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Community rebuilds Little Free Library dedicated to late sister following vandalism incidents

DOWAGIAC — This week, the Dowagiac community came together to give a Little Free Library a new home and honor the memory of a late Justus Gage Elementary School educator.

Wednesday evening, a rededication and relocation ceremony was hosted for a Little Free Library that had experienced several vandalism incidents. Previously located at Huston Park, the library was rededicated at 403 Third Ave., Dowagiac. To celebrate, community members stocked the new library with fresh books. The library is now one of 19 located around Dowagiac.

The Little Free Library was originally opened in fall 2019 by Megan Wheeler and Amanda Fuller in memory of their late sister Aly Wheeler. Aly, 29 at the time of her death in January 2019, was a staff member at Justus Gage Elementary School. Her sisters said the Little Free Library, decorated with some of Aly’s favorite things, such as Spiderman, was meant to keep Aly’s memory and love of reading alive.

“Our sister loved reading and loved kids, so we just thought this would be a really great way to honor her memory,” Megan Wheeler said. “Aly would have liked this.”

Though the Little Free Library was well-received by the community and those who remembered Aly, it soon became subject to several vandalism incidents, the final of which broke the library’s post. When Wheeler and Fuller found the library, they said they found books thrown in the garbage and on the ground, where they sustained water damage from the snow.

“We understand it was kids, but it’s still upsetting, especially when you work so hard on something and being that it’s for Aly,” Fuller said.

“It made me really upset that someone would stoop to that level when you can clearly see it’s in memory of someone,” Wheeler added.

When community members learned of the problem, they sprung to help Fuller and Wheeler repair the library and move it to its new location.

“Most people are very respectful and use the LFLs regularly, but sometimes unfortunate things happen,” said Bobbie Jo Hartline, Little Free Library program organizer. “When Megan told us what happened, our first thought was ‘what will it take to fix this?’”

Hartline and other community members wanted to spread the word of the library’s new location. To help in that endeavor, they hosted a rededication ceremony Wednesday to both bring awareness to its new location and ensure it was fully stocked with books.

One community member who attended Wednesday’s event was Stephanie Lyons, who donated several books from a fund dedicated by the Dowagiac Conservation Club. According to Lyons, the club has committed $400 to purchasing science and nature books to be placed in Little Free Libraries year.

“The Dowagiac Conservation Club has a youth fund that can be used for anything to help educate the youth about nature and the outdoors,” Lyons said. “We were looking for new ways to enrich the youth, and one of the things I thought of was right around the time they put the libraries up, was to buy nature-related books to put in the libraries.”

Following Wednesday’s rededication, Wheeler and Fuller said they were grateful the community came together to honor the Little Free Library and Aly’s memory.

“This definitely gives me goosebumps and makes me happy that we can do this for Aly,” Fuller said. “It makes me think that maybe [the vandalism] was supposed to happen so that [the library] can be here.”

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