RIO VISTA — Ronald Heinrich is a man dedicated to literacy.
For a dozen years, the 81-year-old worked with the Solano County Literacy Program, helping adults from a multitude of backgrounds learn to read, write and communicate with the world.
“These were people who, for whatever reason, fell through the cracks. They graduated but had never learned to read and now as adults needed help,” Heinrich said.
Sometimes it wasn’t native-born people he helped but immigrants from Peru or Mexico to whom he gave his two hours a week.
“People criticize immigrants for not speaking the language, but what people just don’t understand is how hard these people work,” he said. “They don’t have time to learn. It isn’t that they don’t want to learn, they just don’t have the opportunity.”
He didn’t start working with the literacy program until he retired after a career working in international communications. He traveled in his younger years and jobs fell into his lap. A trip to Istanbul, Turkey, landed him a position at Robert College as a director of activities. He also took a job in Saudi Arabia. He even worked for the Internal Revenue Service.
He also worked with the local library advisory council in Riverside.
“I always heard about the Literacy Program, but I just never had time to do anything with it because of my work,” he said.
He and his family settled in Rio Vista in 2001 after moving from Contra Costa County.
“The literacy programs, I think, work the best with retirees like me because my schedule is open during the day or evening,” he said. “Many people who do this program can only meet at night after work.”
He remembers one of his students from Peru who was struggling with reading. His wife would be with them and she would flip through the pages to where they were supposed to be that night.
“She was reading ahead of me and her husband,” Heinrich said. “She remembered everything she read. She was dynamic.”
Heinrich likes that the program is versatile for all learning levels.
“People can do this at their own speed,” he said. “Some people learn at different rates, some slow and some fast. It might take a couple of years to accomplish their goals.”
When he retired from tutoring a few years ago, he didn’t go far from his literary interests. He has been on the Solano County Library Council for the past five years, and president of the council for two years. He is one of the Friends of the Library for Rio Vista and served as its president for two terms.
The library is one of his favorite organizations to support, he said.
“It provides entertainment, learning and a place to meet friends,” he said. “It gets well used. I like it that way.”
He fears for the future of libraries with budget cuts and decreases in hours, and hopes to see a turn-around in support for local libraries from the government.
His experiences with the library, and through the literacy program, have helped him make new friends and exposed him to cultures that he never would have been exposed to otherwise. He finds volunteering at his age to be important.
“Most people who are older want to keep contributing. They want to volunteer their time,” he said. “It keeps them young at heart.
“It’s important to keep active, especially at my age. People search for happiness their whole life, but the trick is to help others. It will keep you young and make you the happiest, because you are giving to others.”
Reach Susan Hiland at 427-6981 or firstname.lastname@example.org.