A Conversation with “Mr. Fred,” 86-Year-Old Learning to Read

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"Mr. Fred" Oliver, 86, after a morning of improving his reading and writing at the Literacy Council of Central Alabama.
"Mr. Fred" Oliver, 86, after a morning of improving his reading and writing at the Literacy Council of Central Alabama.

Dan Carsen, WBHM

Fred Oliver of Birmingham is 86 and a world traveler. He served in the Korean War, spent time in Japan, and has held more jobs than he can count. He loves to visit far-off places, but as we reported yesterday, his latest odyssey is close to home, at the Literacy Council of Central Alabama: he’s learning to read and write. Mr. Fred says he’s enjoyed the whole long adventure of his life, but the conversation starts on a sad note – losing a companion who’d helped him when life demanded reading and writing.

Listen above or read excerpts below.

 

FALLEN BEHIND, BUT CATCHING UP

“All my kids are real educated — I’m the only guy that’s behind the times.”

 

EMBARRASSED TO SEEK HELP WITH READING?

“No. No! I’m not embarrassed. I’m a man. I ain’t no wimp out here … I’m trying to pull myself up … If you’re dumb and you want to stay dumb, ain’t nothing I can tell ya. There’s help out here. You’re not living in the 1800s. So get out and help yourself. If you don’t help yourself, you’re lost.”

 

WORKING FROM (ALMOST) DAY ONE

“I started working at the City Ice Company … I was driving a truck at 10 years old, right up there on 22nd and Sixth Avenue.”

 

STAYING YOUNG

“I’m still learning. You’re never too old to learn … I’m 86 years old, and I love this school. If they close [the Literacy Council], I don’t know what I’d do … I love everybody here.”

 

You can learn more about adult illiteracy and the Literacy Council of Central Alabama’s work in Part One by clicking here.

“Mr. Fred” Oliver turns 87 on November 30. 

Literacy Council tutor James Mersmann, right, and Mr. Fred take a short break from lessons and good-natured trash talking.
Literacy Council tutor James Mersmann, left, and Mr. Fred take a break from lessons and good-natured trash talking.
Dan Carsen, WBHM