The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa


June 18, 2010

Local man takes on fight against illiteracy

PRINCETON — Bob Clausen, 61, of Princeton, was in his 30s when he learned to read.

Bob grew up in Clinton. He had difficulty in school and could not grasp reading. Bob said now he knows part of his problem was that he simply needed glasses. He said another part of his problem is dyslexia. When Bob was 10, after he had failed first grade once and the second grade twice, the school system told his parents he could not be taught.

Bob was sent to Baldwin School, where other children with learning and physical disabilities went. He said no one even attempted to teach the students how to read. Instead the students worked on arts and crafts all day.

“There was no learning things there, as far as maps or a globe of the world. There was strictly looms to make pot holders and rugs,” said Bob.

When he was 13, Bob convinced his parents that he did not belong at that school and they got him into St. John’s Lutheran School. He was placed in the fourth grade. At that time, his teacher noticed him having difficulty reading the blackboard and told him that he should have an eye exam. It was then discovered that he had myopia and astigmatism, which effected his vision.

Despite getting glasses and being able to see, Bob still could not read. He was too far behind and did not want anyone to know. He began memorizing words and faking his way through school. This is something he continued into adulthood.

“You learn to disguise that, to have things in life that everyone wants,” said Bob.

He said only his wife at the time knew that he could not read. When he would have paperwork involved with his job, he would bring it home at night and she would help him with it.

“And a lot of people see what I've done as — what I've done and other people that do this for survival — as trickery. And it wasn't ever meant to be. It's what you do to survive in a world of people that can read,” said Bob.

In the early 1980s, Bob decided he wanted to learn to read. He looked around the community and found a program at Clinton Community College.

“And I never thought a college would have programs like this,” said Bob.

Bob was paired with a teacher and spent three years learning to read.

“And one day, the light finally came on and away I went. I was just reading like anybody else,” said Bob.

Bob has spent the past 30 years working to help in the fight against illiteracy. After learning to read, Bob was featured in a story by 20/20. Through this recognition, he ended up on the Iowa Literacy Council. He is also a part of Value USA. Bob speaks publicly on the subject as well.

“Everybody thinks you're the only one that has this problem,” said Bob. “Then they find out there's a lot of people out there with their problem.”

Bob will work one-on-one with adults wanting to learn to read. He will set them up with a tutor and get them on the right path. Bob said last year he testified in front of Congress to represent the state of Iowa. He said Value USA works with Congress to try to free money for adult literacy. He said they also work to get people to understand the problem.

“And to get people to understand that because you have a reading problem, you're not stupid. As a matter of fact, these people are quite intelligent,” said Bob.

Bob has also recently written a book about his life and struggle with illiteracy, “An Illiterate in the Closet.” This book details his childhood in Clinton, his first marriage, learning to read, his divorce and his marriage to his high school sweetheart. Bob said the book is written for new readers, but does not insult a good reader. The book is available at a variety of book stores, including Book World, 321 Fifth Ave. South. Bob said he is working to organize a book signing at Book World.

Anyone wanting more information about Bob and his public speaking can visit

Bob said that people who never struggled with reading probably cannot understand what a gift it is to learn to read.

He said in some of his presentations, he will talk about “The Wizard of Oz.” Bob will talk about the wizard giving the Scarecrow, Tin Man and cowardly Lion the brains, heart and courage they felt was lacking.

Bob said he makes the point that the wizard does not give them anything they did not already have there.

“When you learn to read, you get your heart back. You get your brain back and you get your courage back. Because along the way, all those years growing up, it's taken away from you,” said Bob.

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