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At 50, he wasn't too old to learn to read

September 21, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

At the age of 50, Joseph Kinzer recently read a book for the first time.

"I'm proud of this," said Kinzer, as he held up a framed certificate awarded him for his accomplishment. But Kinzer knows he has a long away to go.

Kinzer, who is being tutored in reading, completed "Laubach Way to Reading Skill Book I."

"I don't know how long it will take me but I'm going to work for it. I'm going to stick with it this time."

Kinzer found his tutor, Joyce Spessard of Smithsburg, through the Frederick County Literacy Council, which works with Hagerstown's Goodwill Industries.

The Washington County Literacy Council disbanded in January 1994 because there was no one to head it up, said former President Thomas Horst of Maugansville.

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Kinzer said he's tried to learn how to read several times before, but didn't seem to get anywhere.

"A lot of people think I'm a little too old to do this," he said.

Spessard praised Kinzer's drive to succeed.

"It takes a lot of guts at his age or at any age to approach somebody and say, `Hey, I need some help with this.' I think for somebody that can read, reading street signs and traffic signs and newspaper headlines is something they take for granted. For people like Joe there is no way you can imagine the world in which they live," she said.

Kinzer said being illiterate has hurt him in many ways, but what's upset him the most is how other people treat him.

When he was growing up in Boonsboro, others teased him and called him names.

The teasing has continued, leading to fights and other problems.

"I don't appreciate that ... I don't think you have a right to pick on people. You're a human being just like anybody else ... I feel that the ones making fun of you are the ones that are ignorant," he said.

Kinzer said that for a time he turned to alcohol, but gave it up in 1975.

"I thought alcohol would solve my problems. All I did was wake up with a headache and have the same problem the next day," he said.

Meanwhile, living in today's high-tech world without the ability to read has been difficult, he said.

"I get my mail. I can't read my bills," he said.

He has a friend read them for him and help him fill out checks.

Kinzer said he can follow most driving directions, but can have difficulty if he gets lost because he can't read a map and has trouble reading street signs.

Kinzer said his father didn't know how to read or write, and Kinzer spent much of his time working on the family farm. He dropped out of school when he was 15. After joining the Job Corps in the 1960s, he has had a number of jobs including mechanic, tree trimmer and landscaper.

"I can do anything with my hands," but that's not enough anymore, he said.

"Nowadays, you ain't got the schooling, you ain't got the job," he said.

He works part time at Grease Monkey, and said he hopes learning how to read will help him get a better job.

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