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Literacy legend had Lairdsville link

By Carol Sones Shelter - Reporter | Jan 28, 2021

PHOTO PROVIDED Born near Lairdsville, Harriet Jane Derr was photographed with daughter Bertelle, age three, husband John B. Laubach, and seven year old son Frank C. Laubach of Benton, Columbia County, PA. The latter would become known world-wide for his success in literacy in a program he developed titled “Each one Teach One.”

LAIRDSVILLE – Many individuals, especially educators, recognize the name Frank Charles Laubach as a missionary who fought illiteracy around the world. A quote linked to the late Benton born man was, “The ability to read is the key to the door of the world, and through them, to a world of understanding, instead of fear hate and superstition.”

Listed in Laubach’s obituary of June 1970, was the identity of his parents. His mother, Harriet Jane Derr was a Lairdsville native born Sept 2, 1848 daughter of Robert and Emily (Thomas) Derr. She became a teacher in local schools in and around Franklin Township. His father was John B. Laubach, a dentist, native of Benton.

Laubach’s future bride, Effa Seely, had been born in Fairmont Springs her parents relocating to Benton where her father operated a general store. After high school, Effa attended Dickenson Seminary in Williamsport, taught school in Benton before becoming a nurse. She had graduated from the Presbyterian Nurses Training School at Philadelphia in 1910.

The couple married in 1912, the wedding taking place in Millville. In 1915 the couple left for the Philippines to serve in general missions. Robert, their couple’s first child was born in Manila in late 1918. Mother and son returned to the states where a still born daughter was delivered at Bloomsburg Hospital in Dec. 1920.

From 1929 until retirement in 1960, Laubach had traveled to more than 100 countries developing literacy primers in more than 300 languages and dialects. Directly or indirectly, its estimated Laubach was responsible for perhaps 100 million people learning to read. He reportedly said, “I hadn’t kept up with the birth rate, and besides, for lack of reading materials, 20 million have lapsed back into illiteracy.”

By 1935 when due for home leave, Dr. Laubach’s success had become widely known in the missionary world, due to teaching in Malaya, Singapore, Ceylon, India, Cairo, Palestine, Syria and Turkey. By this time the educator had introduced pictures and the alphabet into the basic primers of each countries language.

Prior to WWI, he’d taught tribesmen in Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Northern Rhodesia and other African nations. During the war, he concentrated on Latin America preparing charts and primers in Spanish, Portuguese and dozens of Indian dialects.


A Moro (Moslem) chief, in order to assure the success of Dr. Laubach’s “each one teach one” technique, instituted the death penalty for anyone who did not comply. In one African country, it was learned one native walked 100 miles to get one of “Laubach’s injections for ignorance.”

In 1950, the World Literacy Committee had been formed to serve nonreligious clients. There, Laubach served as consultant on adult literacy for the U. S. Educational Cultural and Scientific Organizations Point Four Program serving 185 foreign missions and more than 100 national provincial and municipal governments. The World Literacy program operated as a philanthropy, organized teams of graphic artists, teachers, and linguists to accompany Dr. Laubach on trips to set up programs.

In 1955, Dr. Laubach organized Laubach Literacy, Inc., a non profit directed by his son, Dr. Robert Laubach of Syracuse where in Sept. 2, 1969, on the famed educator’s birthday, the city designated it Dr. Frank C. Laubach Day. Congratulations sent by President Nixon and Governor Rockefeller were sent to the retired missionary/educator. Laubach died nine months later on June 11, 1970.

Public pressure resulted in a postage stamp having the missionary/teacher’s likeness. A dedication of the 30 cent stamp was held posthumously Sept. 2, 1984 at the Benton Area Jr/Sr High School attended by the Post Master General.

In his native Benton, a library served the community. Currently, Laubach’s work in literacy continues as in 2002 it merged with Literacy Volunteers of America, Inc. to form ProLiteracy Worldwide and continues as a non-profit organization.

A book mark produced by Laubach Literacy, Inc listed the following: “Teach a man to read and he can help himself to earn, to feed, to clothe, to live a better more productive life!”

All the aforesaid accomplished by the son of a Lairdsville area native and teacher who undoubtedly had both an impression on and support for her son.