After 15 years, a friendly face is retiring from the Frankford Public Library children’s program. “Miss Dorothy” Fisch led her last preschool storytime for a handful of wiggling children before she retired on Dec. 17.
But these youngsters are just a few of the hundreds of children Fisch read to since she arrived in 1999.
Although she turned 71 this month, Fisch grabbed a box of jingle bells and led a round of Christmas carols at her final storytime session. She and the children jumped up and down to the beat of the bells.
“She has a lot of energy,” parent Crystal Blakeney said. “She’s really joyful, and they love it when she sings.”
Fisch even filled a request for “The Alphabet Song.”
Shelley Stevens has seen her grandchildren cry at the thought of missing storytime. She takes young Bridget to library programs year-round.
“She goes to school next year, so she’s ready,” Stevens said. “She loves Miss Dorothy. All the kids do.”
With a soft, but enthusiastic tone, Fisch always has a smile for the children, too.
But storytime isn’t just about reading. It’s creativity, motor skills and more.
“I like the fact that we emphasize socialization. It’s something you work on at all ages,” Fisch said.
After crafts and playtime, the kids also helped clean. And they loved that responsibility. Fisch handed everyone a cleaning wipe for the table (later laughing that children have tried to clean every surface they could reach).
For years, she’s created programs for children ages 2 to 12 (sometimes all at once, which is a challenge). She tries to be very mindful of her audience, but to also be flexible.
“She’s wonderful. She’s really organized and good with the kids,” Blakeney said.
“What you have planned may not always work out. … Sometimes you have to shuffle,” Fisch said.
She recalled past programs at which busloads of children arrived, unannounced, from a local daycare. She and her helpers hustled like mad but produced a craft and snack for every child.
“I’ve moved my share of chairs. … You pitch right in and do it,” she said. “I’ve been blessed with good health and [helpers].”
With armfuls of library books and crafts, the children (and some adults) paused for hugs and farewells.
“They love her. My son made her a Christmas card,” Blakeney said.
“I’m going to miss all that,” said Fisch. “I’m going to miss the hugs and smiles. … There comes a time to focus on other things,” she added, saying she plans to be active in her Millville community and church. “This is going to be a first for me not working!”
Memories from tots to teens
But her memories are sweet. Once, a bunch of volunteers helped her act out the book “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears.”
“That was just so neat,” Fisch said. “We had all these characters, like the lion, iguana … and the mosquito.”
For her Scotland program, a family wore kilts and played bagpipes for everyone.
She has run bilingual reading programs with former librarian Rosa Castro. She taught wellness to adolescents, focusing on healthy eating, sleeping well and more. She even piloted a math and science program in an empty lot, where “we could experiment to our hearts’ content.”
“I’m a teacher, so I’m used to having integrated programs, combining math and science with music and literacy,” she said. “It opened up a whole new way of … educating the children.”
Even before PAWS For Reading brought therapy dogs to libraries, Fisch invited dogs, cats, birds and rabbits for an audience for children to practice reading to at the Frankford library.
“Some of the older ones like to do it, too, because they don’t have a dog at home and it’s calming to pet the dog,” she said.
“It’s been amazing to watch the different people I’ve known achieve their dreams,” she added. “It really has been very rewarding. I think it’s been a very good match for me at this point in my life.”
With a master’s degree in secondary education, Fisch taught high school for several years, then worked in the Penn State library while her husband studied for his doctorate. During that time, her daughter was born.
When they moved to the Washington, D.C., area, Fisch took library classes. Then she taught children ages 3 to 5 at a Lutheran school for 24 years.
When the couple retired to Sussex County, the lifelong teacher was a little stunned when autumn came.
“It’s September. You’re supposed to be getting your classroom ready,” she thought. “In October, I saw the position advertised,” she added of the Frankford Public Library.
Library as a community center
“This library’s been so good for this town. It’s a neutral place, and everyone’s welcome,” said Fisch. “It’s nice to see someone at the library as someone who can help you.”
“I never really used the library ’til I started bringing the kids,” Stevens admitted. “They really do have a lot here.”
Despite leading the children’s program, Fisch has helped the small library serve teens and adults. She herself is inspired by library patrons who make the most of their own situations.
“I feel embraced by the children and the families,” she said. “The community has been so welcoming.”
She thanked groups for hosting past summer reading programs that were too large for the tiny library in its pre-renovation days: Frankford Presbyterian Church, Frankford United Methodist Church and the Frankford Volunteer Fire Company.
She also thanked past helpers, from librarians to teens, plus the parents and grandparents who were “so accepting.”
“It has been a pleasure” to have Fisch, said Library Director Rachel Wackett. She offered “heartfelt gratitude for everything Dorothy’s done” and wished her a great retirement.
“Dorothy’s brought the love of early literacy to an entire generation of children in this area. We hope they will continue to be inspired.”
Frankford will hire a new children’s librarian and continue growing the children’s program to focus on older children, “while always maintaining early literacy,” Wackett said.
“I’m going to miss everybody. The programs will go on. It’ll be exciting,” Fisch said. “Pretty soon the children will be bonding to a new person.”
But Fisch will hold a special place in the hearts of children who came through Frankford over the past 15 years.