RUSHMORE — While some communities have had Little Free Libraries pop up along city streets in residential neighborhoods, a Rushmore couple has taken the concept a step further.
Laurie and Terry DeNeui are putting the final touches on a 120-square-foot building on their Rushmore property at 210 Fourth St. The building is already filled with books for both children and adults, as well as games, reading space and a rocking chair for people to read to their children.
It’s called the Million Dreams Lending Library, and Laurie DeNeui has been working to make the project a reality since the tragic loss of her grandson, Griffin Engelkes, in a farming accident more than a year ago. The library’s name is a nod to one of Griffin’s favorite songs, "A Million Dreams," from the movie "The Greatest Showman." It also represents Laurie’s dream to keep Griffin’s love of books alive in the hearts of others.
“Griffy was always on my lap with a book — always,” she said, sharing memories of evenings spent reading to Griffin and his older brother, Gibson, and telling stories. “He was so smart, and he just loved to learn.”
As Laurie’s dream turned into plans, she received permission from the Rushmore City Council to place a 10- by 12-foot shed on the corner of their lot, below the big maple trees where it’s “nice and shady.”
The shed — a former garden center building from Runnings — was moved in late last summer, and the DeNeuis went to work reinforcing the structure, adding wiring and insulation and a fresh coat of paint inside and out. They also installed new flooring, shelving and bookcases.
“A simple library just wasn’t enough, with four or five books in it,” Laurie said. “It wasn’t enough to describe how much (Griffin) loved to read.”
Griffin’s favorite color, orange, covers the rocking chair, the bookshelves and the interior walls, and is also prominent in the decor outside the lending library, from an orange swing to an orange bench.
Laurie said there’s some landscaping yet to do around the building, but the doors are now open and people are welcome to come in and help themselves to the books.
“We must have 300 children’s books and probably the same (number of) adult books,” she said. “I’m still filling it.”
Laurie, who taught sixth grade for about 20 years in the Worthington school district, reached out to some of her teacher friends seeking donations of books. They came through in a big way, donating not only books, but puzzles, games, CDs and DVDs.
“(People) can come and just take a book, and if they bring it back, good. If they don’t, that’s OK,” Laurie said. “I want the books in people’s hands, and I’m constantly getting more donations.”
She’s still searching for book titles appropriate for children from newborn to preschool, and hopes to one day host game days, craft days or tea parties with visiting children.
“When I’m out there, I’m in my happy place,” Laurie said. “I know (Griffin is) in heaven and he’s just smiling — I just know it.
“I feel him and I see him in all these works,” she added. “Griffin’s heart was so big. He made me a better person — he and his brother.”
Laurie said she hopes to have most of the landscaping done around the lending library by mid-July, though she admits she will never be done — there will always be books to add to the shelves and people to welcome.
“We don’t have much in Rushmore and kids aren’t always able to get things,” Laurie said. “I want them to have access to it — they need to have access to it.
“I can’t wait to have kids come there and I can help them read — what a gift,” she added.