FBI Reading Club
(Fundamental But Important)
FBI Reading Club is an Independent Affiliated Ministry of
The Teaching & Sharing Centers encourages contributions supporting the work of our Independent Affiliated Ministries, Missions, Merchants, and Mentors (IAMs). To make a tax deductible contribution, your donation needs to be made out to the T&SC. To designate your contribution to benefit the work of the FBI Reading Club simply attach a note or remarks stating your desire.
For information about the FBI Reading Club you may contact Bob through the T&SC or directly at 517 507-1443.
In Memory of Ruth Buckley
By Bob Buckley
As told to Lori Van Hoesen
And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be
given you; seek,
– Luke 11:9
I was the third boy, born in Eagle, Michigan on December 18, 1945, to a factory worker and a waitress. Four years later our sister Charlene arrived to my parents’ great joy since they had wanted a girl all along. My mother and father were hard-working people and I had many babysitters. Other than this, my life was a lot like other children growing up in the community around me. Charlene and I were best friends and, though our parents didn’t attend church, we spent many Sundays walking to Sunday school together.
It is possible because my parents worked so much they didn’t realize I was having trouble walking. By the time I was to begin first grade, it became clear something was wrong. Doctors called it a collapsed hip, which was so severe it prevented me from going to school, or even playing outside. I spent afternoons sitting in my house, watching kids play outside my window and waiting for Norm Saddlemeyer to come over.
Norm was a big guy who stopped by now and then to take me on his shoulders and carry me around town. It was a treat to have bird’s eye view until Norm got tired or busy and had to take me home.
Once, at seven years old, I attempted to go out by myself in my wheelchair. I headed toward the river and wasn’t prepared for the steep slope the road took as I got closer to the water. I began to go so fast I lost control of the chair and went speeding toward the bottom. Before I landed in the river I crashed and rolled out of the chair. I ended up with scrapes and bruises, but I’ll never forget that joy ride.
Because I was using a wheelchair, I could not attend West Elementary school in Grand Ledge. This was before handicapper accessibility regulations. I had to drop out of the first grade where I was just beginning to learn to read with other kids my age. My hip condition persisted and I traded all of second grade for the life of an invalid, at my window watching the world go by. Norm still gave me a ride on his shoulders from time to time, but mostly I waited for a miracle so I could go to school.
I eventually did outgrow the condition in time to start third grade with my classmates. Now I realized I needed an even bigger miracle to catch up with my friends who were now quite good at reading and writing. This was the beginning of a new, and lifelong, struggle.
I did not learn how to read in the third grade, or the fourth. As I struggled to make sense of the symbols on a page, my teachers became more and more frustrated with me. In the 1950’s there was no such thing as “intervention” for “at-risk readers” like schools have today. Teachers did not necessarily know what to do with students who learn differently. I fell through the cracks of the public school system, like many others. My sixth grade teacher finally took notice of how far behind I was, compared with my peers, and insisted I repeat the sixth grade. I did, but I didn’t understand the material any better than I had the first time around. My reading did not improve, and this only served to reinforce my lack of self-confidence. By the time I entered the eighth grade, I figured I’d never be able to read and would be better off getting a job. I dropped out of school and went to work at the Rodeo Diner.
My mother waitressed at the diner and one of my brothers, Richard, also worked there with a man named Jeff Heightchew. Jeff was in school and working part time. I was a hard worker and liked being employed, but the owner of the diner thought I should go back to school. He tried to convince me to finish my education and, eventually, I listened. I decided to get my high school diploma, but first I had to repeat the eighth grade. I struggled to read the simplest things but, despite my frustration with school, there was another reason to go. A seventh grader named Ruth.
Teasing was how I knew to interact with other kids. I was teased all the time for not knowing how to read, so I teased Ruth and the girls she ran with. It would be a long time before she and I would have a real conversation.
By the time I got to the tenth grade, an English teacher told me if I didn’t pass the class I wouldn’t graduate. I took driver education through the school and was told, “You can’t take the driving test if you can’t read. You can’t get your driver’s license. I decided to drop out of school for the second time. I had no reason to stay. I couldn’t pass the class because I couldn’t read, and I wouldn’t graduate anyway. I couldn’t even get my driver’s license! I figured dropping out saved everyone, including me, a lot of frustration.
A couple months later, I turned eighteen and visited the Secretary of State Office. When I told them I had a reading problem they read the test for me so I could take it. I passed!
I got hired at The Motor Wheel Factory where my father also worked, and put school and reading out of my mind except when I had to come up with creative ways to compensate for my inability to read. I learned to memorize things very quickly. I could not read the manuals. I could not read job postings on the bulletin board. I struggled whenever a job required me to fill out a record book. I made up for my weaknesses so well that not many at Motor Wheel ever knew I couldn’t read.
