CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO |
Laura Dickerson on the patio of the Shelter Island Library
Published on October 23, 2014 in the Shelter Island Reporter
Laura Dickerson’s beautiful blue eyes have seen great places, read great books and taken in great experiences.
The assistant director of the Shelter Island Library, Laura taught dance for 26 years and is a choreographer. She is the embodiment of a life-long learner, always open to new experiences and ideas.
Like many Shelter Islanders who have seen many places to live, she chose this one.
Laura grew up in Garden City, went to American University in Washington, D.C., and lived and worked in New York City and Riverhead before moving here. “My parents bought a summer house out here when I was 8 years old on Ram Island. It was idyllic,” Laura said. “We would get up in the morning, put on our bathing suits and let the weather dictate whether we would swim or clam or sail.”
Steve Dickerson, Laura’s husband, is a Shelter Island native, but they didn’t meet until mutual friends introduced them when Laura was in college. “He’s pretty special,” she allowed. After living in Riverhead, the couple made their way back to Shelter Island. Their children, Erin and Keith, are now 23 and 16 respectively, but Laura said, “My mother still calls me ‘kid.’”
In college, Laura studied dance, performing arts and education. “Ballet is my passion,”she said. “It was. It is.”
She danced “a little bit,” but her real interest was teaching. For years she ran a dance school in the building that is now the Candlelite Inn. At 600 square feet, the studio was so tiny her students had to learn quickly to control their movements. “I had to teach good, really good technique,” Laura said.
Her students came from the North and South forks, ranging in age from 3 to 77. “The adults wanted to learn,” she said, “just as much as the children. They usually asked a lot of questions, which I love. I never discourage anyone from learning to dance. It’s wonderful for the body, soul and mind.”
After years of teaching dance, Laura began to feel the balance of work and family shifting. “I had backed off on a lot of my teaching with two children,” she said. “Very erratic hours when you are teaching and a lot of nights and weekends. It’s tough.” She was “ready for a change of scenery. I like change.”
Laura got a literal change of scenery when she took on the role of choreographer for the annual Shelter Island School Drama Club musical productions. She choreographed such memorable productions as “Zombie Prom” and “Young Frankenstein.”
Laura started at the Shelter Island Library working at the circulation desk, “the best place to be in the library,” as she put it. Conversations can lead anywhere. “One gentleman came in and asked about a book called ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring,’ and we were talking about the book and the movie made from it. A few days later he came by and said, ‘That painting the book is about, it’s in the Frick Museum in the city.’ I had to go into the city, so I went to the Frick and there it was. I got chills when I saw it.”
Biggest fine for overdue books? It was for several items that were so long overdue that the patron paid for replacements — the fine totaled about $180. But she pointed out that the automated system the library uses to send overdue notices gives most patrons a chance to return or renew them before it’s too late.
Laura has been with the library nine years. “It’s an incredible library, when you consider the size of the library itself, the size of the collection, the size of the staff,” she said. “What’s accomplished here is amazing.”
Laura never tires of hearing second-home patrons tell her that Shelter Island’s library is much better than their hometown’s. “It’s always changing, it’s not static, always ready to keep up with innovations,” she said, “Essentially, it’s an information center, to have access to keep up with the trends out there.”
For Laura, the library is what her dance studio was — a place for people of all ages to come together and learn. From the monthly adult book club she organizes — “The best discussions are the ones where a few people just did not care for the book” — to the 2Rs4Fun —“a priceless program for kids” — the library is a welcoming place, and not just for readers.
“A lot of boys come here in the afternoon, and some are avid readers, and some not,” she noted. “But they are here and that’s good.”
Ever the life-long learner, Laura is working toward an online master’s degree in library science at San Jose State and keeps up with the latest library practices. She won a “Dewey” last month, a scholarship to attend the next New York State Library Association conference in Saratoga Springs, New York.
“It was a surprise,” she said. “I’ve never been to that conference. It will be fun to explore.”
Laura was a member of the committee at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church that found the newly ordained Pastor Stephen Fearing in June 2014. “It was very interesting to learn how the church is run,” she said, “a wonderful learning experience. I was very fortunate to be part of it.”
But no surprise here from a person who seeks out and thrives on learning and experience.