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Customer on Center Stage: Mary Atterberry

Born on December 30th, Mary Atterberry often jokes that her middle name should have been “Christmas.” The name would have been fitting, for Mary’s life is characterized by giving. The seventh of nine children born to James and Mary Lee Atterberry, Mary was gifted her mother’s name, her father’s passion, and her siblings’ friendship. She was raised to be thankful for the things given to her, and to give as much as she could in return. Mary has therefore lived a life of service and giving to others: preschool teacher, library worker, church volunteer, loyal friend and sister. She loves children: loves teaching them to read, explore the world, and become giving people.

Mary Atterberry’s father lived in a time when a hard work ethic was more necessary than a formal education. He only finished the second grade, but worked hard his entire life, and could do anything with his hands. He worked to provide for his family, and taught them the importance of education, dedication, and faith. Mary says he was her best friend; he encouraged her to begin teaching Sunday School at the age of 14, and nurtured her passion for learning and for teaching children. She credits his example for her college education and the time she’s spent working for the library and teaching preschool. Mary’s mother, who “just turned 88, but is still frisky!” taught her the importance of caring for family. She spoiled her kids, so now Mary enjoys caring for her, and passing on the tradition by spoiling her nieces.

Mary taught preschool at the Blytheville HeadStart for 17 years. Her favorite part of the job was reading to kids: “most of these kids need a role model, someone to look up to, who can let them know there’s something besides being yelled at. Kids are hungry for more than just food. They need love, a chance to express themselves, to know that they are our future. When they crawl up in my lap and ask me to read to them, I know that I’m giving them what they need. In that moment, they’re my little best friend.” Mary would often build a lesson around a book, including reading time, games, crafts, and moral lessons. The Berenstein Bear books and Audrey Wood’s “The Little Mouse, the red ripe strawberry, and the big hungry bear” rank among her favorites. But Mary also enjoys stretching attention spans through reading mysteries, the Boxcar Children, and Beatrix Potter books. “I like to read a variety, and see what we can learn together,” she smiles. “When I see my kids all grown up, and they remember me, and all the fun we had, that makes me feel good. I know I made a difference.”

When health issues forced Mary to leave her job at HeadStart, she found work at the next best place: the Blytheville branch of MCLS. She’d worked at the library during college, and was ready to jump back in. “I get to work with my cousin, Mary Razor. She has worked here for so many years, and loves her job. She makes me want to love mine, too.” Mary immediately began giving back. She offered the Preschool Story and Craft Time for the Summer Reading Program, and helps adults learn to read through the Literacy Council. Mary welcomes everyone who comes into the library, especially the children. “Kids have to have somewhere to go,” she says, “so why not here? They can learn to read better, use a computer, think about what to do when they’re older. We can give them ideas they may not get at home.”

When it comes to the library, Mary Atterberry isn’t done giving. When asked what could make the library better, her answer comes quickly: “We need community involvement!” she emphasizes. “The mayor, senators and representatives, and big business people need to see what we have: visit and see, and help us dream and update so the library can be all it can be.” Mary dreams of a library that’s an oasis for children, with classroom space, exploration stations, dedicated craft, diapering and nursing areas, outside activities and music offerings, a community garden, and educational programming. She’d love a library that’s full of bright colors and bustling with community, with a staff wall that tells visitors who they can go to for help, and a café that tempts customers to stay and read awhile. She says, “I’d love for people to be more involved at the library, to recognize the people who’ve brought us this far, and can help us get it fixed up.”

Mary Atterberry’s life has been defined by giving. Her family, students, community, and library are fortunate that she’s chosen to give to them.

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