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First Lady and Governor host Dolly Parton at Ohio State

First Lady’s Luncheon honored Parton for founding Imagination Library

First Lady Fran DeWine and Governor Mike DeWine hosted Dolly Parton at The Ohio State University’s Ohio Union Archie M. Griffin Grand Ballroom as the guest of honor at the inaugural First Lady’s Luncheon on Tuesday. The first lady and governor recognized Parton for founding the Imagination Library, which provides free books to children in Ohio, nationwide and throughout the world.

“After becoming first lady, Fran was determined to make the Dolly Parton library books available to every single child in Ohio from birth to age 5,” Gov. DeWine said. “With the help of all the affiliates who are represented here today and with the help of the state legislature, Fran has accomplished that goal.”

The Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library was founded in 2019 and was initially only available in several counties. By November 2020, the library became a statewide program. In July 2022, the program rebranded as the Dolly Parton Imagination Library of Ohio to maintain consistency with the nationwide program, according to Ohioimaginationlibrary.org.

By September, 345,000 Ohio children are projected to be enrolled in the program, First Lady DeWine said.

“We’re now reaching 48% of kids between birth and age 5. These books are sent in the mail every month and are addressed to the child,” she said. “Ohio has more kids enrolled in the Imagination Library than any other state.”

In a conversation with First Lady DeWine during the luncheon, Parton said she founded the Imagination Library through her nonprofit Dollywood Foundation in 1995. She said she started the program as a tribute to her father, Robert Lee Parton, a farmer whom she described as the “smartest man I have ever known,” but who never had the opportunity to learn to read.

“I said, ‘Dad, I’m going to start something that you’re going to have to help me with,’ and that was the Imagination Library,” Parton said. “My dad got to live long enough to see it doing really well, and he got such a big kick out of hearing the kids call me the ‘book lady.’ It was in honor of my dad, and it started from a serious, sincere place in my heart.”

After starting in Parton’s home county of Sevier County, Tennessee, the Imagination Library soon became statewide and expanded nationally in 2000. The program launched in Canada in 2006, followed by the United Kingdom in 2007, Australia in 2013 and the Republic of Ireland in 2013.

Since its inception, the Imagination Library has distributed 186 million books to children worldwide and is on track to reach 200 million books by the end of 2022, Parton said. She said the success of the program has been driven by children’s enthusiasm at receiving a personalized package with a book every month.

“They’re going to grab somebody and make them read it to them, and that helps bring the family together,” Parton said. “That’s really what we’re hoping, is to teach kids to read and to learn to love books.”

Also during the luncheon, Parton said several members of her extended family live in Ohio and she has childhood memories of visiting the Buckeye State. She concluded the event by performing her hit song “Coat of Many Colors,” which has been turned into a children’s book that is distributed through the Imagination Library. She also performed the ballad “Try” – the library’s theme song.

For more information about the Dolly Parton Imagination Library of Ohio, click here.

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