Founder Of Nursing Home Bookmobile Still Volunteer

Service To Celebrate Its 20th Anniversary

April 14, 1991|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — Eleanor S. Fique is a prime example of how failure leads to success.

After being turned down for a job in Baltimore County more than 24 years ago, she was told about a position with the Westminster library.

"It sounded good, so I went in and applied and got the job," saidthe 67-year-old former substitute teacher. "I started working Sept. 1, 1966, as the children's librarian."

Back then, it was called the Davis Library and was in what had originally been a church. Fique worked in the basement, where a space had been fixed up for the children's section.

The children's librarian position lasted five years,until a letter came one day to Martha Makosky, now library director,from an elderly woman in a nursing home requesting Bookmobile service.

"The woman, Ruth Heckert, had been a library user and missed it, and it got Martha to thinking," Fique recalled. "Martha is such an innovative person -- she knew she didn't have money for a staff person (to go to the nursing home), but she thought community volunteers could be used."

Having worked with Fique so many years, Makosky asked her to take part of her work week to set up a volunteer program.

"I was very interested because my husband and I had a friend in a nursing home, and she didn't have anything," Fique said.

And although Fique gives Makosky credit for following through on the idea, it is Fique who is called the originator of the program by other library staff.

"Eleanor is my No. 1 lady," said Loretta Murphy, the library's Institutional Services director. "She's come full circle with theprogram. She was the originator and now comes back as a volunteer and helps with the books."

The Special Services program officially started in September 1971 with 16 volunteers going into six area nursing homes. It would be Maryland's first public library system to use volunteers for such a program and, even today, is a model for others, Fique noted proudly.

The woman who sparked what is now called the Library Link Book Service was not forgotten. Makosky wrote her to tell her about the program. When Heckert, who had moved to another county, later returned to Carroll, Fique had the pleasure of taking her books.

Then, in 1974, the library applied for and received a $25,000grant from the state Office on Aging for a pilot Life Enrichment Program. The joint program between the library and the county office of aging started in January 1975.

"I took a leave of absence from thelibrary to handle the program for the Department of Aging and stayedtill I retired Dec. 31, 1986," Fique explained. "When I left the library, I had 125 or 130 volunteers."

The volunteers not only went into the county nursing homes, but worked through Meals on Wheels for added book delivery to the homebound.

"Oh, I loved it -- I had thegreatest time then," Fique said. "The volunteers were wonderful, andso were the nursing home residents. I made some treasured friendships there."

Fique's enthusiasm rubbed off on her volunteers. The group didn't just deliver books to the nursing homes or homebound but stayed, talked and listened, and eventually "adopted" the elderly.

"We had about 735 nursing home residents, and 40 percent or better didnot have any family and needed someone," Fique said.

"The volunteers were terrific. They just took these people into their hearts, they took them to their homes for visits, out to different places. They saw that they got birthday and Christmas cards, because otherwise they wouldn't have had anything."

Dealing with the elderly in nursinghomes is a challenging job that requires training, and Fique handledthat also. Volunteers were recruited, then trained through occasional seminars on working with nursing home residents and death and dying.

"They liked to just talk about their experiences and help one another," Fique said. "Some say it's depressing to go into a nursing home, but it's not when you can see you're making a difference, bringing joy into these people's lives. And the volunteers did this."

As coordinator for so many volunteers, Fique made herself available at all times for problems, talks, anything that was needed.

"I always wanted my volunteers to know I was available," Fique said. "They tooktheir time and energy to do this, so they could call me at home. Many nights I spent talking to them because it was important."

The joint library-aging office program split in the summer of 1988, when the library took back the book service to the nursing homes and set up the Library Link Book Service.

Naturally, Fique returned to the library as a part-time volunteer. She can generally be found on Tuesdays checking in and shelving books that have been returned.

"I do some book selection, too," she said. "I liked to do the book selectionsfor the nursing homes (when the program started) because I felt likea kid in a candy store picking out all the different kinds of things."

Fique takes books to homebound individuals and fills in for vacationing library staff in the department, Murphy said.

But the library isn't the only place Fique volunteers. Mondays are spent at Westminster United Methodist Church, helping with the weekly soup kitchen. She also helps with the church library and writes reviews for the church newsletter.

"I have friends in nursing homes that I visit and other friends who need transportation to the doctor or shopping, and I try to accommodate them," Fique said.

She and her husband, Clifford, 67, who have been married 45 years, also have three children and five grandchildren they baby-sit for.

And when time permits, Fique enjoys reading a good book, cooking, attending the theater, tending her flower garden in season and relaxing at her son's cabin in themountains.

She's also looking forward to the Library Link's 20th anniversary in September, for which the library plans a celebration, she said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.