'Never had the chance to go to school'

GREAT FALLS -- Allan Broome is a mechanically savvy man who lacks a basic skill that his hands can't fix.

He can't read.

Broome, a 58-year-old Blackstock resident, quit going to school in the fifth grade. His father needed him to help work the fields of their Lancaster County farm.

"Never had the chance to go to school," he said.

He started working at a Lancaster cotton mill at age 15. Then he moved to the J.P. Stevens Mill No. 1 in Great Falls, where he worked for more than a dozen years fixing machines.

That's where he met his wife, the woman who read him contracts and explained important documents to him.

She has a 10th-grade education.

Broome went to Springs after J.P. Stevens closed and worked for that company until he was laid off from the Katherine Plant in September 2006.

"It was tough," he said. "When they shut the mills down, I went everywhere trying to find a job."

After a year of unsuccessfully searching for work, Broome decided learning to read was the only way he could get a job. So, he signed up for reading classes through the Chester County Literacy Council.

He's been studying for a few months at the Great Falls Community Center. He said he's "getting better and better," understanding more words.

"I seen on TV there was this guy, 75 years old, and couldn't read a lick," Broome said. "He went back to school and got his high school diploma. ... It gives me hope."

Broome has always wanted to read a newspaper. He's picked them up before, identified the words he knew and wished he could make sense of the others.

But reading is more than a luxury now. He needs another job. He understands machines, but that's not good enough anymore. He must master words. He's determined to do so.

"I'm not going to give up," he said. "I'm definitely not going to give up."