The founder of the Little Free Library movement has died. Todd Bol was 62 and had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
A St. Croix Valley native, Bol was born in North St. Paul and went to Stillwater High School. He was a serial entrepreneur, founding companies that created nursing fellowships and a health care staffing company.
But he was most famous for an inspiration that came after he lost his job in 2009. After setting up a home office for his next venture, he cut up a discarded garage door to build a model of a one-room schoolhouse in tribute to his teacher mother, who died in 2001. He set up the tiny library in his front yard and filled it with her books.
In May, 2010, he had a garage sale, but the bookcase — later to become the first Little Free Library — was the main attraction, Bol said in an interview with MPR News in 2015. Bol scrounged up more scrap materials and started building them in earnest, and sold one and gave away about 30 more the first year.
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Since then, the idea has become a worldwide phenomenon. Today, there are 75,000 Little Free Libraries in 88 countries around the world. The nonprofit business based in Hudson, Wis., has a staff of about a dozen.
Bol's younger brother, Tony, said the growth really demonstrated what he called his brother's genius. "He has always used the phrase, he's a social entrepreneur. And the Little Free Libraries are more like a movement than a market. He's more in the creating mindset than the selling mindset."
Tony Bol said his brother was nonetheless a true evangelist for the effort, incorporating social networking, woodworking, literacy programs, and a host of other disciplines. He said Todd Bol's enthusiasm for the idea and the reaction it got were at the heart of the idea's success and global reach.
"He just loved the thing so much, and he resonated joy as he talked about it. It was infectious and that worked," Bol said.
Todd Bol had only recently become ill, but entered hospice care in recent days. He is survived by his wife, Susan, and adult children, Austin and Allison.
In a statement, his children said their father was "generous, goofy, and kind" and he taught them to be kind to others.
"To many he was an innovator and genuine change maker. To us, he was dad. We will miss him always," they said.