Updike house holiday ornament contest announced

It’s that time of year again! John Updike’s first love was art and his first ambition was to be a cartoonist. In that spirit, the John Updike Childhood Home will sponsor an annual holiday ornament competition, with the winners ornaments displayed on the house Christmas tree. Spread the word!

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TLC Fore Reading Education Series visits the Updike house

John Updike Childhood Home director Maria Lester welcomed another group of schoolchildren to the house recently, which resulted in a YouTube video documenting the visit.

Education Series—John Updike Childhood Home offers a nice account of what goes on when young people visit the house to see how important Updike was as a writer and how influential Shillington and Reading were, how they helped to shape him as a person and helped to shape his fiction as well.

The John Updike Childhood Home features 10 rooms of exhibits plus an education room that is used for small groups. The museum is owned and operated by The John Updike Society, a 501 c 3 non-profit organization consisting of professors, teachers, Updike family and friends, proud Pennsylvanians, and the kind of just-plain-readers that Updike most appreciated. Membership is open to anyone with an interest in Updike. At present, the Society has 270+ members from 18 different countries and 37 states.

The house restoration and conversion to a museum was made possible by generous donations from the Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation, the PECO Foundation, the John and Gaye Patton Charitable Foundation, American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation, and numerous private donors. Many of the items on display were also donated. Donations are tax deductible. The museum also seeks volunteers for the docent program.

TLC Fore Reading PA is a community development organization that uses golf as a foundation and sponsors in-school and after-school programs, and education series. Odds are that the young golfers may have enjoyed seeing Updike’s golf scorecards, photos, golf balls, and links attire on display.

If your class would like to visit the house, contact Dr. Lester (mlester@albright.edu) for more information.

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Reading Education Foundation to support Updike house visits

On September 14, 2022 the Reading Education Foundation announced their grant awards for the year. Among the approved projects was one proposed by John Updike Childhood Home director Maria Lester titled “Teaching Berks County’s Native Son, John Updike.”

The grant will allow Lester, who teaches at Reading High School, to bring literature classes to the house in the fall and will cover transportation and admission costs. Congratulations to Maria and any thanks to the Reading Education Foundation for their support of area youths, literature, and the legacy of one of Berks County’s two literary giants (the other being Wallace Stevens). The John Updike Society, which owns and operates The John Updike Childhood Home, hopes that the young people who visit as a result of this grant will be inspired by the museum and their study of Updike to follow their own dreams, literary or otherwise.

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Drone shots of Updike house featured on Berks Nostalgia

Alexa Freyman put together a nice feature on The John Updike Childhood Home, 117 Philadelphia Ave., in Shillington, using shots from an expertly controlled drone. Even those who’ve seen the house in person will find the drone shots interesting for the way they contextualize the house in relation to its surroundings.

Freyman, born and raised in Berks County, started Berks Nostalgia “to research and build a collection of the places, things and stories I have heard about my entire life.”

“Berks Nostalgia: John Updike’s Childhood Home” (with YouTube link)

A drone shot of the neighborhood across Philadelphia Ave. from the Updike house
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Wikipedia discovers The John Updike Childhood Home

Students use it, and if truth be told, so do teachers. And recently, Wikipedia added an entry on The John Updike Childhood Home. Thanks to some civic-minded Berks Countians, the house-museum is now searchable (and findable) on the biggest and best-known database of Internet knowledge.

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Don’t forget to follow The John Updike Childhood Home on Facebook

If you’re a fan of John Updike, make sure you don’t miss anything Updike related by not only following the blog-websites of The John Updike Society and The John Updike Childhood Home. You should also like/follow The John Updike Society Facebook page and The John Updike Childhood Home Facebook page. Sometimes there are Facebook posts that don’t appear on either website, like this visual update on how the Victory Garden is growing at the house, thanks to Gov. Mifflin students!

The John Updike Childhood Home is looking for volunteers to help with weeding and maintaining the flower beds. Contact Maria Lester if interested: mlester@albright.edu.

