Milestone for literacy and learning

Even before retired Aflac executive Warren Steele was involved with any large-scale childhood literacy project, he was mentoring and reading to school children.

“What I saw,” Steele told the Ledger-Enquirer’s Lauren Gorla, “was that those kids were already so far behind in third grade and definitely by fifth grade, I realized what I think was a need to get to them sooner.”

What Steele was seeing was what has been well documented: Early childhood education, especially reading and language education, is critical, and opportunities lost in early childhood can be difficult or impossible to recover as the child gets older and falls behind his or her peers.

The Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy, a Georgia nonprofit created in 1999 by businesswoman, educator and philanthropist Robin Ferst, an Atlanta native, was where Steele turned to do something about the problem. The foundation sends children up to 5 years old a new book every month, and Steele founded the Muscogee Chapter in 2012. Four years later it is providing books for more than 2,500 children, has served more than 5,000 overall, and on Saturday honored 18-year-old Matthew Oudenk as recipient of the local organization’s 100,000th book.

One hundred thousand books. That’s a lot of sensory and mental stimulation for a lot of young children who otherwise might not have ready access to it. This is indeed a milestone to be celebrated, and to inspire even greater participation. For information, visit the local chapter website at www.muscogeecountyferstfoundation.org.

Passing of The King

Long before today’s young lions like Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy or Jason Day, before the sustained roar of Tiger Woods, even before the coming of a bear-like redhead named Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, who died Sunday at 87, was the undisputed king of men’s professional golf.

The only player faithfully followed around the course by his own fan “Army,” he won 62 PGA Tour tournaments, including four green jackets at Augusta, where he set a Masters record of 50 consecutive tournament starts from 1955-2004. He won each of the four majors at least once, except for the PGA Championship, which eluded him throughout his long and brilliant career.

The first golfer to top the $1 million mark in career earnings, Palmer and his friends and rivals Nicklaus and Gary Player — the “Big Three” — would help make golf more popular in the television age than it had ever been before.

But Palmer will be as well remembered as an ambassador for the game as he will as a championship player.

Masters chairman Billy Payne praised Palmer’s “warmth, humor, humility and grace.” Nicklaus said in a statement that his old friend and rival “never gave up on anything … Maybe his body did, but I know Arnold’s will and spirit did not.” Woods, who called Palmer a mentor, said in a social media post that “I could always call him for advice, and I looked forward to seeing him at Bay Hill and the Masters … I’m forever grateful for his friendship.”