On Valentine’s Day in 1969, I was set up on a blind date with the girl I had teased in middle school. I was twenty-three. One evening we sat on Ruth’s porch, talking about the future, and she said, “I do.”
I said, “You do what?”
“Accept your proposal!”
I hadn’t officially asked her yet, but we knew we belonged together. Ruth and I married on January 17, 1970. My wife knew I couldn’t read and, from the time we were a couple, she was my co-pilot when it came to paying bills and reading the newspaper. She read anything to me that I needed to know. I don’t know how I would have made it without her.
Candice was born later in 1970, followed by three more children. Before I knew it I was supporting a family of six on my factory income. Life hummed along, but I was overwhelmed. There was money trouble and when we couldn’t buy the family farm from Ruth’s father it sent me into a deep depression. This got so bad that by 1972 I was ready to give up on life. It seemed I couldn’t do anything I wanted to. I wanted to die, but God wouldn’t even let that happen. He had other plans.
I couldn’t have known at the time just how long it would take for this plan to unfold. It would be revealed many years later, after my children were mostly grown, and at a time when most people are considering retirement.
One by one, our kids went to elementary school and, one by one, they each learned how to read. School had changed in the years since I had attended West Elementary. Illiteracy was now recognized as a major social issue, and teaching methods were much different. I tried to learn to read with my kids at home, but got frustrated quick. Everything was so different I couldn’t make head or tail of it without a teacher of my own. When I couldn’t figure it out, I gave up again, just like I always had. So instead of me reading to my kids, they read to me. I decided there were people in this world who weren’t meant to read, and I was one of them. Then Carl Lance came to my door one day and planted a seed that would ultimately change my mind.
Carl was a Jehovah’s Witness making house calls in the neighborhood. I answered the door and had the perfect excuse to turn him away. “I can’t read that bible you have there. I have a reading problem.”
Carl wasn’t going to let me off that easy. I was surprised when he said, “That’s no problem. Come sit down with me and I’ll read with you.”
So I went out to the picnic table with Carl. He opened his bible and we began to read it together. He helped me sound out words and even though I wasn’t doing it well, I was reading! I wondered then if it might be possible for me to learn after all.
In the meantime, Ruth continued to be a homemaker and my co-pilot. I kept working at Motor Wheel and didn’t think about reading again for a long time. Ruth always told me the Lord would take care of things, but I had doubts. Every time something would go well, Ruth would say, “See? I told you!” When things went wrong she said, “Just trust the Lord.”
She always had her faith. She put up with a lot of my anger and frustration over the years. Through it all she read her bible and prayed for us both.
As I neared fifty-years old, The Motor Wheel Factory began to have troubles and laid me off several times. In 1995, I received my final pink slip. For the first time since I was a teenager, I had to look for a new job. There was just one problem: I couldn’t fill out the simplest application. When I went to a job fair where applications were being accepted, I asked for help filling it out. The people there told me they were in the business of collecting resumes and nothing more. One lady said, “If you can’t read or write you should go to adult education classes.”
I had no idea someone my age could go back to high school. I never thought about it. But now I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind, so I signed up for night school and the teachers helped me fill out job applications and make a resume. I sent one hundred resumes out and began earning my high school diploma.
While I attended adult education I met other people who couldn’t read, which I understood, and I also met people who couldn’t do other things. One lady couldn’t balance a checkbook. I couldn’t believe this! Every woman I had ever known could work with money and do math. I asked this woman, “How can you not know how to count money?”
She said, “Well, Bob, how can you not know how to read a simple book?”
Now I understood what I had never learned as a child. I wasn’t dumb. I learned that I could learn! I could feel myself changing from an angry, bitter man into somebody who could be hopeful. I was a sponge. I was so hungry for knowledge now. During this time I got a phone call from the Crippen Auto Mall, one of the places I had dropped off my resume. They wanted an interview.
Things were starting to go well and all Ruth said was, “I told you!”
Ruth went with me to the interview and we sat down with a familiar face, Jeff Heightchew, the same one I worked with all those years ago at The Rodeo Diner. He was now the auto parts manager and wanted to hire me to be a driver and work in shipping and receiving. I found out later he pulled my resume because he noticed I’d been laid off from Motor Wheel after working there so long. He had sympathy for my situation. Once he knew I was learning to read at the age of fifty he said, “I guess anybody who learns to read at that age deserves a break!”
With full-time work and grandchildren now living with us, it was already a struggle to attend adult education a couple times a week. I wanted to finish — not a GED — but a real high school diploma, which takes longer. It was right around this time that Governor Engler made a change in funding. He cut the adult education program. This meant doubling up on classes to finish before the program went away. I was overwhelmed to the point that I ended up quitting all together. There just weren’t enough hours in the day. For the third time in my life, I gave up on learning how to read, but I did have something for my trouble: A taste for learning. I wasn’t a good reader yet, but I could read very easy readers, and I could write a little, too.
Ruth and I had been attending Immanuel Lutheran Church, Ruth’s childhood parish. Many times, people had asked me to be a part of a bible study there, but I always had work or some other excuse to say no. Then someone decided to start up a Saturday morning group. There were no conflicts and I decided to say yes. That was in 1999. After a few years together, I got to know these men pretty well. One day a question was asked as part of the study we were doing. It was, “If your wildest dream could come true, what would it be?”
I looked around the table and smiled so big. I wondered what anybody else was going to say because I knew what my dream was. Somebody said, “Bob Buckley, what’s your wildest dream?”
I said, “I only have one. I want to learn how to read!”
They didn’t know how badly I wanted to improve my reading skills. I never read aloud during the bible studies. Nobody said anything for a while and then my friend, Carl Ballard, said, “I think we have our next Lay Missionary Candidate!”
This was when I learned about a program that would allow me to inspire others with my story and even plant seeds of faith. I was intrigued. Now I know it was God’s plan, unfolding for me, and things were going to be okay.
Ruth just said, “I told you!”
The men in my bible study decided to pool some funds to pay for my training as a lay missionary. I will always be grateful for their support and generosity. I entered a three year program and Ruth, my co-pilot, would be by my side every step of the way.
Right about now, a man named Doug Carr came into my life. He was a tutor who would help me improve my reading so I could be successful in this program. I still didn’t have my high school diploma, but I had so many people helping me. Sometimes Ruth and I would wonder what we had done to deserve help from so many people. We ended up accepting the fact that it was a blessing from God. After all the support I received from the community and my church, I knew I wanted to find a way to give back. While I attended my lay missionary classes, I started my own book club in the Grand Ledge School District called the FBI reading club. FBI stands for “Reading is Fundamental, But Important.”
Learning how to read had been so important to me, and now I could inspire kids to stay in school. I told them reading is fundamental, but also plain old important. I told them of my struggle to learn how to read and that I was still learning, just like them. I could tell after a while that the children began to look forward to my visits, and I finally got to go to the second grade after all these years.
I also went to churches and gave my testimony. I told congregations how God had led me from a jobless, illiterate life to employment and being able to read. By the time I was certified as a lay missionary, in 2007, I had already been spreading my message of faith and learning for a few years. I planned to continue giving back to the schools that I once thought had given up on me. My message was heartfelt and simple, “Stay in school. Keep the faith.” Being able to read to my grandchildren gave me a joy I never knew with my own kids. Ruth and I were active in ministries at Immanuel Lutheran Church and enjoying life.
I always thought learning to read was my biggest challenge in life, but I was about to have a struggle that would surpass anything I’d ever experienced. Ruth was sick.
Even when I was still in lay missionary training I could tell something was wrong with Ruth. She would forget to do little things like take clothes out of the washer or turn off the stove. I knew it was possible she had some kind of sickness, but nobody in the family wanted to believe it. By January of 2008, Ruth’s forgetfulness had progressed to a point that an official diagnosis was made. First Alzheimer’s Disease, and eventually Louie Body Dementia. She couldn’t be left alone anymore and I knew I had to stay home with her. I needed to retire from Crippen, but it was going to be financially difficult. There was paper work to fill out for the insurance company and appointments with attorneys. I also had to figure out how to stretch a social security check. Ruth couldn’t handle any financial affairs anymore and I found myself having to grocery shop. Again, people in the community and at Immanuel Lutheran Church came forward to help us get the assistance we needed. Ruth just said, “I told you!”
In May of 2008 I worked my last day at Crippen Auto Mall and said good bye to Jeff Heightchew and all my co-workers. I rarely went into schools to do my book club anymore, or visited churches to tell my story. It was time for me to be a co-pilot to Ruth, as she had been for me all those years. I took her to church on Sundays and we went for drives in the car. Once I drove her to the Mackinac Bridge, a place she loved so much. Every day I read to her from the bible, and I prayed for us both.
Ruth’s health declined fast. By March of 2010 she no longer knew who I was, just that I was someone important, but she could still sing every hymn during a church service. Our kids helped out when they could, but most of Ruth’s care came from me. It was a struggle at times, and I missed visiting kids in schools, but I trusted God’s plan for Ruth and me. Things would work out.
On July 15, 2010, Ruth left this world surrounded by her loving family. We worried, because of the timing, if many people would be able to make it to a funeral in the late summer when so many vacations are planned. As we walked into a full church on a warm, Wednesday morning, Ruth’s voice might have been heard whispering, “I told you!”
I am back in schools now, doing my FBI book club, telling my stories, and getting on with the work God put me here to do. I am an example of how literacy improves lives, and how the Heavenly Father makes all things possible if we will only ask, seek and knock.