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Restaurant offers room for story hour

by Sheila Gardner

It was “wriggling-room-only” at the Rancho Grande Mexican restaurant – temporary home of the Douglas County Public Library story hour and owner Ruben Aguilar’s gracious response to an anonymous complaint about telling stories in Spanish.

Eight children between the ages of 3 months and 10, their mothers and caregivers, and children’s librarian Carol Rapacz settled into a dining room at the Gardnerville restaurant Wednesday for the weekly story hour.

Aguilar and his wife Mariana opened their restaurant to the children after remodeling at the library forced the popular story hour to move. Rapacz and crew summered at gazebo at Minden Park, but with the chill of fall in the air, it was time to go indoors.

Aguilar cleared a long table of dishes and condiments so the children could do crafts. He offered refreshments and rearranged wall hangings for the benefit of volunteer videographer Peggy Ristorcelli who records the weekly story hour for broadcast on community access TV.

As Rapacz opened the morning’s stories with the traditional “once upon a time,” Aguilar disappeared into the kitchen to begin preparations for lunch.

Aguilar’s “random act of kindness” came on the heels of anonymous telephone calls to the library complaining about the board’s decision to incorporate an occasional bilingual story hour into the weekly program.

“I was disappointed to see people making comments about stories in Spanish,” said Aguilar, who came to the United States 15 years ago from Mexico.

The gist of the callers’ comments was that people who lived in the United States ought to speak English. The library board said its decision reflected a demand for more community outreach to the growing Hispanic population in Douglas County.

“I saw that the library needed a location and I decided to call them and offered to help any way I can,” he said.

Aguilar and his wife Mariana have three children and live at Lake Tahoe. Their original restaurant burned down in February and they have since relocated to the former Gardnerville hotel.

“I would do anything I can for this community,” Aguilar said.

After the fire, when the Rancho Grande was open again for business, Aguilar donated part of his profits to the county’s volunteer fire departments. He also served free lunches to all fire department employees and volunteers.

“We’re very grateful to the Aguilars for doing this for us,” said Linda Wilson, public services coordinator for the Douglas County Library. “It’s just wonderful to have community support for our programs.”

Despite the earlier critics, Wilson said response to the bilingual program has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We had many, many phone calls from people who thought it was a great idea and people who were willing to help and volunteer any way they can. We can’t let a few negatives outweigh the many positives,” she said. “We’re just so pleased Mr. Aguilar did what he did. It was a very creative solution.”

Vanessa Littrell, who brought son Bowman, 3-1/2, and daughter Sasha, 2, said she is a “sporadic regular” at story hour. She said she liked the new location, especially the plaid carpet which fascinated the children squirming on the floor.

Wilson said the library’s next bilingual story program will be Saturday, Nov. 13, from 1 to 2 p.m. at the CVIC Hall in Minden.

Wilson said the library plans to offer a Native American program modeled on the Wa-pai-shone Festival, a Kwanza celebration at Christmas and Basque traditions.

The library hopes renovation will be completed next spring. In the meantime, story hour is held every Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Rancho Grande Mexican Restaurant, 1404 Highway 395 in Gardnerville. Information, 782-9841.