08Mar 21

The Gift of Literacy – Memories of My Mom, Jean Spurgeon

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Jan. 9, 1930 – Oct. 18, 2020

Mom was a tutor for READ Saskatoon during its inception and continued for approximately 12 years. She helped adults increase their reading and writing skills, increasing their knowledge and confidence. She used the Saskatoon Public Library as her classroom. Her very first young adult learner made a point of phoning Mom after their sessions had ended to let her know she had successfully received her GED!

Mom received Canada’s Literacy Volunteer Award in 1990 and received a glowing completed year-end paper from one of her students in 1992. The next year, READ Saskatoon presented her with a Certificate of Appreciation to mark the end of her time with the organization. Former Director Sylvia Viq remembers her fondly saying was a “very dedicated, conscientious, long time volunteer who was always willing to take on a challenge.”

My memories of my Mom and her love for books started when I was old enough to get a library card. She faithfully took me to the Saskatoon Public Library Pooh Corner every Saturday, which progressed to the Bookmobile in our neighbourhood during summer breaks resulting in me winning a prize in Grades 5 & 6 for reading the most books over summer holidays. Now, in my retirement, I cherish the ‘reading corner’ I created in my home.

During her decades of employment (she worked until she was 80 years YOUNG), she gave freely of her spare time: 9 years with a Sunday School program, 44 years as her church’s Congregational Representative for the Canadian Bible Society, committee member of the United Church of Canada Presbytery, 5-pin Youth Bowling Coach with a Masters Coach designation, 26 years volunteering with the Saskatoon Jazz Society and Saskatchewan Jazz Festival receiving an Honorary Lifetime Membership, time on the Oliver Lodge Care Home Personnel Committee, and 21 years as a Gallery Group Volunteer at the former Mendel Art Gallery Gift Shop.

One of my brothers shares the memory of how when Mom was a late teenager starting her first full-time job, she used some of her pay cheque to join the Book of the Month Club. She bought quality books, not flash in the pan best sellers, a set of Shakespeare, a boxed set of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass with famous Tenniel illustrations, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Tales of the Brothers Grimm, books by Hans Christian Anderson, Dante’s Inferno with the Gustave Dore illustrations, and The Travels of Marco Polo.

Her reading tastes continued to be eclectic throughout her 90 years. In 2019 when my brother took her to a bookstore, she bought 3 books: Leonard Cohen’s last book of poems, The Huron Carol, and a James Patterson thriller. Earlier in 2020 when I ordered books online for her, she chose a baseball biography Doc, the Life of Roy Halladay, and the latest writings of 2 Saskatchewan authors, Gail Bowen and J.C. Paulson.

As my brother quotes Augustine Birrell “Any man can surround himself with 2,000 books and thereafter have a place where it is possible to be happy.” Our Mom truly gave all of us our happy place.

By daughter Bev Kowaluk