Story Walk trail to honor memory of former educator and community advocate
Visitors to Settler's Park in Rockton will soon be able to read a laminated children's book, page by page, as they walk along the path of the “Gail Johnson Memorial Story Walk; the Gail Trail.”
Gail Johnson taught kindergarten at Rockton Grade School, touching the lives of her students. Johnson retired in 2014.
She 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.
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.
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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 Settler's Park at 150 E. Hawick Street, Rockton IL.
A Story Walk is a book that has been posted page by page in aluminum display cases along a walking trail. Visitors can access the “Gail Trail” by parking on Hawick Street.
The story begins at the flagpole and covers a one-third 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 mounted on 20 posts. Each page includes different activities associated with the story.
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 is ready to be dedicated on April 30 at 10:00 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.
The first story on the walk
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.
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 to fit the season or 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, 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.
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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 Street in Rockton.
The StoryWalk® Project was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT and developed in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. Storywalk® is a registered service mark owned by Ms. Ferguson.
The new “Gail Trail” is definitely a fitting dedication to someone who gave back to so many.