Woman’s life shaped by books and reading
April 9, 2013 12:58PM
Dick and Kathy Burgess | Jeff Manes~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 11, 2013 6:08AM
“And the walls became the world all around.”
— Maurice Sendak, from “Where the Wild Things Are”
Kathy Burgess is the wife of Dick Burgess, who appeared in my Sunday column. Like her husband, she is retired from the Gary Public Library system. The Burgesses live in Glen Park.
“I’m from Kalamazoo, Mich.,” Burgess began. “It was a snow belt, so many of my memories are of shoveling the walk and winter sports.”
Dick told me that you met at Western Michigan University and earned your master’s degrees in library science at the University of Michigan. At which library in Gary did you work?
“I was the children’s librarian at the main library for a long time.”
Did you like your job?
“Oh, yes, very much. Eventually, I became an adjunct teacher at Indiana University Northwest. I taught in the library science department for several years.”
Job-related changes through the years?
“Like any other profession, you have to be up on the latest technology. The public responds to technology as well. You go into any library today and you will find rows and rows of computers. That’s nice because there are people who don’t have a computer at home.”
Name a few children’s books or authors that were really popular with the kids.
“Almost anything done by Maurice Sendak. He had the knack of being able to express how children felt. One of his books has been changed into an opera. He later went on to scene-designing for the performing arts. He was into everything.
“Sendak also did a series of tiny books, like 3-inches by 5-inches, it was called the Nutshell Library. He is deceased, but his books remain extremely popular. Have you ever heard of the title ‘Where the Wild Things Are’”?
Sounds like quite a guy. He wrote and did the artwork for his books?
I’m more familiar with: One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, this one has a little car, this one has a little star — see how many fish there are?
“Dr. Seuss. Our youngest grandson is into all that right now.”
The good stuff stands the test of time.
“When I was teaching, one of my definitions for students was that a good children’s book is one that a parent can stand to read over and over and over.”
Kathy, I had a grandmother with whom I spent a lot of time. She always read to me. It stuck with me, I guess.
“My four children were born close together. I always had a big chair; it was a rocker. While I fed one of them in my arms, I read to another that was cuddled in next to me.
“My son learned to read from ‘Peter Rabbit’ because each page started with a large capital letter. He picked that up by himself. Our youngest son still goes around quoting various things from ‘Peter Rabbit.’”
What about you? What do you read for enjoyment?
“I love mysteries. Catherine Coulter and John Grisham are two of my favorite authors.”
I’ve been told you’re quite the raconteur.
“Oh, yes. I’m still into that.”
When did you take up storytelling?
“Good heavens, I started before I was in college. I just picked it up on my own. I was professional enough that the system in Kalamazoo picked it up while I was working as a page. As a clerk, they let me do the story hours. So, I belonged to all the branches. I loved it.”
Kathy, where I came from, near the Kankakee River, kids my age didn’t have kindergarten. But we did have story hour at little Lake Village Memorial Library. My story hour “teacher” was a 90-year old American Indian woman who lived in a former chicken coop near the library. I was fascinated by Mrs. Louden’s story hour.
“Over the years, story hours have been changing along with the knowledge of how a child develops. We have story hours for toddlers where we read very short stories and nursery rhymes to them. We have simple instruments for them to play like drums or triangles. Then we have what is called preschool story hour which is a step up from that. Of course, now you have adult story hours where you go into assisted living homes.”
Do you do that as well?
“Yes. I tell adults children’s stories. I don’t necessarily tell famous stories, but rather stories that I like to tell and that I can tell well. If it’s a story that the storyteller loves, his or her inflections or feelings will come out.”
You attend St. Mark Catholic Church here in Gary.
“Yes, Dick and I are lay ministers. St. Mark is one of the older churches; it’s members are primarily Hispanic. Each weekend we have a Spanish Mass, which is a joyful and warm Mass.”
Thoughts about this neighborhood?
“We’ve been very blessed where we settled. It’s a very stable neighborhood. The people who live next door to us on the left, for example. We watched them move in and raise their children. Now, we watch their grandchildren; they’ve been there that long.
“The people across the alley from us came over immediately when they moved in and introduced themselves. All these neighbors have been very conscious of the aging process. We used to be the youngest couple in the neighborhood, now we’re the oldest. Some mornings, I get up and my entire walk is shoveled by the man next door.”
Kathy, those are stories from the “‘hood” that don’t make the front page or the six o’clock news.
“I think we need to work on our similarities rather than our differences. We lived in an upper flat in Detroit and there was a young doctor and his family that lived below us. They were from Iran. We learned so much from one another.
“He was trying (laughs) to get his wife used to American ways. She was pretty much sticking to what she had learned in her upbringing. He’d say to me: ‘Now, when you make something, you bring it down. She has to learn to eat chili; she has to learn to make spaghetti.’ She’d bring up chicken dishes for Dick and me.”
You can’t get much more American than chili or spaghetti.
Kathy and Dick Burgess love the arts and have season tickets to both the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Street Theatre in Valparaiso.
Kathy has read the news on air for the blind and brings communion and compassion to hospital patients.
Kathy and Dick Burgess.
Salt of the earth.