Bearing free books, Ohio’s first lady visits Wright-Patterson

Ohio first lady Fran DeWine brought her passion for the wide distribution of free children’s books to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Wednesday, announcing a partnership that will ensure children on the base can receive the books if families want them.

To date, 393,991 children statewide are enrolled in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Ohio, reaching some 60% of eligible kids in Ohio, thanks largely to DeWine’s efforts.

The Imagination Library’s offer is simple. The library mails kids and their families an age-appropriate book each month until their fifth birthday. All Ohio children, from birth to age 5, are eligible to be enrolled in the program at no cost by signing up at

Before a press conference at the Wright-Patterson Club, DeWine read a book with preschool students at the New Horizons Child Development Center on base.

She sat down with a group of eager 2- and 3-year-olds to read Eric Carle’s classic “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

“This is one of my favorite books,” she told the youngsters.

“How can this not make your day,” said a smiling Jeff Hoagland, president and chief executive of the Dayton Development Coalition.

At the end of the reading, she passed out free copies of the book to the children.

Air Force Capt. Markez Davis and his family didn’t need to be convinced. He said his daughter loves the books.

“I really do want to say, ‘Thank you,’” Davis told DeWine after a press conference at the club. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for us. Because these are the memories that are the most precious. That’s the only thing we can get her to sit still for — a book.”

Deborah Feldman, president and CEO of Dayton Children’s Hospital, said education and health are intertwined. About 20,000 Montgomery County children are enrolled in the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library, getting the books every month, with more than 10,000 children having already graduated from the program, she said.

That amounts to more than 680,000 books for Montgomery County children over the months and years.

“Wow,” Feldman said. “That is a lot of books. And that’s a lot of influence.”

The Imagination Library in Greene County first became available countywide in 2013, according to the state. Today, 64% of eligible children (5,936) in Greene County are enrolled in the Parton library.

Col. Christopher Meeker, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patterson, pointed to the partnership as one example of how the state, the Dayton area and the base work well together.

“The idea that all of our young military families, especially with these young kids, are going to get a free book in the mail once a month, and they’re going to be so excited, whether they’re together at home or mom and dad are deployed, reading this new book to them — it’s just such an exciting idea,” Meeker said.

Before 2019, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library was available only in some parts of Ohio. About 13% of eligible kids had access to the program, according to the DeWine administration.

The library was established as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2019, and as of November 2020, the library was available in all 88 counties of Ohio.

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