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MELBOURNE BEACH — Betty Pappas has always been an avid reader. At 100, the Indianlantic native visits the Melbourne Beach Library with her daughter Sandy Grunewald at least once a week to pick up six or seven books. The following week, she returns the stack for a new set.
It’s a routine she’s been doing for longer than she can remember, she said.
“I just picked up a book and got so interested in it that I kept reading, and I finished it. Then I started another one, and then I realized I can read a book a day, and no matter how thick it is, I still manage to read a book a day,” Pappas said. Sometimes she gets up as early as 4 a.m. to start a book and likes to spend her days in an easy chair to read.
Pappas, who celebrated her 100th birthday in January. 7, enjoy books by Leon Uris, Ken Follett and David Baldacci. But her favorite stories are Danielle Steel’s novels.
“I think when she first started (writing) I should start reading her,” Pappas said. “I got my hands on one (of her books) and it sounded good, so I kept going.”
Her favorite works by Steel are ‘Palomino’, ‘Thurston House’ and her recently published 2019 novel ‘Spy’, which Pappas read about a week ago.
For Pappas, reading is a great form of entertainment and escapism.
“People say, ‘Oh, it’s just a story.’ But I like them,” she said.
It’s a passion she instilled in her family. With three children, five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, Pappas sees her love for reading even in her youngest family members.
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“My little great-grandchildren like to read or look at pictures,” she said. “They always bring a book to you and push it to you to read it, and we read it.”
Grunewald said that as a child in New Jersey, Pappas instilled her love of reading.
“She used to take me to this place in New Jersey years ago, and it was like a farmers market, and I picked out five of Nancy Drew’s books,” Grunewald said.
She added that she would be so engrossed that when Pappas called her for dinner, she would struggle to break free from the books.
A quiet life
Aside from reading, Pappas said her life is pretty quiet. She can’t get around like she used to, but she and Grunewald like to go to local restaurants for steak or tacos, and shop for clothes when they can.
During her early years, Pappas lived in California, New York, and New Jersey, moving to Florida in the 1970s to be closer to family and enjoy the warmer weather. In the north, she worked for RKO Radio Pictures and modeled.
As a child and teenager, she played multiple sports, including basketball, swimming and her favorite, tennis. Her love of tennis continued into adulthood, playing until she was nearly 80 years old.
“If I could walk, I would still play tennis,” she said.
Now she enjoys watching almost any sport with her family and neighbors who often come over for drinks and dinner. When people ask what her secret to longevity is, she answers with a glint of mischief in her eyes.
“Do you want to grow old? Drink zinfandel,’ she said. She paired the wine well with a bowl of Cheetos.
A beloved patron
At Melbourne Beach Library, Pappas is a household name among the staff.
“At least 60% of the customers who come in quite regularly, I could call by name when they come in,” said Gerri O’Connell, librarian at Melbourne Beach Library. “I think for this area, where the first four to six months of the year are hibernators, the others who are regulars here all year round make them feel special.”
O’Connell has been working at the library for about three years now and quickly got to know Pappas, with the number of books Pappas checking out each week drawing O’Connell’s attention.
Although Pappas has a collection of books at home, she says she would rather go to the library than buy most of the books she likes to read.
“I used to go out and buy them, but here they have so many – why buy them?” she said. “I have a lot of things in my library at home (and) I’ve given them away — you know, you can have so many books, and then they get moldy.”
She also said she never wants to read on a Kindle or other device.
‘I want the book. That’s why I come here to get the book,” she said. “I want to be able to hold it.”
On Saturday, O’Connell and others in the library helped set up a small party for Pappas in honor of her love of reading. They set out vases made from old books filled with roses and lined a table with some of Pappas’ favorite novels.
Grunewald said the library staff’s affection for her mother meant the world to both of them.
“Most people know the people who come to the library, but (O’Connell) was such a thrill that Mom would come every week and bring Danielle Steel books,” she said. “And the fact that when she comes in, they say, ‘Oh, hey, Betty!’ She loves it. It’s a bit personal and loving.”
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