Extraordinary Volunteer is Stalwart at Book Donation Center

At age 82, Friends of Johnson County Library Larry Leighton still goes to work six days per week. He devotes nearly 40 hours per week to his duties. And as he jokes, “They double my pay every month.”

In fact, Leighton works as an incredibly dedicated volunteer with the Friends of Johnson County Library’s book donation sorting center. He gets paid in free cups of coffee, the friendship of other volunteers and in a deep sense of satisfaction for performing a worthwhile service.

“It’s fun. It’s interesting. I do enjoy it,” Leighton says.

Leighton oversees a small team of volunteers at the sorting center at 82nd and Melrose Drive in Lenexa. They take gently-used donated books and sell them on various websites. Using a computer program, Leighton assesses the books’ price and popularity and posts them for sale.

Orders come in from all over the country (even from overseas), sometimes from bookstores but mostly from individuals. The team prepares them for mailing to the book buyers.

Years ago, Leighton started volunteering a few hours per week, but as others have rotated in and out, he’s assumed more responsibilities. Now he’s there seven hours Mondays through Fridays and four hours on Saturdays.

His team consists of five book listers and five book shippers, all women. “They are all really nice gals,” he says. He enjoyed working with Matt Delaney, the Friends of JCL business manager who retired earlier this year. He appreciates Shanta Dickerson, the Friends of JCL operations manager.

The book sales are a major revenue generator for Friends of JCL. Leighton has a list of dozens of books or book sets that have sold for over $100 this year, including complete Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew sets; a Calvin and Hobbes set; and an original Stephen King Hardcover Book Club edition.

Leighton grew up around dairy cows in College Station, Texas, where his dad was a Texas A&M professor. There weren’t many playmates living nearby, so he entertained himself by reading, including the Hardy Boys and Mark Twain. He’s still an avid reader of history and fiction.

He studied aeronautical engineering at Texas A&M, served in the Air Force in Indiana 1961 -1964, then worked for Procter & Gamble in Dallas and Cincinnati. After an Air Force buddy with a job at Hallmark talked about what a great company it was, Leighton applied and was hired.

He moved with his wife and two young children to Overland Park and worked for Hallmark from 1967 to 2000. He had a series of management positions in a very fulfilling career.

Leighton’s first wife died unexpectedly in 1990 and he was a widower for a few years before he remarried. He and his wife Paula live in Leawood and have a wonderful marriage, but Leighton says volunteering helps him stay busy.

After retiring from Hallmark at age 61, he enjoyed playing golf, but soon realized he needed a greater purpose in his life. He volunteered at various golf courses and with Heart to Heart, Intl. and Cross-Lines Community Outreach before he saw a notice about Library volunteering. At the book sorting center, he found his niche.

“It gets me out of the house. It lets my wife have some time,” Leighton said. “She’s a sweetheart. I love her dearly and I want to let her have her space.”

Plus, he gets to socialize with nice people and give donated books new life. And it’s a great benefit to the Library.

“I have no plans to change,” Leighton said, “as long as they need me.”