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I always knew Mommy as working in the Children’s Room at The South Orange Public Library. I don’t think she was working there when I was a baby, but I cannot remember a time when the library didn’t figure greatly in our lives. She was there when I was very little, and she was my Library School teacher in the old library, in the Connett Building.

What I remember from Library school is that we were very good children, and sat quietly and listened to my mother’s animated readings of the incredible stories that were out at that time. As a grandmother, I am sure that 3 and 4-year olds were far from very good, but I do know that at least most of us loved being read to, especially by someone like my mother who could turn a book reading into a one woman show. Some of my favorite children’s books were ones that she read, such as “And Rain Makes Applesauce”. I have the discarded library copy on my bookshelf; very probably the exact one that she read to us.

When the new library opened next door to the Connett Building, Mrs. Mary E. Vorwerk was hired as the Children’s Librarian…my mother’s boss. There was always a Halloween party in the room off of the Children’s Room, where my mother and Mrs. Vorwerk read to us. That is where I heard “Old Black Witch”, another book that I still love. There would be a mini-parade in the room, and prizes, and snacks.

In the summer the library had Reading Challenges. You would keep track of how many books you read on your chart in the library. Kids nowadays have Summer Reading to complete before they return to school. Schools didn’t give Summer assignments when I was a kid, but the library picked up the slack.

I remember the first time I ever won something, it was a jellybean contest at the library…how many jellybeans in the jar? I won a book of riddles. I loved that book, mostly because I won it. I told a lot of bad jokes to my family for a while, until the jokes were all told out.

Mommy worked at the library throughout my childhood and teenage years. When I was about 11, I started going upstairs for some books, and downstairs for some. Mommy and Mrs. Vorwerk continued with Library School and helping children learn to love to read. I still meet people today who tell me that my mother instilled in them the love of reading, and even some who say she nurtured their dreams through learning when they were children. A librarian is another important member of the village that helps your children to grow strong and wise.

The library seems to have always worked with the South Orange Historical Society, as they do with the South Orange Historical and Preservation Society now, and Mommy was there:

“Mary Vorwerk, of our library, volunteered to wear a Revolutionary costume as she watched over the exhibit and memorabilia. Elaine Marlowe volunteered her 10 children to man the postcard booths”

In 1980, I was 20 years old, and my Mom was still working in the Children’s Room. She started having a sore and hoarse throat, but just thought it would go away in a while. She waited for a month, and her throat and the hoarseness didn’t get better. So, she finally went to the doctor’s. After many tests, the answer came back. It was not a sore throat…it was ALS.

She continued to work in the library and the children continued to love her. She lost her voice, and it seemed she would not be able to work in the library anymore. But, children of the library held a benefit to raise money to buy a newly designed computer for my mother to use at the library. She could type into the computer, and it would speak for her! This was quite a miracle in 1981, and it meant she could continue working with the kids, whom she loved so well, and who loved her as much or more. Her computer had the same voice as Steven Hawking, and whenever I hear him use his synthesizer, I can still hear my Mom.

“Elaine Marlowe, who lost her speech because of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, continues her work as a children’s librarian, using a computer to tell stories complete with music, sound effects, different voices and even graphics. According to Ms. Marlowe, “If children can relate to ‘Star Wars’ and computers, they certainly can relate to their librarian talking through a speech synthesizer.””

http://tinyurl.com/zva5egd (posted 11/18/84. They were late. She passed 6/25/83.)

Sadly, Mommy lost her battle with ALS on June 25, 1983, and Mary Vorwerk passed in July 1985 (date from familysearch.org). (Karen and I remember that Mrs. Vorwerk passed from ALS also, but cannot find verification on the internet).

Congratulations to the South Orange Library on their 150th Birthday!




Comments on: "Mommy and The South Orange Public Library" (8)

  1. I remember your mother and her kindness. At about age 10, I nervously returned a very late book, having brought in all my saved coins to try to pay the late fees. She took one look at me and forgave the fees, wishing me a merry Christmas (I hope she didn’t get in trouble!); I still think of her when I take my kids to the library.

  2. Nancy Sullivan said:

    Once again, Meg, such a great writing talent. I remember your mother, too, from the library. Unfortunately, I moved to South Orange in 1977 so I didn’t have those lovely childhood library experiences with your mother. But her children are super giving people so I see her goodness shining through you all.

  3. Thomas Marlowe said:

    I remember Dad commenting that Mrs. Vorwerk told him that she also had ALS. But I don’t have any documentation either.

  4. There were lots of special people in SO as we grew up , you mother was one of them .

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