Prairie Profiles: Audrey Mehus

Published 9:12 am Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Walking through the hall of Glenville-Emmons Elementary School carrying a sack of stories, Audrey Mehus is greeted by a familiar phrase, “Hi, Reading Grandma!”

Seventy-seven-year-old Mehus volunteers her time to read a story every Tuesday to the first-, second- and third-grade students at the school, spending time in each grade’s classroom. She’s not sure how the Reading Grandma name got started, but she said she loves to hear her students say hi to her. They greet her not only in the school, but anywhere else around town they might run into her.

The Reading Grandma said she tries to incorporate what the students are studying into the books she chooses to read, and if there is a holiday going on, such as Halloween, she will get a book to go along with that holiday. The books she reads come from the Albert Lea Public Library because she likes to get ones that the students have never heard before. She doesn’t just read to the students, but she asks questions, such as what a particular word means, as she goes along.

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“It’s such a good way to spend time by reading,” Mehus said. The students “are so good and so nice and so friendly.”

Mehus is a huge fan and promoter of the school and said she was so pleased that the school referendum passed. She has been involved with the school for quite some time.

The Reading Grandma used to teach in a country schoolhouse about five miles southeast of Glenville for over three years. Then she was a substitute teacher at Glenville-Emmons Elementary School and taught there on and off until she found out she was going to have her youngest child. She decided to stop. After her baby was 2, the head cook at the school called and asked if Mehus could come in and help just for the day.

“So I went, and I loved it.”

The next year Mehus applied for a job as a cook and after two years became a full-time cook and eventually became the cook manager. She said she retired 10 years ago, working in the school kitchen for all of 19 years.

Mehus started volunteering at the school about six years ago by shelving books after they asked if should would like to come in to help out. Mehus said she was lonely after her husband passed away and this really helped her pass the time. She shelved books for her first year of volunteering at the school, but the next year they asked her to read to the students, which she loves even more.

Cindy Follmuth is the first-grade teacher at Glenville-Emmons Elementary School, and the Reading Grandma comes to her classroom. She said the kids just love Mehus.

“They look forward to Tuesday enough so when they start in first, they want her to come to second and the same with third now,” Follmuth said, “She’s willing to give her time at no cost for something I think is important.”

Mehus only used to read to the first- and second-graders, but at the end of last year, she couldn’t just let the soon-to-be third-graders go and the students didn’t want her to leave them, so she added third grade to her reading rounds this year. The children have really shown their appreciation. Recently, Mehus said, a few students last year and this year came over to her house and raked up six fully stuffed bags of leaves from her yard.

“We really do have good kids,” Mehus said.

One student, she said, once asked her, “Aren’t you too old to be reading?”

“It didn’t bother me at all,” Mehus said, “because I am old.”

Mehus said she wants to be able to do this for as long as she can. “We just have to take it day by day, or year by year, who knows,” she said.

“This is my life. I love my school,” Mehus said.