Education Stories of Impact

Book Mentor Profile: George Willhite


After a career as news editor of The Courier and an editor at the American Oil Chemists Society, George Willhite has found enjoyment in retirement by volunteering for Illinois Public Media’s Book Mentor Project for the past six years. Keep reading to find out why he loves it.

This year, he’s reading and doing activities with very young children in the toddler classroom in the Champaign Early Childhood Center’s Head Start program. He also volunteers to read to older pre-schoolers at the center.

How did you become a book mentor?

I joined Champaign-Urbana Kiwanis and some of my fellow Kiwanians suggested it to me. I used to read to my kids when they were little, but I didn’t know how I would do going into a classroom. I’ve found that the kids are very accepting.

Why do you like it?

After I go in and read to the kids, I always leave more energetic than when I went in. The kids just absorb everything. They’re adorable. If I had to spend all day in the classroom with them, though, I’d be exhausted!

What was your favorite book you read as a child?

Bob and the Baby Pony. My mother had checked it out from the library for me. I liked it so much that I stuffed it in back of the radio so she couldn’t find it to return it. Later I loved reading about King Arthur and that led to my interest in English history. Now I have shelves of books about English history.

What is your favorite book to read to the children at CECC?

The pre-kindergarten kids always like to read What Color is Your Underwear?. All the animals have on different colors and then you get to the elephant and it’s “Oops, he forgot to put his on!”  It’s just fun and they think it’s hilarious.

Co-teachers Amanda Herzog and Omesha Redding say George uses simple words and really knows how to communicate with very young children. One of their favorite memories of George in their classroom is when he had kids following him “around the world.” “They lined up behind him and he led them all around the room. He let every single kid have a turn at being the leader,” Herzog said.