Column - Karen will be greeted with a cucumber martiniThere are many children – two generations of them, most of them now grown-ups – who are mourning the unthinkable loss of Karen Simmons, the beloved local librarian.
By: Dennis Dalman, Alexandria Echo Press
There are many children – two generations of them, most of them now grown-ups – who are mourning the unthinkable loss of Karen Simmons, the beloved local librarian.
Karen, director of the Douglas County Public Library, died in an early-morning car accident February 25, north of Glenwood. For many years, she had been the children’s librarian and assistant librarian before becoming director in 2011.
Through the years, many thousands of children enjoyed taking part in Story Hour with Karen, developing a love of books and learning under her sweet guidance.
The news of Karen’s death sent me reeling into a state of disbelief. Wednesday morning, still numb from the shock, I got a call from Leslie Randall, director of the Glenwood Public Library. I’m so glad she called because it gave us a chance to reminisce and share “Karen” stories.
Leslie’s memories show how special Karen was to so many people lucky enough to have met her.
For years, Leslie’s husband, David, had begun to think Karen Simmons was some kind of god, because his wife was forever talking about “Karen, Karen, Karen” and telling him interesting and sometimes hilarious stories about something or other that Karen said or did. David had never met the woman.
Karen was Leslie’s lunch buddy, just as Karen’s predecessor, Grande Dame Trish Conroy, had been Leslie’s other favorite lunch pal for years. Every Thursday, they would meet for lunch and talk shop and tell stories about their families and the often comical benefits of being librarians. David heard so many “Karen” stories he’d begun to think he knew her well, even though he’d yet to meet her.
On Saturday, February 23, Karen had to work. Leslie decided to stop in at the Alexandria library for a visit with her.
“Come on,” she told her husband. “It’s about time you come with and finally meet Karen.”
They all had a great time.
As they were saying goodbye, Leslie said this: “Karen, I’m so sad you are retiring in four months, but I guess it’s OK, because it’s not like you’ll be gone.”
Leslie is afraid those parting words may haunt her for a long time, but she is trying not to feel guilty as she knows Karen, if she could, would laugh it off.
Just recently, the last time they had lunch, Karen slapped four fingers down on the table and said. “Four more months to retirement!” Then, picking up the wine menu, she declared, “When I retire, I’m going to order a cucumber martini!”
Karen was so eager to retire so she could spend more time with her husband, Don, their son Rob and their two grandchildren.
“Those lunches were the highlight of my week,” Leslie said.
Speaking for me, Karen was one of the sweet diabolical pleasures of visiting the Alexandria library so many years ago. She was a vital part of what I called the “Unholy Trio” – that precious collection of goofballs named Trish Conroy, Shirla Hanson and, of course, Karen Simmons. Trish was the chief battleship in their flotilla (at least she loved to play that role, with her deadpan hilarity). Shirla and Karen were her sidekick tugboats. They would whisper in my ears, sneakily feeding me “Trish” stories I could use in my verbal Ping-Pong matches with the Grande Dame. It was Karen who told me the Trish-Witch story: the time Trish dressed up as a witch for a Halloween Story Hour. The little children screamed.
“Trish, take off that mask,” Karen said. “You’re scaring them.”
Trish took off her mask; the kids screamed louder.
Oh, Karen, so many are going to miss you; your kindness, your wit, your stories.
When the gates of heaven open for you, a beaming bookworm-angel will greet you with a cucumber martini.
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Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.