Gass found a suitable building, the old train depot that was
being used for storage, and set to work restoring the building for
its new use as Emdenís first public library. The old depot had no
electricity and was filled with trash when she first began the
When the library first opened in 2007, the shelves were filled with
four boxes of donated books. Today, the library is filled with books
and magazines, and offers summer events for children every Thursday.
For her efforts, LaDonna Gass has been honored with many awards. The
mayor of Emden at the time the library project began, Ivan Rademaker,
was a backer of LaDonnaís idea. Mayor Rademaker nominated Gass for
the prestigious Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award, and she was
one of only forty-four recipients in 2009 in the State of Illinois.
But all of this is well known. This story is how one personís idea
touched a community and the surprise that came about because of hard
work, vision, and dedication.
In February of 2008, a small article appeared the Pekin newspaper
announcing that Earl Gass, LaDonnaís husband, had started a business
in his home of copying 8mm home movies to DVDís. The old movie film
can grow fragile over the years and disintegrate. Families want to
preserve their movie memories, so converting the movies to DVDís is
a move that will preserve them forever. An elderly resident of Pekin,
Gertrude Schrader, read the article and clipped it. She had a stack
of home movies from her life in central Illinois and thought it
would be a good idea to transfer them to DVDís. She did not act on
her plans until August of that year.
Since she no longer drove, she convinced a friend to drive her to
Emden. When they arrived in town, Gertrude, Trudy to her friends,
had no idea where Earl Gass lived. Being a resourceful person, she
stopped at the Farmerís State Bank to ask for directions. When she
inquired about Earlís address, the bank employee gave Trudy and her
friend directions to the Gass residence. Ms. Schrader was not quite
sure they could follow the directions, so the bank employee said she
would take a few minutes off and show them personally where Earl
lived. Small town America really does exist where neighbors help one
LaDonna picks up the story from here. ďIt was a hot August day and I
had the front door of my house open to let a breeze blow through. I
happened to look out and saw this elderly lady walking up my front
walk carrying two huge shopping bags. She marched right up the front
steps of my porch. When I asked her if I could help her, she showed
me the two bags of home movies and said she had seen the article
about Earl and wanted her movies saved on DVDís.Ē
Recovering from her surprise, LaDonna explained that her husband was
not home, but would be happy to call her and discuss the project.
Ms. Schrader insisted on leaving her movies, telling LaDonna that
she was sure Earl could do the job. LaDonna could not dissuade her,
even suggesting that Gertrude keep the movies until Earl called, but
to no avail.
Ms. Schrader plopped the two bags on the floor and prepared to
leave. LaDonna said ďDonít you want to know how much this project
will cost?Ē Gertrude Schraderís response was a classic. She said,
ďOh, thatís ok. Iím sure he wouldnít rip off an old lady.Ē
With that, Gertrude and her friend turned and left. To say that
LaDonna was surprised at this incident is an understatement.
When Earl got home that evening and heard the story and saw the pile
of movies, he was shocked! He had just started his movie conversion
business and had not even attempted a project of this magnitude.
The two shopping bags contained reel upon reel of movies. LaDonna
and Earl went back and forth on what to do. Earl finally decided to
tackle the job.
Converting this many old movies to DVD was not a simple matter. Some
of the ancient films broke when Earl tried to play them, then
requiring an intricate job of splicing. Earl also had to find a bulb
for his old 8mm projector. But through perseverance, a quality that
runs deep in the Gass family, the conversion got underway.
It was taking some time, longer than anticipated. One day, the
Gass family received a phone call from a woman in California who
identified herself as a relative of Gertrude Schrader, and inquiring
about how the job was going. It was coming up on October, and Earl
replied that he was almost done.
Finally, after three months of almost daily work on the Schrader
movies, the job was done. Earl and LaDonna drove the movies and
DVDís to Pekin to deliver them personally.
[to top of second column]
Gertrude was thrilled with the results. Earl had placed each
DVD in an individual jewel case with a photo he had taken from
the movies on the cover to help identify the contents. When they
played a DVD, Gertrude exclaimed how pleased she was with the
results. Earl had done a professional job and his client was
happy with it.
Still the question of a fee had not been discussed. Gertrude
stepped up and handed Earl three, twenty dollar bills.
A glance between Earl and LaDonna seemed to say, ďOh well, Mrs.
Schrader is happy. Thatís enough for us.Ē
Much later, LaDonna said with a laugh, ďI figured the $60
amounted to about a nickel an hour for all of Earlís work.Ē
Just as they stepped to the door, Earl mentioned the Whistle
Stop Depot Library and suggested maybe Gertrude would consider
making a donation to it. With no response, the Gass couple was
on their way back to Emden. LaDonna was not sure it had been a
good idea to mention the library. They never heard from Gertrude
Well, thatís not quite accurate. In February of 2014, the phone
rang in the Gass home. It was a law firm in Morton inquiring if
LaDonna was the contact for the Whistle Stop Depot Library. The
law firm said that a client had passed away and left the Whistle
Stop a part of an estate. Without identifying the client or
amount, the law firm said they would mail the necessary
documents for LaDonna to sign.
After hanging up, the guessing game began. Who would have done
this, and how much was the bequest, probably just a small
amount, surely. Well, she would just have to wait for the mail
to bring the paperwork. It arrived a few days later, and when
LaDonna opened the envelope, she received the shock of her life.
This was truly an OMG moment. Someone LaDonna had never heard of
left the Whistle Stop $10,000. ďMy jaw hit the ground,Ē she
said. There was a name and address in the documents, but LaDonna
was unfamiliar with them.
When Earl got home she showed him the information. He was
baffled also. Who was this person? Then a glimmer of a thought
came to Earl.
He went back in his records and found the same address in his
files for the elderly woman in Pekin he had done the movie-DVD
conversion for in 2008. Gertrude Schrader had heard Earlís
parting comment about the Whistle Stop donation and taken it to
After returning the legal documents to the lawyers, LaDonnaís
curiosity caused her to call the law firm and ask some questions
about Gertrude Schrader. She learned that Ms. Schrader was 105
years old when she passed on in 2013. That meant that when she
walked up on LaDonnaís porch carrying two shopping bags of heavy
movies, she was 99. She had been a resident of the Emden area
before moving to an apartment in Pekin, and was known as being
an able business woman even into her later years.
Schraderís will had been written in 2000, and had never been
changed except in 2008, the year Schrader added the Whistle Stop
Library to it. The call from California might have been a niece,
as Schrader never had children. She left the bulk of her estate
to organizations she supported, including one small library in a
small Logan County town.
The gift from Gertrude Schraderís estate arrived at an important
moment for the Whistle Stop. The small railroad station turned
library needs some extensive repairs to keep it going. An
exterior paint job is number one on that list. It also needs
When LaDonna found the location of Trudy Schraderís final
resting place, she drove there with a big bouquet of flowers and
said a prayer for her benefactor.
So, you never know when a kind touch for another person will
lead to a pleasant surprise down the road.
[By CURT FOX]