Education comes at a cost in Papua New Guinea.
“Not even elementary school is free there. They have to pay for everything,” says local restaurateur Debbie VanDoren.
Long before they became the owners and operators of Kilgore’s Downtown D’Lites, the VanDorens lived and worked in Papua New Guinea, where they formed a lasting friendship with ‘Mama Ruth,’ a single mother of five. “Ruthie” was only able to attend school through the sixth grade, and she was determined her children would have a full education.
Today, three of Ruthie’s children are in university. The two youngest are in high school. A part of their education is funded from Kilgore, and the donation-supported bookshelves of Downtown D’Lites.
“A bulk of them are cookbooks, but a number of them are other books as well,” VanDoren said. “People keep donating – they like the idea. I have another dozen boxes upstairs waiting to come down.”
The suggested donation per book is $1, and every contribution is funding education for Mama Ruth – she’s taking literacy classes now – and her children.
“I told Ruthie, ‘Please don’t ever not send your kids to school because you don’t have the money.’ We’ve probably sent something like $2,000 or $3,000 over the years to help with school fees. I wait until we have $400 or so then I send it on.”
Recently, the collection received an influx of new books courtesy of Mayor Ronnie Spradlin, selections from the shelves of his mother, the late Betty Spradlin.
“They’re a collection from all the things she was involved with,” Spradlin said, from church, club and sorority cookbooks to hobby guides and a range of fiction. “It just runs the gamut. A lot of Southern and Western cooking. You can look at the cookbooks and tell everything she had an interest in or a tie to over the years.”
VanDoren never had the opportunity to meet Betty Spradlin, who died Aug. 15, 2016, but she’s gleaned a sense of the woman through the books donated by her son.
From the numerous titles in the collection, from the things Betty read and pondered, “She was a giving person concerned about the well-being of other people,” VanDoren said, and that legacy continues to reach out through the pages of her books. “You can still leave an imprint in the world even after you’re gone.”
For Spradlin, one of the things that brought the most pride to his mother and father, the late Sonny Spradlin, was when they established a scholarship at Kilgore College. As it helps local students get their education, he said, Betty’s books are, $1 at a time, helping the D’Lites fund education overseas.
“I’m sure she’d be overwhelmed to know someone who was that needy and deserving would get some help with their education,” Spradlin said.