by Dennis Dalman
When Rebecca Kurowski told her children she will be making something for an Imagination Library dinner, wide-eyed son Grant looked up at her and asked, “Is Dolly Parton going to be there?”
Well, no, unfortunately – not unless she pops in for a surprise visit.
The legendary country singer has touched the lives of many children, including Grant, by founding and supporting the Imagination Library 23 years ago. That is why Sartell resident Kurowski and many other local people are involved in an Imagination Library Progressive Dinner, sponsored by United Way of Central Minnesota, that will take place on two days, April 14 and April 21. The annual event raises funds for Imagination Library so more children can receive books in the mail, free, every month. The program is so popular there is a waiting list until more funds become available.
Kurowski decided to become involved this year on the suggestion of a friend, Julie Schmidt, an avid supporter of the program. Schmidt told her she’s just got to make her fabulous and delicious “signature” German holiday offering. It wasn’t hard to convince Kurowski. Her children, when younger, were recipients of Imagination Library books. They were thrilled that day every month when the books would arrive in the mail. The Rebecca and Dan Kurowski family would gather together and spend a lot of happy time reading the books aloud. The children, all pre-teens, are twin girls Breanna, Lillian and their brother, Grant.
“They loved getting those books,” Kurowski said. “We must have read them aloud a million times.”
Kurowski is a book lover. She studied English and mass communications and is a freelance nonfiction writer in many categories, in addition to being a marketing strategist, mainly for four major food companies.
Participants in the Imagination Library Progressive Dinner start the evening at one of three reception homes – Sartell, St. Cloud and – new on the rounds this year – St. Joseph. At the reception homes, after a social hour, they will receive envelopes containing information on which homes they will go to for their next dinner stops – for first course and then main course.
Kurowski’s specialty will be a first-course stop. She will serve it at the Tom and Sandy Nadeau home in St. Cloud. Helping her will be her sous chef, good friend Erin Flemer of Sartell.
Kurowski cannot divulge what she is making; it’s supposed to be a surprise. However, suffice to say, it’s German, scintillating, festive and packs a punch.
While growing up in Little Falls, Kurowski, her sister and their parents often enjoyed homemade German dinners, especially at Christmas. Their parents had lived during their early married years in Germany where they’d become fond of that country’s cuisine. The treat Kurowski will serve comes from that family at-home holiday tradition.
Founded in 1995, the Imagination Library was the brain child of musical icon Dolly Parton as a way to honor the memory of her father, who never learned how to read.
The program, which mails free storybooks to children ages 0-5, began in the hill country of east Tennessee, where Parton grew up in an economically poor family. But it quickly expanded to include children throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.
Parents sign up for the program, then each month a book is sent free to their children.
“When I was growing up in the hills of east Tennessee, I knew my dreams would come true,” Parton has written. “I know there are children in your community with their own dreams. They dream of becoming a doctor or an inventor or a minister. Who knows, maybe there is a little girl whose dream is to be a writer and singer. The seeds of those dreams are often found in books, and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world.”
So far, 100.9 million books have been mailed to children, whose current membership totals 1.2 million. Many more children were involved through the years but have since turned age 6 or more.
The United Way of Central Minnesota began funding the local area’s Imagination Library 12 years ago, and 1.3 million books were received by children during that time.
Books are age-appropriate. The first one a child receives is The Little Engine That Could, and the last, just before turning age 6, is Kindergarten, Here I Come!
Lori Eich of Sauk Rapids is the director of individual giving for the United Way. This year’s Imagination Library goal, she noted, is to raise $50,000. In the past 12 years, $190,000 was raised, which helped pay for books sent via Parton’s Dollywood Foundation.
Eich’s own children – Coltin, now 12; and Carleigh, 10 – were also recipients of Imagination Library books. She can remember vividly how excited her children became when the books would arrive in the mail and how much fun the family had reading them together.
“There are about 120 more children each year on the program,” Eich said. “There is a waiting list now. As children go beyond the age of 5, new ones are always being added.”
This year’s progressive dinner will involve 135 volunteers and close to an estimated 300 diners.
To find out more about the event, call Eich at 320-229-3501 or 320-761-2571. Contributions to the program can be sent to United Way of Central Minnesota Imagination Library Fund, 921 First St. N., Suite 200, St. Cloud, Minn. 56303.