The storyteller’s last chapter
For the past eight years, Robert Smith has been telling stories and teaching lessons to the children of Stillwater County.
Every Wednesday, kids pour in the county library in Columbus for story hour, where they’ve been introduced to such phrases as “criss cross applesauce” and learned exactly how to “shake the sillies out,” under the guidance of Smith and his guitar.
Friday will mark Smith’s last day, as he retires from his work full-time in order to make some time for himself and his family.
“Robert impacted the lives of so many area youth through his music and story telling at Farmers’ Markets, through countless summer reading programs, through his regular visits to area preschools and through his Cast of Characters drama workshops,” said long-time library patron Linda Halstead-Achayra. “Robert will be missed by many, mostly because he has touched so many.”
Anyone who has ever observed a story time session can see that Smith has a serious skill for running off a bit of energy and then settling kids down in short order.
Once a week he has ventured to Kids Club and the Stillwater Academy, bringing library services to children there, as well as assisted kids from Fishtail to Nye on a monthly basis. Then there’s the summer reading program, his presence at the Columbus Farmer’s Market and his role in bringing Shakespeare in the Park here.
The bulk of his work has been with preschool age kids which involved “juggling age groups.”
Kids Club has long been a favorite weekly trip of Smiths’.
“You’ve got to be on your toes there,” said Smith with wide eyes and a broad smile.
Smith prefers to be a storyteller versus a book reader – the difference between them being storytelling is done from memory and requires one to be able to verbally paint a picture a child can see. His experience has taught him that storytelling makes a big impact on children, to the point of them remembering story lines as he challenges them to listen and tell the stories at home.
“Children throughout the county light up when they see him coming and treat him like a rock star,” said Kathleen Ralph, who has been heavily involved in the library for a number of years. “Robert is a fantastic storyteller and used music to draw people in. His love of literature was obvious to anyone who stopped by the library.”
ROAD TO STILLWATER
Smith worked as a middle and elementary school teacher for 14 years before becoming the librarian at the large school of 800 kindergarten through 6th grade students in Mesa, Ariz.
“We had four of everything. Four kindergarten classes, four first grade classes, etc.,” said Smith.
In his role as librarian, he had every single class for 30 minutes a day.
A visit to some friends who lived just outside of Columbus led to a move in 1995. Smith initially served as the traveling librarian to Molt and Nye for one year before getting into the “Books Are Fun” business – a company that runs book fairs as fundraisers held in businesses. For 10 years Smith travelled the state and northern Wyoming.
When the part-time position came open at the Stillwater County Library, Smith dove in and the position was eventually made into full-time. On the side, he and his wife Constance ran summer camps including a Spanish camp, an entomology camp, a physics camp and a theater camp called Cast of Characters.
The theater camp eventually grew to a 3-week program. When students became too old for it, they formed Improv Comedy Club at the Cobblestone Building in Absarokee. Three former participants took the idea with them to college and beyond, said Smith.
When asked what he will miss the most about the job, Smith is quick to answer.
“I get the most joy seeing a family come in to the library,” he said.
Brook Hampton will take over his duties for now and Smith said he wishes the library only the very best.
“A library can be the cultural heart of a community,” said Smith.
He and his wife are staying in Columbus, where he also serves on the Columbus School Board.
There will be a farewell reception for Smith this Friday, Nov. 18, from 3:30 p.m. unitl closing at the library.