Big-time impact: Patricia Hemmett 1942-2021
Impactful. Intentional. Professional. Dignified. Those are a few words that describe Pat Hemmett’s reach into East Central Illinois life.
I met Pat in 1992. By that time, she was 8 years in to having started an adult basic education program in the counties that cover the Lake Land College district. In the program’s infancy, she established relationships with numerous libraries. She hired caring area directors, who recruited and trained volunteers. Those area directors opened the door to an enhanced life for individuals with low reading levels (below eighth grade) and their families.
Pat was among the pioneers in this field in rural Illinois and beyond. She knew the number of people whose lives were negatively impacted by low reading were far beyond what most of society realized. Many of those impacted opted for the safety of keeping their secret rather than risking more academic failure or scorn. With her low-key, supportive approach, she showed a better way.
Pat successfully wrote a state grant that modestly funded the initiative. She, the grant and her staff sustained the program for 30-some years.
My involvement began when I responded to a postcard-type information piece strategically placed on the counter at the Mattoon Public Library. The postcard sought volunteers to join PAL – Partners in Adult Literacy— by volunteering to tutor one or more adults each week one-on-one.
The eye-opening experience changed my perspective and life while allowing me to help others. I only dealt directly with Pat about 20 times over the years, but at key times she played an oversized role for me. She consulted and supported a book I wrote about the experience. She consulted and supported an effort to establish a Family Literacy Initiative at the Mattoon Public Library, now in its third year. She engaged with her network to join in supporting these efforts.
In every situation, Pat was professional. Her manner, her intelligence, her good humor improved every room she entered. Directly and indirectly, she played a meaningful, live-changing, lasting role for hundreds of families throughout our region.
Pat loved her family, loved to travel. She spoke fondly of the Rochester, New York area where she spent her childhood. It was a joy to be around her.
Pat died on August 23 at age 78, after an illness that caused her to move to a long-term care facility. I learned from Pat. She made me and others better. Peace.