Literacy Heroes

for the
Great Valley Bookfest


Each and every day, ordinary people do extraordinary things to promote literacy in our communities. With these awards, we celebrate the selfless acts of three regional heroes who champion the cause of literacy in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.

Great Valley Bookfest has attracted recognition and support from community leaders, businesses, and regional news media. We’d like to use our “Literacy Hero Awards” to share that spotlight with hard-working people who promoting literacy in year-round programs. The awards were created to meet two goals:

  – to recognize people who go above and beyond to promote literacy programs in our region;

  – to bring media attention to the wonderful programs they support.


Do you know a real-life Literacy Hero? Please submit a nomination via our online form –


2016 Award Recipients:


2015 Award Recipients:




BRETT ASHMUN, recipient of the 2016 Literacy Hero Award
Each and every day, ordinary people do extraordinary things to promote literacy in our communities. With these awards, we celebrate the selfless acts of three regional heroes who champion the cause of literacy in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.
Brett Ashmun
Brett Ashmun is a 34-year-old educator who makes a real difference in the lives of those around him. As a faculty member at Stanislaus State and a consultant for the Great Valley Writing Project, he motivates and inspires learning by building genuine connections with human beings.
Brett cares deeply about others. In 2006, he volunteered with AmeriCorps NCCC and spent ten months providing relief to flood victims and tutoring in after school programs. His experiences in AmeriCorps had a major impact on his life, and it shaped the way he develops curriculum and the way he teaches in the classroom.
Instead of teaching memorization of facts and ideas, Ashmun focuses on improving the quality and the long-term impact of each learning experience. His lessons ask students to think and act through rousing real-life situations. Because positive relationships can dramatically increase motivation and learning, he pushes his students to form meaningful relationships with educators, with their peers, and with their community.
The students in Ashmun’s English composition course learn that writing is a community-based activity that can bridge differences in age, experiences, and perspectives. During the last school year, he took his students to a nearby nursing home to write poems about the residents, partnered them with fifth grade students to help them view their assignment through younger eyes, and introduced them to administrators at a homeless shelter to help them address serious issues with more awareness and sensitivity.
Many of his students volunteered to work beyond their writing assignments. Last year’s students organized a fund-raiser to support the “We Care” emergency shelter and support services for the homeless.
His teaching practices might seem radical, but most of his methods are based on educational philosophies and research that have been advocated by educational reformers for 150 years.
Ashmun believes that teaching students the importance of community, relationships, citizenship, and civility provides hope for a better future, and based on their responses, it seems that his students find hope as well.


CHARLIE HALFORD, recipient of the 2016 Literacy Hero Award
Each and every day, ordinary people do extraordinary things to promote literacy in our communities. With these awards, we celebrate the selfless acts of three regional heroes who champion the cause of literacy in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.
Charles (Charlie) Halford has lived in the greater Manteca/Lathrop area all his life and has been involved with numerous activities that have improved our community.
Charlie is a 1972 graduate of East Union High School; he received a BA degree in Criminal Justice from Cal State Sacramento in 1976. He then graduated from the Police Academy and became a USMC Certified Marksman. He had a long and distinguished career in the police force, earning two letters of commendation, the Manteca Police Officer of the Year award, and the Meritorious Service Award for rescuing two children in a fire. In 1991, he graduated from the FBI Academy, and from 1997-2007, he served as Chief of Police.
Time is very valuable for Charlie, but he is more than generous in his volunteer capacity. He has served as an officer or on the Board of Directors for many nonprofit agencies, including: The Boys & Girls Clubs of Manteca/Lathrop, United Way of San Joaquin County, Doctors Hospital of Manteca; Give Every Child A Chance, and Great Valley Bookfest. He has served on innumerable committees to address the needs of local youth and families, and he is an active member of the Manteca Rotary.
From its inception, Charlie has been an invaluable member of the Great Valley Bookfest leadership team. Without his expertise and boundless energy, this event could never have achieved such rapid growth and popular success. As the Chairman of the Event Planning and Logistics committee, he is a central figure: advising the committee on legal regulations, traffic flow, and safety issues; negotiating many of the permits required for the event; organizing and supervising the early morning set-up for dozens of tents and trucks. He never hesitates to help in smaller ways, too – posting advertising signs, contacting community partners for donations, or just running errands.
This year, Charlie had to miss the Bookfest event because of a family wedding… but he did not leave anything to chance. He worked diligently from January through October and did everything possible to ensure that the 2016 Bookfest ran smoothly.
Charles Halford’s efforts have significantly transformed the Manteca/Lathrop community into a friendlier, more vibrant, and better-educated community – and that makes him a true Literacy Hero.


