WASHINGTON — A woman who could barely read until she was 42 years old limped up to the Library of Congress and burst into tears at the end of a 3,414-mile walk across the United States to promote adult literacy.
Julie Kimball, 47, of Phoenix, Ariz., was greeted by John Y. Cole, director of the library's Center for the Book, which uses private donations to foster public interest in book reading.
Cole gave her a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses. At her request, a delivery man was waiting with a box of pizza for breakfast.
At midday, she met First Lady Barbara Bush, a prominent lobbyist for reading and literacy, at a luncheon sponsored by the National Adult Literacy Congress.
"My knees are like jelly," said Kimball, who wore out 16 pairs of walking shoes on the road toward Washington. She began her march April 20 in San Diego, Calif.
Kimball received a high school diploma and started a successful janitorial services company with 125 employees, even though she was unable to read or write above the second-grade level.
At 42, she began working with a tutor from the Maricopa County, Ariz., chapter of Literacy Volunteers of America, a nonprofit organization that co-sponsored her walk. Two years later, she was reading at an 11th-grade level and became a leading public advocate for adult literacy.
Kimball said she raised $2,600 in small contributions from people she met during her cross-country "On the Road for Reading" hike.
The funds will be deposited in the Julie Kimball Student Education Fund, which she started with her own money to help the estimated 27 million functionally illiterate Americans.