Larry Otto brings books to life at Elvin Hill

Amanda Marler, first grader at Elvin Hill Elementary School in Mrs. Ruston’s class, reading to Larry Otto, volunteer. (Contributed)

By PHOEBE DONALD ROBINSON / Community Columnist

Amanda Marler, a precious first grader at Elvin Hill Elementary School, has a very special talent. Marler can read upside down. This gift was discovered by Larry Otto, reading volunteer at EHES.

Otto has been an active volunteer for 13 years at EHES. Every Tuesday and Thursday, three hours a day, Otto listens to students read. He sits at a low, round table with small chairs next to a full bookshelf, organized into blue bins.

The children, one on one, read aloud to Otto, and their reading skills improve by his patient encouragement.

Otto also teaches responsibility.

He encourages the children to pick up the books that they have read, organize them a certain way, place them in their container and put them back on the shelf.

Improved reading, personal responsibility and self esteem are just a few of the things these children learn from Mr. Otto.

Otto and his wife live in Columbiana. He retired from marketing at Amoco Oil after 33 years.

Mrs. Otto suggested, or he may say insisted, that he needed something to do with his new free time.

Otto thought about helping at Elvin Hill. In 1997, he met with then-principal Peg Hill and asked if there was a job he could do at the school.

He told Hill he would prefer not to wash windows, but he was willing to do what was needed.

Hill suggested that he read with the students. Otto warmed to the idea.

“He was such a quiet, kind man,” Hill said. “I was so surprised he wanted to give of his free time to listen to children read. I am so thankful that he is still helping the boys and girls read at EHES during his retirement.”

Hailey Fant, first grade Teacher of the Year at EHES, said Otto is a wonderful volunteer.

“He talks to the children about doing their best, reading every night and going to college,” Fant said. “He even lets some of the children read the newspaper. He is a great role model and example.”

Otto said his goal is to improve the kids’ reading skills.

“One of my greatest memories was working with a fifth grader who was having reading problems,” I worked with him everyday, saw the young boy blossom, and become a super reader.”

Otto says he is paid each day in smiles and hugs, something money cannot buy.

Phoebe Donald Robinson can be reached by e-mail at

About Phoebe Donald Robinson

I am President of Donald Real Estate and Ins. Co., Inc., a company that my grandfather , Charles J. Donald, founded in 1925. I am the third generation owner of the business. I am also the Columbiana Columnist for the Shelby County Reporter.

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