VERAY WICKHAM, recipient of the 2016 Literacy Hero Award
Each and every day, ordinary people do extraordinary things to promote literacy in our communities. With these awards, we celebrate the selfless acts of three regional heroes who champion the cause of literacy in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.
Veray Wickham
Veray Wickham was born in Ohio, but like so many families after WWII, she moved to California in 1955, settling down in San Joaquin County in 1960. She likes to quote JK Rowling: “Wherever I am, if I’ve got a book with me, I have a place I can go and be happy.”
A proud bookworm and history geek, Veray has been passionate about literacy in all its broad forms since childhood. Pouring over an encyclopedia and atlas with her dad as a child to anxiously awaiting the next Harry Potter book as an adult, she surrounds her life with the joy of reading every day.
As Executive Director of the Volunteer Center of San Joaquin from 1990-96, she trained volunteer coordinators and recruited volunteers for non-profit organizations throughout San Joaquin County, including a wide variety of programs designed to encourage literacy in people of all ages.
As Community Involvement Coordinator at San Joaquin County Office of Education, Veray managed a wide variety of grants that engaged educators in connecting their students, kindergarten through higher education, to their communities. She was the Regional Lead for a five county area providing resources for educators engaged in Service Learning, a teaching strategy that uses service projects that directly connect with classroom curriculum goals. Many service activities centered on improving reading levels in students. Older students reading with younger ones not only helped the tutee, but dramatically increased the reading level of the tutors.
The joy for Veray was being able to connect her love of reading to her passion for history. Her assignment as Regional History/Social Studies Lead and the Congressional District Coordinator for the Center for Civic Education provided her a view of the power of challenging students to a higher level of historic literacy.  Not only did these students know what The Federalist Papers are but could quote and argue them!  Obviously they and their teachers would appreciate Harper Lee’s quote “The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one that makes you think.”
Writing, being the flip-side of reading on the literacy coin, requires the ability to spell! Veray has been the San Joaquin County Spelling Bee Spell Master for 15+ years. It has been an adventure to learn tricky pronunciations, keep saying the word exactly the same numerous times in a row, and smiling kindly at the kids on shaky legs when first up to the podium.
Recently retired from the San Joaquin County Office of Education, Veray is now devoting her energies to being a docent at the San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum and engaging in and supporting Stockton Institute for Continued Learning (SICL) at Delta College. And, of course, spending many hours reading!





RUTHANNE BASSETT, recipient of the 2015 Literacy Hero Award



Ruthanne Bassett’s life reflects her love of working with children, and with the public in general, in both classroom and library settings.  

She started volunteering at the Manteca Library when she attended Manteca High in the 1960s.

Although she earned a college degree in agricultural studies, she decided to pursue a career path that allowed her to share her love of books and knowledge.

For two years, she taught fourth- and sixth-grade classes at Neil Hafley School in Manteca Unified School District. She also worked as a substitute teacher at various schools in the district.

She spent 15 years working as an assistant librarian for the Stockton-San Joaquin County Library System. The first three years were at the Cesar Chavez main library in Stockton; the last twelve years at the Manteca Public Library.

“I followed my heart, and I’m glad I did, because I’ve enjoyed it,” she said of being an assistant librarian. She liked the diversity of her workplace which had her working at the reference desk, helping with setting up programs, and leading Story Time for young children.

Ruthanne is also a committee chairperson and a key volunteer at the Great Valley Bookfest in Manteca. She organizes and manages the Children’s Theater at the annual event, and she shares a wealth of knowledge with other committee members. Her contributions have helped to make the regional Bookfest a huge success.

