Elmbrook Rotarian donates student dictionaries to honor late wife

MILWAUKEE -- Before kids learn to read, they need to know what words mean.  Dictionaries play an important role in that process, but some kids don't have the luxury of owning one. One man is trying to bridge that gap, and he's doing so in his late wife's honor.

Barry James donated 75 new dictionaries to first and fourth grade students at Capitol West Academy Thursday, October 11th – pictionaries for the young ones and pocket books for those a little older.

James is a member of the Elmbrook Rotary Club and has tutored kids at the school.  Three years ago, he lost his wife to a stroke while on vacation.

“My wife was a great reader, and we thought that this might be a way of giving dictionaries to young people to encourage them to read and learn words,” James said.

In lieu of flowers, James' family used funeral money to start "Diane's Dictionaries" program.  Each year, he’s donated to help students learn to read.

“We had a good 53 years together and this is a way of carrying on her legacy,” James said.

“It helps them as a tool for their learning, and for a lot of kids, they don't have books at their home anymore.  Now they have a dictionary, so it's a big help,” Donna Weber, Executive Director of Capitol West Academy said.

Fourth-grader Violet Bryan received her second dictionary Thursday from Mr. James. She said she was due for a new one because she used her other one so much.

“I think this is an awesome dictionary. I would keep (my other dictionary) at home in a safe place, like on my bed.  These two would just be really special,” Bryan said.

“The joy they get by looking up things in the book and nudging their friend beside them, that makes it all worthwhile,” James said.

"Diane's Dictionaries" has expanded to other schools, including St. Martini and Trowbridge Street schools.  The program has since given dictionaries to 1,000 kids over four years.