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Retired BellSouth employees spend time repairing library’s collection of ‘talking books’

Pioneers enjoy helping others

POSTED: October 21, 2007 5:07 a.m.

They meet every week like clockwork at the East Hall Branch & Special Needs Library.

Now spotted with age, their steady hands have repaired library equipment used by the visually impaired for more than two decades.

"We like to do it," Lewis Shirley said of the men’s weekly volunteer work. "When you’re having fun the time just flies by."

Shirley, Harold Mooney and Tommy Hodges are members of the AT&T Southeast Region Pioneer Volunteers, a group of active and retired employees throughout the nine-state BellSouth region.

The Pioneers support a broad base of community programs centering on education, the environment, health, human services and life enrichment.

In 1960, the Telephone Pioneers were designated the official talking book repair group for the Library of Congress.

Since then, Pioneers have repaired some 2 million of the special cassette and record players used by the visually impaired to listen to material they cannot read.

"They try to keep these little "dinosaurs" functional," said Lisa MacKinney, assistant director of communications and human resources for the Hall County Library System.

"They’re a hard working group of very, very nice people," she said.

On Tuesday mornings the men, clad in navy blue AT&T T-shirts, sit around a table with the machines’ exposed inner workings.

They use toothbrushes and household cleaner on surface stains and cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol to keep the inside running smoothly.

"We keep them repaired," said Hodges, who worked for AT&T 28 years before retiring at the Dahlonega location two decades ago.

Shirley retired in 1983. He worked with Hodges and met Mooney through the Pioneers.

The men started their volunteer work at the library’s main branch in downtown Gainesville in 1983. "It got too crowded down there, so they put us out here," Shirley said.

The men have been meeting at the East Hall library

since 2000, and have seen a lot during their time as Pioneers.

Shirley recalled the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It was a Tuesday and the men scrambled to find a TV or a radio to get the latest news.

"We didn’t get much done that morning," he said.

Other days are less eventful, but still a time for the men to get together.

Occasionally they will run across a problem they haven’t seen before with one of the machines, and will all have to work together to figure out how to fix it.

There are no assigned tasks, though Hodges is usually the one responsible for repairing the machines’ amplifiers.

"Tommy likes doing it so we just let him do it," Shirley said.

The good-natured men also use their weekly volunteer sessions as a time to catch up on each other’s lives, as well as current events.

"We’ve solved a number of world problems," Shirley said jokingly. "We’re working on the water situation now."

Mooney said each week he looks forward to getting together with "the guys."

"Some of us just enjoy the eating too," Shirley said with a laugh. The men go out to lunch every week once they’ve finished their work at the library.

Mooney said the men will keep volunteering at the library as long as they are needed.

After each machine is inspected, the men put a sticker on the bottom with their initials on it so they can tell who inspected which machine and when.

Mooney recently had a friend who went blind, whose wife discovered that he had checked out a machine from the library that Mooney had worked on.

"It made me feel good helping somebody that I know," Mooney said.



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