Although Bassett retired from the library in January, she continues to enjoy the best of her academic and professional worlds. She still works part-time hours at the library, volunteering her time to maintain popular library programs that she previously provided as a paid employee.

“This library is my home,” she says matter-of-factly, by way of an explanation.



JENNIFER TORRES – Literacy Hero Award – 2015 recipient



Jennifer Torres is an author, community leader, and literacy advocate who has actively influenced the development of programs for education and youth in San Joaquin County. Originally from Southern California, Jennifer has lived in Stockton for the past 10 years with her husband, David, and daughters, Alice and Soledad.

She currently works at University of the Pacific, where she coordinates the Beyond Our Gates initiative, working alongside community partners to improve early literacy across our region. She serves as a board member in numerous community organizations, including: El Concilio Council for the Spanish Speaking (a Stockton-based organization that provides a range of social services to individuals throughout the San Joaquin Valley); San Joaquin A+ (a nonprofit organization that supports and enhances education by promoting collaboration among education, nonprofit, and business organizations); and the YMCA of San Joaquin County (a nonprofit organization that provides developmental, enrichment, and recreational opportunities to children).

Before joining Pacific, Jennifer worked as a reporter for The Record newspaper, covering education, diversity, children and families. During her tenure, she launched, organized, and managed the High School Journalism Awards, the newspaper’s annual contest honoring the work of outstanding high school journalists.

She continues to lead workshops for journalism students on feature writing, source development, and other key topics.

She has been honored for education and youth reporting by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, and she received the Action on Behalf of Children Award from the Family Resource and Referral Center in recognition for media coverage benefiting children in San Joaquin County.

Torres is the author of “Finding the Music,” a bilingual  picture book, inspired in part by the San Joaquin County community and published this spring by Lee & Low Books. Her middle-grade novel, “Stef Soto, Taco Queen,” is due out from Little, Brown in winter 2016.



HARRY BAKKER, recipient of 2015 Literacy Hero Award



Harry Bakker, an author and retired educator, spent his life championing reading, writing, and full educational access for all citizens in his community.

Originally a junior high school teacher in the Modesto City Schools, Mr. Bakker became director of Instructional Materials Center (IMC) at the Stanislaus County Office of Education in 1974. He was promoted to Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in 1991, retired in 1999, and returned to work as Associate Superintendent of Educational Services for Modesto City Schools in 2000.   

Mr. Bakker authored California’s Story, a fourth grade work text, published by Steck Vaughn. Additionally, he authored a Stanislaus County history unit used for many years by third grade students throughout Stanislaus County.

He served as Director of the California Instructional Video Clearinghouse from its inception in 1986 through 1991, assuming the responsibility for the evaluation of thousands of instructional videos. The Clearinghouse identified high-quality instructional videos to support California’s curriculum standards and arranged statewide duplication rights for selected titles.

Mr. Bakker was one of the authors of a half-million dollar innovative research and developmental cooperative project with Encyclopedia Britannica, a plan designed to develop a digitally interactive videodisc and CD-ROM programs for English Language Learners.

Additionally, he was a major writer of Project Riverbank, a five-year, $2,200,000 School-to-Work grant. During his tenure, Mr. Bakker’s grant-writing skills brought millions of dollars of resources to school districts in Stanislaus County.

Although he retired in 2003, Mr. Bakker continues to promote literacy as a volunteer and financial contributor.
Bakker still serves as Spelling Master for the Stanislaus County Spelling Championships, annual contests that offer enrichment and challenge for elementary and junior high students.

He continues to serve as an active board member at Learning Quest/Stanislaus Literacy Center, a nonprofit organization that provides adult literacy programs, GED preparation, prison education programs, and family literacy programs for parents who need to improve their English and want to be better able to read to their child and/or help their child with homework.

Harry and his wife, Donna Bakker, are ongoing supporters of nonprofit educational organizations, including Learning Quest programs, Education Foundation of Stanislaus County, and the American Heritage Scholarship Program.

