Seymour graduate works on building his library


The widow of a former state senator from Jasper recently helped a 2023 Seymour High School graduate with his goal of building a home library of 1,000 books.

“Books have always been an important safe space for me. Growing up, my family and I never had a lot of disposable income, so my books became my vacations,” Paul Bontrager said. “Through them, I have traveled to France and Russia, miles below sea level and light years away from Earth. I have traveled to alternate realities and back in time. Books have taken me far.

“So it should come as no surprise that I want to spend my life guiding students to their own literary journeys,” he said. “Without books and the important stories and lessons they hold, we simply cannot learn. We need books to share ideas and to gain insight on one another.”

Bontrager talked about his desire to establish a home library of 1,000 books in a story in the April 17 edition of The Tribune about Drop Everything and Read Day at Seymour High School.

Seymour resident Trish Whitcomb read that article and contacted her friend, Teresa Kendall of Jasper, whose husband and former state senator, Mike Kendall, had died at the age of 74 on April 17, 2022, after a brief illness. Over his lifetime, he had amassed a collection of more than 8,000 books.

Whitcomb said Teresa agreed to allow Bontrager and his mother, Cathy, to visit her home and select some books from her husband’s collection.

On July 15, Bontrager and his mother traveled to Teresa’s home. Whitcomb also was on hand for the visit.

“My husband was a well-educated amateur historian with deep interest in political philosophy as well as the events that shaped our country,” Teresa said. “He would be very pleased to know that his library will live on in Paul’s education and his future career as an educator.”

She said it’s a happy coincidence Bontrager is attending Indiana State University, which is where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Teresa is a retired educator who now works in the admissions office of Vincennes University’s regional campus in Jasper.

Mike Kendall earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history and political science and a law degree while attending the University of Notre Dame in South Bend.

“Books are sacred. No matter what ideas they hold, they must be protected,” Bontrager said. “Without them, we would lose good ideas to time, and we would be doomed to repeat past mistakes for there would be no record of those mistakes to warn us.

“As I stood in the room where I was given the opportunity to find a few paperback treasures of my own, I looked around me,” he said. “I saw books of all kinds — books about dictators and civil rights leaders, books about history and about the future, books about reality and books about fiction. Everywhere I looked, I saw books.”

He said he understood, in order to truly be a scholar as he hopes to be, one cannot simply read books on only one topic or from only one point of view.

To be a scholar, he said one must be able to understand all ideas, no matter how evil or insane, and more importantly, those ideas must be remembered and preserved so that they may be referenced and looked upon in the future.

“However, it is not enough for a few of us to simply do the reading and studying of ideas and knowledge for the masses,” he said. “Instead, the bastions of knowledge and ideas should be kept available to all people at all times so that anyone may have the opportunity to learn as long as they wish to seek knowledge.”

Bontrager said he plans to have an associate degree in general education by the end of this summer.

“I’ll be going to Indiana State University in the fall to finish up my secondary education,” he said. “The goal is to come back here to teach English and theater.”

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