16Jan 19

Leaving a Legacy

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As Victor Hugo once said, “To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.”


You are reading this letter because of your strong literacy skills. You know that literacy empowers people to improve their health, income and relationship with the world. You know that the fewer skills someone has, the harder it is to make informed choices. You understand the outcomes of our lives are profoundly affected by how we take in and use information. You know because you’ve seen it, lived it, and greatly benefited from the gift of literacy. Like me, you probably have an aunt, cousin, brother, friend, employee, or a dad that struggles with literacy. In fact, when one in three Saskatchewan residents struggle, how can you not know someone?

I clearly remember the day 18 years ago when my dad told me he had gone back to school. He was 64-years-old. I was in my thirties and a bit surprised at the news. I didn’t know what kind of school he meant. He was always trying new things, so I immediately thought, “What now!”

I soon learned that Dad had contacted READ Saskatoon and was meeting regularly with his literacy coach Janinne at the library to learn how to read and write. I never knew that my dad couldn’t do either. Afterwards, it dawned on me… that was why my dad bought my mom a typewriter to type all the letters for his businesses. My sister also remembers whenever he’d leave us a note about where he was on the farm; it was always a drawing – never written out.

His difficulty with literacy never stopped him, but I do think it was something that always bothered him. He wasn’t able to spell properly and that held him back from getting his thoughts onto paper or presenting ideas to his customers.

Dad met with Janinne for a year – she gave my dad the confidence to start writing. I have a letter he wrote to READ Saskatoon thanking them for the program.

A few months ago, I, Ernest could not write, I could not spell; I even had trouble thinking about writing or spelll spelling. I was unhappy with myself. But deep down inside of me, I so desperately wanted to write. Then one day the phone rang, it was Janinne. She said that she would be my tutor and asked if I could meet her at the library. We set a time and I started my learning career.  I remember at first I found it hard, but as time went on, and with Janinnes special guidance, it became much easier.


Janinne certainly lit a spark in my dad. He became a prolific writer and wrote about everything he was interested in, in his plain and simple way. It wasn’t until he was done the program and some years later that he shared his notebooks with me. It was the first time I had ever seen or read a story in my father’s own hand. They were sincere stories and I can hear his voice in them.  For example, he loved making knives – he’s got everything in there that you need to know about making knives. He carved snow at Parliament Hill with his niece and he wrote all about that. He wrote about the mountains and just sitting and taking it all in. There are even stories about visiting my daughter when she was eight and talking about learning to spell.

I recently found out after a chance meeting with READ Saskatoon’s Executive Director Sheryl Harrow-Yurach, that over the years, the organization has been reading my dad’s letter to every group of volunteers that complete training to become literacy coaches. I was blown away!

My dad suffered a stroke three years after his work with READ Saskatoon and it had a significant effect on his mobility and speech. The fact that he was able to “go back to school” before the stroke happened isn’t lost on me. READ Saskatoon gave him a voice and new creative way to express himself. Reading these stories was like sitting down and having a good heart-to-heart with my dad. It’s an irreplaceable gift for our family.

At 82-years old, my dad thinks that sharing his story with you is a great idea. “I’m sure glad I did that,” he said when I told him about writing this letter.  And then he got all inspired to start writing again. He’s got some great stories about his demolition company taking down a bunch of grain elevators throughout the province. “Maybe I should do those stories now,” he told me. So, I’ve set him up with a recorder on his phone for now. He also got himself a notebook and he’s writing again. So thanks to READ Saskatoon, the spark has been ignited once more!

READ Saskatoon continues to change the lives of hundreds of people of all ages and walks of life in our community each year. In fact, READ Saskatoon has served more than 20,000 people since 1979. Your donation allows you to be part of the change. You can ensure that people have the skills they need to achieve their goals.

For the second year in a row, the Korchinski Family Foundation has graciously offered to match all donations of $500 or more (up to $10,000) to the 2018 Light a Spark campaign. The Korchinski family is proud to make a positive impact in our community by supporting organizations that provide personal and professional development in Saskatchewan.

On behalf of my dad Ernie and our entire family, thank you in advance for your support.  You can light the spark in so many others to change their lives, their families, and the community for years to come.



Sharon Miller