Over the years, Bakker’s efforts have transformed public education in our region, and he continues to help individuals, families, and schools in their shared quest to create a more literate community.



GVBF Logo Square

Great Valley Bookfest Awards Recipients
October 17, 2014


2014 Award Recipients:

• Sally Hale
• Karen Williams
• Gary Dei Rossi


Literacy Hero: Sally Hale


Sally Hale is a literacy advocate who spent 28 years in public education as a classroom teacher, mentor teacher, curriculum consultant, and staff development leader. Since her retirement, Sally has filled many important roles in local schools and nonprofit programs:

• She supports classroom teachers by organizing professional development events and sharing instructional resources through Great Valley Writing Project at California State University Stanislaus.

• She voluntarily provides one-on-one coaching and after-school assistance to help teachers improve reading and writing instruction in their classrooms.

• She provides learning opportunities for young writers by filling important leadership roles at GVWP Writing & Technology Workshops (a series of summer writing programs for K-12 students).

• She helped create and enrich after-school literacy programs for students at Sequoia Elementary in Manteca, helping these “Tiger Writers” to publish an award-winning book.

• She contributes many hours to the Escalon Public Library; she also volunteers at the Escalon Historical Society, where she has arranged classroom presentations and field trips for local students.

• As a founding member of Great Valley Bookfest, Sally helped establish Bookfest collaborations with public libraries. She organizes many important Bookfest activities, including workshops for teachers, programs for aspiring writers, and recognition for student authors.

Sally’s countless hours of volunteer work have created unique learning opportunities for children, teachers, and adult citizens in south San Joaquin county. She exemplifies the spirit of a Literacy Hero, and we are proud to be able to honor her with this award.


Literacy Hero: Karen Williams


For the past 18 years, Karen Williams has served as the executive director of LearningQuest—Stanislaus Literacy Center. Under Karen’s leadership, the program has grown from a budget of $68,000 with two part-time employees to a budget of over $1.8 million with 55 employees. The organization, which served just 50 adults per year in 1996, now serves over 1300 adults annually.

• In 1998, Stanislaus Literacy Center added their first Family Literacy Program and a Drop-In Learning Center.

• In 2001, the Literacy Center partnered with Stanislaus County Library to form “Reading Works.” The partnership has been so productive that Stanislaus County now receives the largest library literacy grant in the state.

• Over the years, programs have expanded to provide a variety of GED preparation courses and English classes for non-native speakers.

• This year, LearningQuest and the Stanislaus County Office of Education launched Destination Graduation, offering adults of any age the opportunity to attend classes with credentialed teachers to earn the credits needed for a high school diploma.

• For her achievements, Williams was honored with a MEDAL fellowship from California Literacy; she was also chosen as the 2005 Literacy Network’s recipient of the Jean and Clyde Dunlap Award. Karen’s dedicated efforts have helped to provide thousands of adults with new confidence and career opportunities, empowering them to redefine their lives – and the lives of their children – through literacy.



Literacy Hero: Dr. Gary Dei Rossi


Gary Dei Rossi has spent 38 years as a highly respected and admired educator: first, in public schools, and later at San Joaquin County Office of Education.


• He continues to promote literacy through his work in “First 5” (the San Joaquin County Children & Families Commission), San Joaquin A+ (a partnership between business and education to improve literacy), Teachers College of San Joaquin, California State University Stanislaus, and University of the Pacific.

• He has also served on educational advisory committees for the Farm Bureau, Head Start, Stockton Civic, the Haggin Museum, and Great Valley Bookfest.

• He received Congressional attention for his work in “Operation Recognition,” a program that awarded high school diplomas to veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and to Japanese internees.

• He has co‐authored two books that help educators teach students about the history of San Joaquin County.

• His wife, Katherine, served as an elementary teacher in public schools for over 30 years, and both of their children are teachers.

Over the years, Dr. Dei Rossi’s tireless efforts have transformed public education in our region, and he continues to help teachers, parents, students, and school administrators in their quest to create a more literate and better-informed community. We commend him for his many contributions, and we are pleased to be able to honor him as a Literary Hero.



For more information, contact Michele Davis ~ michele [@]