Mary Michener was destined for greatness as an inquisitive second-grader growing up in California, rewarded with a gold star by her teacher for reading 22 books. She loved seeing the words and stories come alive before her eyes, and often read a book while on her way to school.
Michener's passion for reading and learning burns stronger than ever now as a volunteer at the Lawrence Public Library. After owning Adventure Bookstore in Downtown Lawrence for more than two decades, Michener continues to share her breadth of knowledge and love for books with the community. She has been volunteering 18 hours a week at the library since October, unpacking and stamping books, filing cards and performing other tasks. Michener recently helped teach patrons how to use the new online computers, and is looking forward to the new media room opening on the main floor, featuring videos, CDs and audio books.
Michener, who turned Adventure over to her son in April 1995, and has since closed the bookstore, said she's enjoying the opportunity to spend more time at the library.
"I want the people and the children to find a whole world within the books," Michener said. "I love to see the families come in with their little children, and I think people should find free access to books, or if they can't buy them, they should come to the library."
Michener graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in entomology and moved to Lawrence in 1948. She considers herself a "natural born volunteer and activist who is also involved with the League of Women Voters, the Grassroots Coalition for Social Justice, and the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice.
Michener began volunteering in high school at a Los Angeles museum and hospital, and later served for 15 years as the volunteer editor of a scientific journal. Along with raising four children in Lawrence, Michener continued volunteering with a number of "good deed groups," such as the Mental Health Council before finally experiencing a case of burnout.
Michener opened the bookstore 23 years ago and was sorry to see Adventure close, but cherishes the experience and many friends she made.
"I was 54 years old when I started the business," Michener said. "That's risk-taking, isn't it? That's one reason I called the bookstore Adventure, not only because every book is an adventure, but because starting a business at 54 is an adventure," she said, laughing.
Sandra Wiechert, community relations coordinator of the Lawrence Public Library, admires Michener's concern and willingness to help the library after working so many years with books.
"She's so very dependable and hard working," Wiechert said. "She really does the work of a regular employee. She'll take on any task."
Michener has nourished her literary appetite during the years by reading fiction, politics, history, religion, and about the world's countries. She is currently reading fiction books by Jean Stafford, and has a library of roughly 5,000 books at home. She reads with "great care" and zest, and is still mesmerized with the words, places, people and stories that come to life.
"I've been reading all my life and I love it," she said. "You can relate to all the things you read, and that makes it even more interesting. ... You live other lives. You find out not only how other people live, but how they think and how things have happened. You can just meet more people and places than there ever is time, or money or energy to do in your real life. Every time I read a book, it's a new world."
-- The volunteer profile is written by David Garfield of the Roger Hill Volunteer Center.