Tevlin: She drives Children's Literacy Program at Hennepin County Medical Center

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 10, 2013 - 7:09 PM

When kids come into Hennepin County Medical Center, it’s usually not good news. They are usually the sick, the scared, the wounded and the ornery.

Eventually they are also the bored, and so are their parents.

That’s where Lenore Gendron comes in.

About five years ago, Gendron made HCMC’s Children’s Literacy Program her baby and her mission, culling thousands of books from friends, garage sales and discount tables.

She’s been so dogged, the program has expanded from the pediatric unit to other areas of the hospital. In fact, Lenore’s budget shopping heroics now account for 6 percent of the 30,000 books HCMC gives to patients and their families every year.

If you’ve been to the hospital’s ER and passed the time with a pot boiler, it’s likely courtesy of Lenore. If you checked into the OB clinic and paged through “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” you can thank Lenore. Ditto the picture books in the lab and the literary efforts in the dentistry waiting rooms.

But Lenore, a retired Minnetonka teacher, didn’t stop at books. Many of the toys that keep the kids occupied often come from her, as do the tennis balls used for physical therapy or to cover the bottoms of walkers. She gets those from her gym following tennis tournaments.

“If Lenore even suspects friends have books stashed away in closets, she gets them,” said Christine Hill, HCMC’s spokeswoman.

So far, Lenore has provided the facility with more than 10,000 books, a thousand toys and more than a thousand tennis balls. She has done it so quietly that even some members of her family were not aware of efforts and generosity.

That changed on Friday, when family members and admiring HCMC staff threw a surprise party for Lenore.

When she spotted a large group of nurses, family members and hospital staff at the end of a hallway, she snapped: “Well, look who’s here. You didn’t tell me about this.”

‘Thank you. It makes me smart’

Lenore was provided dozens of thank-you letters from kids and adult patients, including one that said, “Thank you for the books. It makes me smart.”

Dr. Diane Cutts, a physician at the facility, even came up with a definition of a Lenore (noun): “A one-woman stealth operation that has single-handedly enriched the lives of thousands of children at HCMC.”

Lynne Burke, coordinator of the literacy program, said Lenore shows up at least a couple of times each month with hundreds of books.

“People are so appreciative that they can take the books home,” said Burke. “Sometimes it’s the only book they have. It’s not just for the patients, it’s for their families. If you can make a family member feel better, the patient will do better.”

Laurie Kusek, Lenore’s daughter-in-law, arranged the gathering to celebrate all the charity work Lenore has done over the years.

“It’s not just what you have done for the hospital, it’s what you have done for all of us here,” Kusek said.

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