Parton’s favorite. The books change. If you have more than one child they’re going to get different books at different ages, so you’ll get one for each of your children.”

The books aren’t gender specific? “No, they’re age-specific. A two year-old gets a different book than a 3 year-old or a 4 year-old. You can go on the website and see the books we’re giving out for the whole year. There’s not one I wouldn’t read to my kids. Some are old classics (‘Engine,’ The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Very Hungry Caterpillar) and some are brand new. Mrs. DeWine also handed out copies of a recipe book she had co-written with Dolly Parton called Our Family Favorites.

The Pregnancy Life Center is an alternative to the model of Planned Parenthood. Instead of the all-or-nothing option of abortion, young women are offered a range of services: pregnancy testing, obstetric ultrasounds, STD/STI testing for women and men, parenting classes and material support for those families in need. This is all entirely free.

When asked by employees of the Center what she thought of their important work, Mrs. DeWine replied, “It’s inspiring to me when I hear you wonderful young women who are saving the babies.” One nurse at the Center, Heidi Kline, has 11 children with her husband. Mrs. DeWine added that she “was going to be a home economics teacher, but they really don’t teach home-ec anymore.” The Pregnancy Life Center seems dedicated to filling that gap in Van Wert County, and judging from the response of its employees, proud to host the First Lady of our state.