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Bob Lind, Published June 02 2012

Neighbors: She made the books mobile

She’d been an elementary school teacher and an occupational therapist. Now she was a farm wife with three teenage children. And a job offer.

It was 1961 when the Fargo Library Board asked Katherine Rogne to be the librarian for something new for Fargo: a bookmobile.

Katherine accepted. And the Fargo bookmobile was rolling, with Katherine dishing out the books.

And she had a nice guy as the driver: her husband, Leslie.

Team effort

The Rognes farmed near Kindred, N.D. Leslie, in fact, declined the library board’s offer to be the bookmobile driver at first because of his farming responsibilities. But he said OK, he’d do it until a permanent driver was found.

That temporary job lasted 17 years, during which he also became a half-time custodian at Fargo’s main library.

Fargo’s first bookmobile was a used one from Grand Forks. It was restored, a generator was installed so it didn’t have to be plugged into an outlet for electricity and Katherine stocked it with books. Then it began its rounds to public and parochial elementary schools, nursing homes, shopping centers and neighborhoods.

Leslie greeted the children in the back, both he and Katherine helped them find books, and Katherine checked the books out.

Something for moms

On hot summer days, Leslie sat in the grass and read to young patrons. One time a teenage boy riding by on a bike saw this and shouted to his companion, “Look, it’s a father!”

That’s one of many stories Katherine recalls in notes she’s written with the help of her daughter, Leah Rogne, Mankato, Minn.

The busiest stops? Northport Shopping Center in north Fargo and the Piggly Wiggly store on the corner of Seventh Avenue South and University Drive.

The most popular books? The “Little House on the Prairie” series, the Nancy Drew series, and books about American celebrities, historical figures … and horses.

Katherine started something new when young mothers couldn’t find anything they wanted to read. She began stocking romance pocket books, which became very popular.

In the early 1970s, the bookmobile had a demand for books relating to adolescent girls, such as struggling with conflicts, school, how to dress, boys and other problems. This, she says, coincided with the women’s movement that was growing then.

Younger kids always had special requests, such as, “Do you have a book my grandma could read to me?” “Do you have a book my daddy would like?” And, “Who owns these books?” Katherine would answer that last question with, “Your parents pay taxes to the city of Fargo, and the city provides these books for you to read free.” She was hopeful the kids understood.

Bright kid

One time a first-grader wanted to check out “The Black Stallion.” Katherine questioned whether he could read it. He sure could; he read it aloud to her.

That precocious boy, who remained an avid reader of bookmobile books throughout his elementary school years, was James Lileks, now a columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Katherine and Leslie had their share of other interesting visitors, too, such as kittens, puppies and frogs the kids brought with them. And sometimes they were given treats: mangled cookies and pieces of birthday cakes wrapped in paper napkins.

Of course, kids often said a book was lost. But Katherine would answer, “The book cannot walk. Look in your house and bring it to me.” They usually did.

Katherine could find all books requested by her patrons but one, a book about a poor girl who married a no-good man, and cured him of his vices and aided him in establishing God’s heaven on earth. She was never able to learn the title of that often-requested book.

Still remembered

The bookmobile became so busy Katherine had to hire an assistant, usually a high school or college student.

She gives special credit to Vernette Nelson, who became her assistant in the 1970s. Vernette was so enthusiastic she took a course in children’s literature at Minnesota State University Moorhead, and later became the Fargo main library’s children’s librarian.

The Rognes retired in 1978. But they haven’t been forgotten.

Years later, a grocery store clerk told Katherine, “I’ve seen that ring before.” Katherine replied, “Why not? I handed you a book with that hand for many years.”

People often hear Katherine’s voice and say, “I know you; you were the bookmobile lady.”

One day when Leslie was over 90 years old, he was in the Sand Hills near Leonard, N.D., when a woman with her horses came to him and said, “You were my bookmobile man!”

And then there was the shoe repairman who told Katherine a few years ago, “I’ve got a Dr. Seuss book at home I never returned.”

Another common comment Katherine heard was, “How do you ever work all day with your husband?” “My answer,” she says, “was, ‘I never had it so good.’ ”

Leslie died in 2009. Katherine still lives on the Kindred farm with her son.

The Fargo bookmobile has ceased operating, but Katherine’s mind hasn’t.

She’s 98, but she still easily hands out memories of the days she handed out books to hundreds of people.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, and Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com