After accident, Children’s School librarian returns to job she loves

Provided photo
Lynn Moschel, pictured with her husband Rich, reads to the students at Children’s School once a week.

It’s a Wednesday, and librarian Lynn Moschel is reading to Group 1 at Children’s School. She holds up a book called Bats at the Library, rotating it around for the 6-year-olds in the front row on their knees, some pointing at the illustrations, all matching her cheer.

It’s something the 16-year librarian does best.

These days, Lynn visits the Children’s School only once a week. A few years ago, she was the school’s full-time librarian, in charge of keeping their bibliography (a 500-item collection). She spent the off-season flipping through best-selling children’s books in bookstores and libraries, matching selections with the weekly themes and her own expertise. If she swore by a certain book, she’d make sure to order it.

It was her mother, Miriam Goodman, she said, who bestowed a love of reading on her daughter. She would take Lynn to the library as a girl, and soon enough, Lynn was working in one. Before starting her role at Children’s School in 1997, when she and her husband Rich began spending full summers at Chautauqua, Lynn worked for 20 years at the Amherst Public Library in Buffalo, New York, managing children’s programming. After the Everett Jewish Life Center was built, Rich made his wife the librarian. Above all else, it’s a love for reading that Lynn aims to bestow on the “youngsters” she loves interacting with.

“If you don’t read, if you don’t keep yourself informed, you are going to have a hard time in the world today,” she said in a 2009 edition of The Chautauquan Daily.

Kit Trapasso, the director of Children’s School and a longtime friend of Lynn, found her more than qualified to be the school’s first librarian.

“She is still such an amazing storyteller,” Trapasso said. “And Lynn has an extensive knowledge of children’s literature. And she brings this wealth of knowledge to the school.”

But last year, Lynn’s presence at the school faded.

On Jan. 14, 2013, Rich came home to the Moschels’ winter house in Cincinnati from walking their new dog Maggie to find Lynn face down on the floor. A few minutes before, she was climbing the second-floor stairs with a book when she tripped and fell backwards. Rich, a volunteer firefighter, immediately called 911. The Wyoming Fire Department rushed Lynn with a neck brace to the Level 1 Trauma Center at the Cincinnati University Hospital.

Lynn was paralyzed for five days due to a severe spinal cord injury. The left side of her body remained immobile due to a massive swelling. When the test results came in, doctors told her that she suffered an “incomplete spinal cord injury.” If it was complete, Lynn said, she would have been paralyzed for life.

“Thank goodness some things were good about it,” she said.

Family and friends responded instantly.

Lynn remembers waking up one afternoon to a collage of over 50 “Get Well Soon” cards that spanned “three walls of the room.” The number of Chautauquans who traveled during the off-season to visit — many of them multiple times — surprised her. With support from Rich and her friends and family, Lynn promised herself she’d maintain strength to recovery.

Out of the hospital, Lynn began rehabilitation therapy in the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, which specializes in spinal cord injuries. She could never be left alone. She spent four weeks in intensive therapy, relearning how to walk, sit up, feed herself. After a month, doctors were proud of her progress.

Lynn remembers the warm reception she received when she returned to Chautauqua for a week during the 2013 season. It was when the librarian visited the Children’s School that she had her most emotional reaction.

“They had this big surprise party for me,” she said. “It was so nice. And they sang the ‘Children’s School Song’ for me. I said, of course, that I’d be back next year.”

And she was.

This season, surrounded by her fellow Chautauquans, Lynn is making progress, which she said she owes to those around her.

“This community has been so amazing to us I can’t even begin to tell about all the wonderful things,” she said.

Lynn said that neighbors drop food off on her porch daily. Others help by walking Maggie, stopping by to say hello and checking in with Rich. When the Moschels returned to their house on the Fourth of July, they found friends waiting to help them unpack, make up their beds and stock their refrigerator. The Chautauqua Volunteer Fire Department even built the ramp in front.

Yet Lynn still has a long way to recovery, and “only time will tell” how long it will take, as her husband said. Rich takes her to the Health and Wellness Center every morning, where she works with a trainer to improve her walking ability, leg strength and sitting functionality. Her trainer, Josh Long, said that, in his eight summers at the Institution, he’s never had a patient so resilient.

“Lynn is a remarkably driven individual and works harder than most anyone that I’ve seen,” he said. “At getting to do the things in life that most of us wouldn’t blink an eye at: walking to a lecture, getting dressed, doing dishes. And she’s really a fantastic person on top of that.”

Just recently, Lynn experienced a breakthrough moment at the Wellness Center at the end of the two-hour session, Long said. She had just pulled off a certain point in a low-seated position that warranted, the trainer said, “tears of joy” from both parties.

“I had to walk away for a moment,” he said.

Marilyn Mock, former president of the Chautauqua Women’s Club, who has known the Moschels for many years, commends Lynn for her resilience and Rich for his perseverance.

“There are some people that get a toothache and may feel let down,” Mock said. “But it’s due to Lynn’s own inner strength, I think, that she was able to come back like she did.”

Many Chautauquans, the Moschels said, still to this day come up to either of them in the plaza or the post office — many say that “they’ve been following Lynn’s story” since she had the accident.

Many, Rich said, he’s never met before.

Although she is only reading a once a week at the Children’s School, Lynn seems to have the energy required to enliven and entertain the most animated of 5- and 6-year-olds. It’s interacting with the kids over the stories she reads that she said makes all the difference, along with her husband’s care and the love of her community that “is so hard to explain to others” outside of Chautauqua.

“We are just made to feel so good [here],” she said. “I always thought this before this happened to me. This experience, and being Chautauquans — the outpouring is just amazing.”

And the support continues at 6:15 p.m. today at the Hurlbut Church Social Hall, where Lynn and Rich Moschel will be honored by the Hebrew Congregation “for their extraordinary service both to the congregation and to Chautauqua.” Rich will also be celebrated for his work as a volunteer firefighter, his service to the Congregation, and for other involvement in Chautauqua’s Jewish community. Friends of the Moschels will be present to commend the honorees.

As the season at Chautauqua nears its end, Lynn said that she is repeatedly optimistic about the future. She plans “to be eventually out of her chair,” and return as the full-time librarian at the Children’s School. Following the recent breakthrough with trainer Long, she told him that she feels she may be ready to walk up her front porch steps on her own, sooner than later.

“Next year,” she told him, “I want the ramp gone.”