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Sister Stephanie Helfrich still refers to the West Toledo Branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library as “my library,” and why shouldn’t she? In 1940, as a first grader at St. Agnes School, she developed a love of books at that branch.
“The first day I could do it, I got a library card so I could take books out,” said the 78-year-old Ursuline nun who has kept library Summer Reading Club memorabilia for years. Sister Stephanie, a retired health insurance coordinator and elementary school teacher and administrator, still does spiritual direction and retreats and volunteers at the Catholic Diocese.
Formerly Dorothy Helfrich, Sister Stephanie is among the tens of thousands of children who have been library reading club members through the years. The club will be at least a century old in another decade and information about it was first recorded in 1924, Nancy Eames, library youth services coordinator, said.
Successfully engaging children in reading during the summer months prompted the library to expand the club, which added teenagers in 2001. That year, more than 300 high school students participated, while 11,200 students from preschool to eighth grade were in it, she said.
In 2007, the addition of an adult summer club drew 3,400 adults; 2,700 students in seventh to 12th grades, and 13,700 preschool and grade school children. A club for reading to babies and toddlers started in 2011, making the total of club members that year 18,900.
Last summer, 18,400 people took part in the reading club, including 16,000 children and teens. Children read 60,600 hours and adults and teens read 28,500 books.
About 12,000 readers have already registered for this summer’s programs.
Reading instills in young children a desire for lifelong learning. That’s what it did for Sister Stephanie and Jules Schwartz, another Toledoan. Sister Stephanie fondly recalls Miss Knox, the children’s librarian at the time, and the tactile sensation of holding a book.
“I loved the library since the first day I could print my name and got my library card,” she said. She has a reading club certificate dated 1942, when she finished the second grade. “I was there all the time, taking books out and back, and hanging around.
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“Sometimes I still go back to West Toledo just to go back,” she said, adding that parents and teachers should get children in the Summer Reading Club.
That’s exact ly what Mr. Schwartz — who went to Fulton School and graduated from Scott High School in 1967 — said about his summer reading experiences. While he most recently worked at Merck Research Laboratories and is now retired, he keeps up his pharmacy license and continues his interest in therapeutics and clinical pharmacology.
“My mother introduced me to that program in about the first or second grade,” he said. “Participating in it made me do more reading than I would have done otherwise. It probably enhanced my vocabulary development, and helped me build a good relationship with my parents and allowed for a bit of an intellectual relationship that continued to grow from there.”
He said it’s vital for parents to be involved in their children’s reading interests.
“Absolutely it’s important,” Mr. Schwartz said. “Getting introduced to reading as I did, I would say for anyone it would likely open up worlds of knowledge and optimize life experiences, in professions, relaxation, or as a consumer. It’s an important tool that has to be developed early, and the library offers opportunities for that.”
The library Summer Reading Club is under way and runs through Aug. 10. Interested participants can obtain a registration form from their neighborhood library, or register online at src.toledolibrary.org.
The library’s summer reading clubs, challenges, and rewards are:
● Read to Me, for infants to 3-year-olds. There’s a prize for every 10 books that adults read to children this age, with a three-prize limit.
● Kids Club, for preschoolers through fifth grade. Youngsters get a prize for registering and can earn more prizes for reading up to 12 hours.
● Teen Club, for sixth to 12th graders who get a registration gift and are also eligible for a prize each week.
● Even those in the Adult Club get a registration prize and are eligible for additional drawings.
Contact Rose Russell at: