The literary tradition is strong in Crawford County, as three people with ties to the area have published books within the past year.

These books, four in total, range from fiction to non-fiction and include options for readers both young and old.

One is the sum total of several years of research while one was written by an elementary school teacher with the help of her students.

Deborah Mink

For 25 years, Deborah Mink served as a teacher in Crawford County, teaching in both Crawford Central and PENNCREST school districts.

In the summer of 1998, she attended a week-long language arts course at Valley Forge through the Governor's Institutes and Academies for Educators, with a focus on then-new writing standards for Pennsylvania schools. One of the suggestions that came out of the course was for teachers to do writing alongside their students.

Mink took this advice to heart. Each year she would have her students do an oral history report based on people they interviewed. As the kids were writing their reports, Mink would, in turn, write a story which the students would help edit.

"Choices" is one of the stories Mink wrote and was published as a book on May 30. Out of all the stories Mink wrote as a teacher, she settled on "Choices" as the one to publish due to its relevance to modern-day problems.

"I guess I decided on that one because it was on bullying, and bullying is still an issue even today," she said.

The book follows a group of kids and a bully tormenting them. Each of the kids has a unique quirk about them, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia.

However, the bully himself has a handicap he keeps hidden. Gradually, by discussing their different traits, the kids slowly grow closer and even manage to befriend the bully.

Many of the characters featured in the book are "cross-sections" of Mink's students, pulling in various traits from them without being specifically based on any individual kid. As a matter of fact, making the people who populate her story was Mink's favorite part of the writing process.

"I enjoyed developing the characters," she said. "Thee are some strong characters there."

Mink said the book is ideal for kids in fourth, fifth or sixth grade and works well being read in a classroom.

"Choices" is not the only book Mink has written. For adult readers, she has published a memoir, "Adapting to Vision Challenges-Together." The book chronicles Mink and her husband as they adjusted to the latter losing his sight and the former developing her own vision issues that they must both overcome. 

With two books under her belt, Mink said there is a possibility she may publish more. She is considering publishing another story she wrote while being a teacher which her students assisted her with, this one dealing with two kids who end up traveling back in time to 1936 Pittsburgh, when one of the worst floods in the city's history struck it.

In the meanwhile, Mink's books are available on Amazon.

 

Jeffrey Allen Cunningham

In the winter of 2012, while living in Pittsburgh, Jeffrey Allen Cunningham suddenly fainted while he was walking on the sidewalk.

"Next thing you know I'm in a nursing home in Erie," he said of his experience.

Cunningham, who now lives in Conneautville and had previously lived in Springboro, had suffered a severe concussion in the fall, and had lost the ability to walk. However, he counts himself lucky to be alive. It was several degrees below zero the day he fainted, and might have died of hypothermia. The only reason he lived, the doctors told his mother, was that there were two strangers who just happened to be "stupid enough to be out there in this weather," according to Cunningham.

Following his accident, Cunningham attended physical therapy, where he slowly regained the ability to use his legs. It was during his time recovering that he thought up an idea for a children's book, something which came to him very suddenly.

"Back then, I wasn't thinking of writing no children's book," Cunningham said.

"Billie the Bird Learns to Fly" follows the story of the titular avian who falls out of his nest. Unable to fly and reach his home once more, Billie wanders around and meets various friends, all of whom try to help him get back to his nest.

In an ironic twist, it ends up being a cat who finally gets Billie back to his home. When the cat begins playfully chasing Billie around, the bird's instincts kick in and he begins to fly once more.

The book, Cunningham said, is intended to teach lessons on learning how to make friends and to never be afraid to ask for help. When he showed it to his family members, they greatly enjoyed the tale.

"My mom read it, my sister read it and they thought it was the cutest thing ever," Cunningham said.

While written in 2013-14, Cunningham recently was able to get the book published through Dorrance Publishing Co. Seeing the book and his name show up on the company's website was a source of pride for Cunningham, especially as a first-time author.

"I'm getting goosebumps now," he said. "It's very exciting. It's a very big accomplishment I've made in my life."

He also said the company has told him the book is selling well, and he is constantly receiving praise for the story. He also thinks a sequel might be possible in the future.

"Billie can fly now, but what does he do next?" Cunningham said when talking about doing another book.

"Billie the Bird Learns to Fly" is available through the Dorrance Publishing Co. website.

Marcy Laderer Thomas

It all started with a simple question. It evolved into a book which took seven years, 10,000 newspaper articles and 400 deeds to write.

Marcy Laderer Thomas, a former Meadville resident who now lives in Georgia, one day asked her parents when the hotel her grandfather bought back in 1938 was built. The hotel was situated on the east side of Conneaut Lake, though her grandfather tore it down shortly after obtaining it due to the building being in a state of disrepair.

With her parents not knowing of the hotel's origin, Thomas decided to do a little research of her own. And then a little more beyond that, then a little more after that, and soon it was no longer little bit of research.

"To understand the whole concept of it, I needed to research more of the east side of the lake," Thomas said.

Soon Thomas found herself digging into the wider context of Conneaut Lake's east side. She researched surrounding buildings, other hotels and cottages and even began looking into genealogical data as she built up a complete picture around the hotel and other landmarks.

This was a rare phenomenon for Thomas, as this kind of research normally wasn't the kind of thing she was intrigued by.

"I had no interest in history, period," she said. "It was just a random question I asked one day."

As her mountain of research grew, people around her eventually began asking when she was going to publish what she found. Initially hesitant to the idea, Thomas, in her own words, eventually bowed to the pressure.

"It was the right thing to do," she said.

And thus her first book, "Conneaut Lake's East Side Story," was born. Covering the history of more than 40 different locations from Conneaut Lake's history, consisting of nine hotels, 22 cottages and 10 miscellaneous landmarks. 

The book, 485 pages in length, is designed so that the chapters can be read in any order, allowing readers to ship around to the landmarks that interest them most.

Two of Thomas' personal favorites are the Oakland Beach Resort, which featured a ship-like deck which jutted out over a roadway, and the Stuart Compound, a property built by the widow of David A. Stewart, a chairman of the Carnegie Brothers & Company business and a close confidant of Andrew Carnegie.

As for the original source of Thomas' curiosity, tracking down the history of her grandfather's hotel turned out to be fairly difficult.

"Basically, that hotel had nine different names, so I had to keep researching to figure out, because it would disappear in the newspapers," she said.

While representing a wide range of information, Thomas said it only represents a fraction of all she discovered. Of the roughly 10,000 newspaper articles she read during her research, only around 1,400 ended up being used for the book.

Thomas said she needs a sabbatical from research, for now, but definitely thinks she has enough info for another book. in fact, she's received requests to write about Conneaut Lake's west side next.

Originally published in June, "Conneaut Lake's East Side Story" was printed as a limited edition 750-copy run. Thomas estimated that roughly 50 copies are left, and the book is available at several Crawford County businesses, including Zatsick's Golden Dawn, Ralston's Hardware, Al's Melons, Lakeside Beauty Salon, The Navigation Company, Bill's Midway Marina, Nye's Marina, Whispering Pines Golf Course Pro Shop, Oakland Beach Golf Course Pro Shop, Street Track 'n Trail, and Tattered Corners Bookstore.

Donations to the Crawford County and Conneaut Lake historical societies are being done as part of the book sale process.

Thomas also thanked her parents, Ed and Martha Laderer, for helping her with the book. Besides sparking her drive to research, the two also helped out in reading deeds, taking pictures and other efforts.

Sean P. Ray can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at sray@meadvilletribune.com.

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