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Area library celebrates 100 years of reading

Nearly 80 years after assuming the juvenile librarian position, Martha Vaerst was recognized for her pioneer role at the Park Rapids Area Library. She earned $6 per month while studying to become a teacher. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)1 / 2
Mayor Nancy Carroll, right, presented branch manager Becky Walpole with a proclamation recognizing the library's adaptation to change while "maintaining the comfort and respect associated with the collection of books and inspiration and information they contain." (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)2 / 2

Local dignitaries, librarians, Friends of the Library and patrons gathered Wednesday to commemorate the Park Rapids Area Library's century of enhancing literacy.

Another (almost) centenarian sat in the audience, receiving a round of applause for her historical role at the library.

Longtime Park Rapids resident Martha Wade Vaerst, 97, was recognized as the first to serve as a juvenile section librarian in 1931, earning $6 a month ("not a week!" she corrected).

"I was 19 years old," she reflected. Vaerst was in training to teach in rural schools when her mom, librarian Cora Wade, recruited her for the newly created role. "I may not have gotten it otherwise," she said of her stroke of nepotistic luck.

Remarkably, she remembers the hours: 7 to 9 p.m. Monday and Wednesday and 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

First order of business each day was to rotate the stamp to reflect the due date (two weeks) for books and stoke the fire, if necessary.

The children's area of the Carnegie Library was a in a small area, she recalled. Her domain included a table and a card file - with no typewriter. "Cards were handwritten."

Books were geared to kids from preschool through junior high.

They were all decent, she recalled of Uncle Wiggily, the Bobbsey Twins, Peter Rabbit and, for older children, Black Beauty and mysteries.

"It was always fun. The kids were always excited about their books."

Three books could be checked out at a time. Fine was a penny a day for tardy returns. Magazines for kids were also available, and could be checked out after the new ones arrived.

Occasionally, her mother would issue a shhhhh, but kids and adults generally obeyed library protocol.

Vaerst recalls a strong literacy rate in the area, parents - long before television - read to children as their entertainment.

Vaerst's elementary teaching career took her to eastern Becker County, the Potter School south of town, Dorset, Laporte and Akeley.

She recalls reading "Little House on the Prairie," which debuted in 1935, in the classroom

She married at 26. The mother of two sons headed back to the classroom after her kids went to school, reading to her students part of the daily routine. She retired from teaching in 1968.

She moves with the aid of a walker, but her spirit is strong.

Legally blind, she uses a magnifier to complete crossword puzzles and read the Enterprise.

"I read the headlines," she said. "If I'm interested, I read the rest.

"Six dollars a month," Vaerst said. "That's how much I earned. But it was big money back in those days."