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Governor Mifflin students plant victory garden

As part of the continuing partnership between Governor Mifflin School District and The John Updike Childhood Home, students under the direction of Intermediate School teacher Damien Drago planted four raised beds with vegetables that were either mentioned by Updike as having been grown in his family’s garden during his years in the house (1932-45), or were commonly grown in Shillington victory gardens during the World War II years.

The Reading Eagle reports that about 45 fifth graders from Governor Mifflin Intermediate School took part in the project, which offers “kids a chance to learn some unique lessons and the historic site a chance to reclaim part of its past.”

Updike complained about having to sell the family’s asparagus and other vegetables door-to-door during the Depression years, but students who work on the victory garden will be spared that experience. Their crop will be donated to local charities.

According to the Eagle, “Drago said the project is presenting a lot of learning opportunities for the students. They’ve used their math skills to figure out how much soil they needed to buy, they learned about the process of growing plants and they got a chance to find out a bit about one of the county’s historical figures. The kids even took a three-mile historical walking tour of Shillington, taking in sites that showed what the borough was like while Updike was growing up there. And they read some of Updike’s poems that the author wrote for children.”

Drago told the Eagle he hopes to expand the project in the future and plans to enlist local students to tend the garden over the summer.

Director of Education Maria Lester was the Updike house liaison for the project.

For the full article, see “Gov. Mifflin students plant victory garden at The John Updike Childhood Home.”

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Gov. Mifflin Middle School students visit Updike house

On Monday, May 2, about 120 students from Governor Mifflin Middle School toured The John Updike Childhood Home with their teachers, Ms. Werle and Miss McKay. Organizing the event and leading the tour was Director of Education Maria Lester, who also conducted a creative writing workshop.

After the tour and hearing/seeing what Shillington and Berks County meant to Updike, students went outside to write original “sense of place” poems based on their own childhood memories growing up in and around Shillington. Shown here are students at work and some posing together under Updike’s dogwood tree.

“Finally, students graduating from GM will know who John Updike was and how he put Shillington on the map,” said Dave Silcox, Updike’s longtime local contact who has been heavily involved in acquiring exhibit materials for the house museum. Thanks to the teachers and to Maria Lester for making it happen!

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WFMZ reports on Updike 90th birthday celebration

It was a soft (and occasionally noisy) spring day in Shillington when a crowd of around 40 gathered on the side lawn of The John Updike Childhood Home, 117 Philadelphia Ave., in Shillington, Pa.

They came on Friday, March 18, to celebrate what would have been the author’s 90th birthday, to hear leading Berks County citizens read from Updike’s works, letters, interviews, and even poems the Pulitzer Prize-winning author wrote as a love-struck 10 year old.

And WFMZ 69 News was there to report.

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In case you missed it: Updike’s 90th Birthday Celebration

John Updike was born 90 years ago on this date. To celebrate, John Updike Childhood Home Director of Education Maria Lester organized and hosted a reading featuring prominent Berks County residents. Watch the Facebook Live recording of the 90th Birthday Celebration at The John Updike Childhood Home, 117 Philadelphia Ave., Shillington, Pa., featuring readings from Updike’s works, interviews, letters, and even personal love poems written as a 10 year old in Shillington.

:01—Introduction and reading by Maria Lester, Director of Education at The John Updike Childhood Home (pictured)

4:54—Samantha J. Wesner, Senior Vice President Student & Campus Life, Albright College

17:18—Conrad Vanino, Shillington Councilperson and Fire Police Lt.

22:13—Charles J. Adams III, Editor, The Historical Review of Berks County

35:48—Bill McKay, Superintendent, Governor Mifflin School District

44:55—Melissa Adams, Executive Director, The Reading Public Library

49:10—Jackie Hirneisen Kendall, Updike’s classmate and first “crush”

53:55—Dave Silcox, Updike’s Berks County contact for 10 years

57:40—David W. Ruoff, former student and friend of Wesley Updike

1:01:00—Jack De Bellis, author of Updike’s Early Years, The John Updike Encyclopedia, and John Updike Remembered

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