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A special lady and her little free library

I didn’t know Debbie Russell well. Not as well as I’d have liked. We generally assume there will be more days.

I visited the Butte Creek Mill once in a while for peppercorns and Scottish oatmeal. She always asked how I was doing. Her kind smile welcomed me on a gray, or otherwise, afternoon. Seeing her behind the counter, in the company of antique coffee grinders, oatmeal boxes with colorful old graphics, and inhaling aromas from pickling spices, tea and gingerbread; her friendly greeting was like the hug you needed without having to ask.

When one of my stories ended up in a Chicken Soup book, Debbie displayed them on her counter for locals and tourists to buy. I offered to share the profit, but she wouldn’t hear of it, going so far as to put a sign next to them that read, “Local Author.” She had a knack for making folks feel special and appreciated. Even when the mill was swarming with customers, like during the holidays, she treated each individual with grace and patience. Debbie helped us ease off on the throttle and enjoy the moment, too. We miss her.

Debbie and husband, Bob, (Mayor Bob here in Eagle Point) have provided a fabulous neighborhood gathering place. Their presence here, as mill owners, has reached far beyond that of commerce, though the tourism draw is tremendously appreciated. It’s been apparent they’ve loved their community and worked to unite neighbors and friends with fun gatherings — sharing their homespun ambiance with us all. Helping us to feel like family.

Recently, at their historic Butte Creek Mill, I attended the unveiling of a special memorial tribute to Debbie Russell — a specially constructed Little Free Library, the project of Myron Hauser and others, and inspired by his granddaughter, Emily. It is the perfect idea. The tiny house on a post is sturdy and beautiful, with Debbie’s name etched on the small, glass door and a gleaming copper roof to keep out the elements.

For those who aren’t familiar with neighborhood book exchanges, these are usually small, wooden libraries erected on a post near a person’s home or in a community area. Often replicating vintage houses or old schoolhouses, the design can be most anything as long as a few books can remain snug and dry inside. The concept is to stock them with books and allow for a free exchange among community members. Take a book, leave a book, or both, is the idea. One source reported they’d been around for about 20 years.

Of course, whenever anyone has a great idea, enterprising minds come along to incorporate. I’m not knocking the Little Free Libraries organization in the least. They’re a nonprofit for furthering this creative way to encourage literacy and help communities — to bring us together, sort of like swapping stories around the water cooler, but instead, swapping book titles around the neighborhood mini-library.

You can build one for your street and register it with LFL for a fee. They’ll send you a metal plaque and you can register your location on a worldwide map on their website. There are more than 30,000 of these mini libraries around the world.

I found five in Medford, three in Central Point, and one in Ashland. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t others. I’m sure there are maverick libraries out there, free-range breeds. These are just the registered ones.

Now, as an inauguration of a wonderful idea in our corner, we have our first one in Eagle Point. It couldn’t be situated in a more appropriate place or for anyone more appreciated by the community. Visit Debbie’s Little Free Library located beside the Butte Creek Mill. Take a book, leave a book, and say hello to Bob and their daughter, Kristin, who happens to be blessed with a double whammy of her parents’ sweet dispositions.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer in Eagle Point. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.