Suzy Daveluy once made a deal with the young readers who frequented the library where she worked. If they could collectively read a certain number of pages, she'd let one of them squash a pie in her face.
The former librarian and director of Stockton's Community Services Department retold the story with relish.
"I had this sweet little boy, who I had seen grow up. And he’s holding this pie...and he’s like, 'Ms. Suzy, I don’t want to throw it in your face.' And I’m like, 'oh, it’s OK, honey, it’s OK!’ ”
"They read like, three times as many books [as they had to]. I mean, it was crazy."
Daveluy retired in December after 32 years of marshaling her enthusiasm and sense of fun to serve visitors to Stockton-San Joaquin Public Libraries as well as local recreation centers and parks.
She found her passion as a children's librarian after starting out as a library assistant in 1989, and earning graduate degrees in law and library science along the way.
"It’s really hard to beat having that moment with a young person — especially a beginning reader ... and helping them find that right book for their level," she said.
"And then seeing the joy and the pride on their face when they get it? It’s just huge."
Daveluy has worked at most of the library system's branches at some point in her career, and served as both deputy director and director of Community Services in recent years.
Cultivating individual relationships — whether with kids from a story time group or with Spanish-speaking moms visiting the library looking to improve their English — was at the heart of how Daveluy worked to make the libraries welcoming spaces.
“The libraries [are] often referred to now as the community living room. It’s a place where all are welcome. ... It’s the most equitable institution in a community, in my opinion."
Individual connections with kids learning to read were especially important to Daveluy. Learning to read is an uphill climb for many local students: only about 30% of third graders in San Joaquin County read at their grade level, she said.
Daveluy recalled one child whose frustration with reading was palpable. But after practicing regularly with a teen tutor through the Book Buddies program, which Daveluy and a colleague created, "he blossomed."
Around 70% of the kids who participated in Book Buddies went up at least one reading level, she said.
“I just never let him lose his confidence. I did everything in my power to give him that confidence. And give him that assurance that he was going to get it," Daveluy said.
"Gosh, is it as simple as that? I think it is.”
Daveluy often squatted down to address the many kids she knew through the library as a peer, rather than as an authority figure.
"They're going to open up to an adult who gets on their level. Doesn’t talk down to them, but gets on their level and listens to them."
“That’s why I had to retire. My knees are bad!” she joked.
Now, it's "time for a new chapter," Daveluy said. She plans to volunteer at two schools where she serves on the board, as well as with a local Alzheimer's association. Daveluy also plans to write her own children's book.
“One of the things I’m most proud of [at Community Services] is building a team of amazing people that care, and that want to serve the community. And my wish is that they just continue doing that."
Record reporter Aaron Leathley covers business, housing, and land use. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LeathleyAaron. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at https://www.recordnet.com/subscribenow.
This article originally appeared on The Record: Stockton Community Services Director Suzy Daveluy retires