Marvel York remembers the first library she ever visited as a young girl in Wessington, South Dakota, during the 1930s. "It was about the size of a clothes closet," said York with a laugh. That initial encounter, in spite of its modesty, sparked a lifelong passion for libraries and learning — one that has spanned nearly a century. York, along with the San Diego County Library, celebrated her 100th birthday this year.
SDCL caught up with the longtime Vista resident at the historic Rancho Buena Vista Adobe (where she still works as a volunteer docent) to talk about why she loves the Vista Library, what she's been reading lately, and the secret to joining the coveted centennial club.
SDCL: Tell us a little about your background.
Marvel York: Well, I was born in North Dakota and raised in South Dakota — in a small town called Wessington, close to Huron. When I graduated from high school I went to what was called a normal school and got a certificate where I could teach in a one-room schoolhouse with first to eighth grade. My husband and I moved to the Los Angeles area in 1954. I began a teaching career and raised a family. We both retired in 1979. We then moved to Vista in 1980 to get out of the L.A. smog. Education was and still is my passion. When I was in the classroom I tried to raise the expectations of the children, both in the classroom and in life.
As an educator, you probably spent a lot of time in libraries.
Yes, even before I started my career. When I went on to pick up a full teaching credential I worked in the Huron College Library to help pay for my tuition. There, I learned how to file books, catalogue them, and issue them to the students. It was a job I really loved. I learned to love the library and I learned to love to read.
Do you remember the first library you ever visited?
It was about the size of a clothes closet. I really mean it. This was sometime in the 1930s in Wessington. The books were lined up along the wall, there was a table in the center of the room, and that was it. But then my family moved to a town called Watertown (South Dakota) and they had a library that was a real library. I started at one end and read clear across it because I had never seen so many books. There were no books in most homes in those days because of the depression and everything else. But here was a library that was really a library. It had everything.
You are somewhat of a celebrity at the Vista Library now.
Well, the library is almost adjacent to Rancho Buena Vista Adobe, where I've been volunteering as a docent since 1999. When I started going to the library here it was such an uplifting experience. I've found the Vista Library staff to be very helpful and interesting. No matter what you request they see to it that it's granted. You ask for something and they just go and get it for you and they're happy to see you have it.
The modern library must seem very different in comparison to your first experience back in Wessington.
There are so many services and so many forms of literature now. I'm not able to read well anymore so I use the library's collection of Books on CD. I'm also signed up for the Books by Mail program but I like to go into the library in person, too. Because the staff knows you and greets you and you feel welcome. I participate in their reading programs and many extracurricular activities, like a Hawaiian recital the other night as well as other musical presentations. That library offers everything.
What have you been reading lately?
I like the whole gamut. I like nonfiction and fiction. I have re-read some of the classics recently. I read all of Jane Austen's books again. Now I'm on (Emily) Bronte. I also like the bestsellers. I read "The Rules of Civility" recently and thought it was really interesting. I write book reviews for my little community's paper and I recently recommended McCullough's book on Truman. Ned Parks is another author that is worth reading. There is a lot of good literature.
You're 100 years old. What's your secret?
Well, I think it's staying busy, having some reason to get up in the morning. Being interested in whatever is going on. Curiosity has a lot to do with it. Without the library, life wouldn't be quite as informative. It helps you see not just the front but also the back of what's going on. There's something going on all the time, something to look forward to, problems to solve, family to see. Life is full of a number of things. Staying engaged is so important. My philosophy has always been: "grow old along with me the best is yet to be."
What else is on your schedule besides visiting the Vista Library and working at the Rancho Buena Vista Adobe?
Monday we have yoga in the morning and knitting and crocheting for the Wounded Warriors in the afternoon. Usually on Tuesdays or Wednesdays there's a Women's Club meeting, and on Thursday I play Mahjong. Friday I work here at the Adobe. And once a month I write a book review for my community paper. Weekends are usually devoted to my family.
Wow, you have a full calendar.
Yes, there's always something to do.