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Book vending machine in Oklahoma keeping fallen soldier's memory alive

A new reading program at Muldrow Elementary School is honoring the life and sacrifice of 1994 graduate and U.S. Army Master Sergeant Josh Wheeler.

MULDROW, Okla. — Any teacher will tell you, that reading fosters a love of learning. Now, a new program is impacting the lives of children in the River Valley and honoring an American hero who died fighting for our country.

"Well of course my biggest hope is that they will find the love of reading," said Lana Farney, who is the Muldrow Elementary School librarian.

Muldrow Elementary School is using technology to connect its students with stories through a brand-new book vending machine. Kids can earn tokens by making good choices, handed out by all teachers in the building.

"I was the one who won the token and the reason I won the token was because I was being good in class helping the teacher and I wasn’t talking," said Kayden Brignac, a third-grader.

"So not only are they getting a book to take home that is theirs forever, we’re also encouraging good citizenship and working hard in the classroom, out of the classroom," Farney said.

The machine itself is dedicated to 1994 Muldrow graduate Josh Wheeler.

"He is an American hero and he’s Muldrow’s hometown hero," said Tammy Hall, Muldrow Elementary School principal.

The Army Master Sergeant was killed while serving in Iraq in 2015 and his mother-in-law, an educator herself,  reached out to the school wanting to do something in his honor.

"She said Josh loved to read, he was a huge reader. She told me a story about how when he would read books, he would write notes to his sons in the front of the books. So she thought this was just the perfect idea, we couldn’t do anything any better," Hall said.

His family is donating funds to help fill the machine with books and his photo will remind the next generation of his sacrifice.

"Students will see his picture every day. They will ask questions about Josh. They will do research about him. And it’s just a great way to keep his memory alive," Hall said.

"I love the fact that five years from now there’s going to be kids walking down the hall and wonder, who is that guy on there? So his story is going to go on," Farney said.

As will the stories in the books kids get to keep, building a foundation for their future, that's free, thanks to the service of soldiers like Josh Wheeler.

"And if we can foster that love of reading, obviously they are going to succeed in school. And that’s where my passion is. Get the books in their hands, get them home and read," Farney said.

There is a monument outside Muldrow High School honoring Wheeler's service and a stretch of Highway 64 between Muldrow and Roland bears his name. The schools say Wheeler's grandparents still live in Roland and were thrilled to hear about this memorial to their grandson now on the vending machine.


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