Tulsa Rotary Dictionary Program Began as a Dream

Contributing Editor

BOOK DONATION: Dolly Dixon is carrying on her husband Stanley’s dream of giving local children dictionaries through Tulsa Rotary clubs. The program was originally conceived by Annie Plummer of Savannah, Ga. Stanley learned of the program and wanted to continue it in Tulsa. Now Dolly is working to ensure that goal is preserved. The picture is of Stanley.

GTR Newspapers photo

Dolly Dixon recently joined Southside (Tulsa) Rotary Club. She wanted to ensure that the dream of her late husband, Stanley, endured.

The dream wasn’t originally Stanley’s. It was the dream of Annie Plummer.

Because of that dream, thousands of children in the Tulsa area and more than a million throughout America, have new dictionaries to help them succeed in school.

Annie Plummer was an African-American woman born in the Depression. The fifth of 12 children, she dropped out of school early to raise a daughter as a single mom. She was a maid and a school crossing guard to make ends meet.

But she valued education and went back to school to get her degree from the Richard Arnold Community School in Savannah, Ga. in the 1970s.

In 1992 she noticed that children going to a local elementary school had no books. Taking $50 out of her savings she managed to buy 30 dictionaries, which she gave to third graders with the written note, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste. I challenge you not to waste yours.”

She began asking for donations and soon she was able to provide each third grader in Savannah with a new personalized dictionary.

Plummer died of cancer in 1999, but by that time her story had been told in enough newspapers that others had either helped her or started similar movements in their own neighborhoods.
Enter Stanley Dixon.

The retired head of a Tulsa lumber company read about Plummer’s work in a 2001 article in the Wall Street Journal and decided it would be a splendid effort to reproduce in Tulsa.

Dixon, a long-time member and past president of the Southside (Tulsa) Rotary Club, went to his club and got the members to donate 69 dictionaries to three classes in one school.

Dixon thought it a start but nothing more. With the aid of Rotary District Gov. Tom Clark, Dixon went to over 40 Rotary meetings in District 6110, encompassing parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas, asking Rotary Clubs to get involved. The response was overwhelming.

Clark remembers Dixon vividly.

“Stan was a one-on-one guy. He would speak to a club and plant the seed, but he wouldn’t leave it there. He would get the club to take the first step. He would find someone who was interested and follow up until the club was committed to the dictionary project.

“He always had a smile and gave you the sense that whenever you gave him your attention it would be worth it. He had a great sales technique; he would take quotes from the kids who had received dictionaries and written thank you notes. It made you want to cry.

“The great thing was that every kid who gets a dictionary gets it with his name already printed inside. It isn’t just a generic dictionary out of a box, it is THEIR dictionary and in many homes, particularly those with few or no books, it became the family dictionary.”

The dream has gone far beyond that one schoolhouse in Georgia or even Tulsa.

In the greater Tulsa area, some 7,486 English dictionaries have been ordered, as well as 180 English-Spanish dictionaries. Gary Pollmiller, who heads the dictionary project for Rotary District 6110 (portions of Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, including Tulsa) has received orders for 64,644 in 22 states ranging nationwide and has even gotten requests for information about the program from Rotary Clubs as far away as New Zealand.

What started as a dream of a Georgia woman to improve the education of children in her area has become a nationwide effort that has put the precious books in the hands, over the years, of over a million children.

Annie Plummer and Stanley Dixon would be proud.

Updated 02-04-2008

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