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August 12, 2006

Wikipedia founder, Huntsville native Jimmy Wales, finds fame ‘really cool’

Doris Wales’ husband, Jimmy, wasn’t sure what she was thinking when she bought a set of World Book Encyclopedia from a traveling salesman in 1968. After all, their first-born son, also named Jimmy, was not yet 3.

“At the time, my husband said ‘I’m glad you got them, but don’t you think he’s a little bit young?’ but I wanted to have those,” said Mrs. Wales, a former educator who is now a pharmacist at Publix on Madison Boulevard.

More than 37 years later, Mrs. Wales’ purchase seems predestined.

Little Jimmy began reading at 4, and looked forward to receiving an envelope each year from World Book. Inside were stickers that encyclopedia owners could place on pages to update information.

“If someone discovered a new planet, or when they developed space shuttles, the original books we bought didn’t have all that in it,” Mrs. Wales said. So she and little Jimmy would update the books, learning as they carefully placed the stickers.

Learning would become a lifelong love.

Little Jimmy is Jimmy Donal Wales, 40, founder of Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia that has intrigued the world and brought him dozens of honors and accolades, including being named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in May.

Geek seeks new frontiers

Born in Huntsville in 1966, Wales was taught in his childhood by his mother and grandmother, Erma. The women owned and operated House of Learning Elementary School, where as few as four students might be enrolled in each grade.

At the time, Huntsville had come into prominence as the incubator for missile development at Redstone Arsenal and space research at Marshall Space Flight Center, which opened as a NASA facility in 1960.

Wales was a month shy of his third birthday when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969, and the excitement of living in the Rocket City stayed with him.

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