Senior Power: Bells, bonfires and illuminations…

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Sunday March 13, 2011 - 11:27:00 AM

It’s exactly one year since my first Berkeley Daily Planet SENIOR POWER weekly newspaper column. In 1776 John Adams didn’t exactly have it in mind when he wrote to Abigail that “…it will be celebrated by succeeding generations… with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations.” 


On Saturday, March 5, 2011 afternoon I partook of outstanding free refreshments dispensed at “North” – the North Branch of the Berkeley Public Library, still at 1170 The Alameda. Swarms of kids, grown-ups horsing around like kids, several senior citizens, and others were celebrating the beginning of the construction phase for the North branch library, part of the BPL’s Branch Renovation Project. 

How does one celebrate the closing of a public library? For sure, not with bells, bonfires and illuminations. Library Board of Trustees chair Susan Kupfer introduced a panoply of local elected notables -- Tom Bates, Laurie Capitelli, Loni Hancock, Darryl Moore, Susan Wengraf. Each struggled to provide a few appropriate aphorisms. Berkeley High School senior Ally Glass-Katz, a student work program staffer at North and Central, also spoke. 

It was not an occasion for discussion or getting information. No “Questions?” Later, outside, a staff member responded to “when will North close?” (by the end of March) and “for how long?” (12 months). 

For a response to the question, What work will be done to North Branch? provides some information: “Complete restoration and refurbishment of existing historic features and windows and an approximate 4,000 gross sq. ft. addition will be added to the Josephine Street elevation. In addition to improved structural integrity and accessibility, the branch will have improved site access, landscaping, exterior and interior lighting and will receive updated mechanical, plumbing, electrical and telecommunication systems. Additionally the branch will have a new meeting room, adequate staff workspace and fully accessible restrooms.” 

The BranchVan was parked outside, open for a look-in (literally). It will function as a turn-around for books and other materials—holds to be picked up and media to be returned. Apparently, the public will not get/need to step inside; indeed, it is not wheelchair accessible. In short, it is not a bookmobile. It is a van. Good luck with those unbolted book carts. It is usually parked overnight at the curb on Bancroft Way. There have been “incidents” but an alarm system has not yet been installed. 

A North Branch Temporary Closure Guide flier locates the BranchVan following North’s closure at Live Oak Community Center, Shattuck at Berryman, with the following schedule: Mondays and Fridays, 2:30-5:30 / Tuesdays and Saturdays, 10-1 / Wednesdays 12-3 / Thursdays 4:30-7:30. There are at least 2 bus routes that stop at North Branch, 2 parking places designated for disabled persons, and a ramp. My 'take' on bus routes is that none stops at Live Oak Community Center, although #'s 7 and 18 run along Shattuck near Berryman if you’re good for a walk uphill. A librarian confirmed but insisted that it is a mere slight grade. 

The start of construction and closure of Claremont Branch, 2940 Benvenue Avenue, will be celebrated next Saturday, March 19, 2011 at 2 PM. The Claremont BranchVan stop will be at Garber Street and College Avenue, near St. John’s Presbyterian Church, with the following schedule: Mon and Fri: 10 – 1 / Tue and Sat: 2:30 – 5:30 / Wed: 4:30 – 7:30 / Thu: 12 – 3.  

The opportunity to share information at this gathering about community service as a member of the highly selective Berkeley Library Board of Trustees was missed. Susan Kupfer’s term is about to expire. Recruitment closes on March 31st. The vacancy will be filled with an appointment effective May 13, 2011. 

The BPL at mentions this vacancy:  

“This volunteer position acts as a liaison between the general public and the library. The Library Board has the responsibility to see that the library is well-managed and operates in accordance with City of Berkeley regulations and policies approved by the Board itself. Contact the library at (510) 981-6195 for details…download an application and supplemental questionnaire (”  


Thinking about libraries during Women’s History Month… librarians and other staff members, of both sexes and all genders, are important members of the public library community. A librarian who made a difference many years ago, albeit in my lifetime, was Clara Estelle Breed (1906-1994). Back in those days it was assumed by some people that not much went on in the lives of lady librarians, beyond the spectacles and reading all those books. Clara Breed took chances, risked her career and income by taking an activist stance during World War II.  

Thirty-six year old Ms Breed was the San Diego Public Library’s first Children’s Librarian. She worked in the branch used by the city’s Japanese American children and young adults. Within four months of Dec. 7, 1941, San Diego Nikkei were forced to leave their homes, schools, jobs, and public libraries. At the train station, she distributed self-addressed post cards to “her children” and later, as she became aware of their locations over the months and years, sent them packages of books and other necessities that she purchased. She wrote about their condition and struggled to get it published in library literature.  

I learned of her when I happened to tune into Book-TV as Joanne Oppenheim related her experiences writing Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference. The audience included several of “her children” and many of their children at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles ( It is a wonderfully illustrated and written book that can and should be read by adults and children. It is in several BPL collections, including North branch’s children’s collection.  


Recruitment for the forthcoming vacancy on the Berkeley Public Library Board of Trustees closes on March 31st. The vacancy is to be filled with an appointment effective May 13, 2011. (510) 981-6195. 


"Rising Calls to Replace Top Man at Medicare," by Robert Pear (New YorkTimes, March 8, 2011). Note: NYT may require free registration before providing articles online. 

"Medicare could soon pick up tab for STD [sexually transmitted Diseases] testing for seniors," by Bill Toland (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,March 8, 2011). 

Oppose New York Governor Cuomo’s proposed 25 million dollar cut to senior centers (Title XX). According to the NYC Department for the Aging (DFTA), up to 10,000 seniors will find their centers closed or going through the closure process beginning April 1. This means 2.5 million fewer meals will be provided annually for older New Yorkers. Every neighborhood in NYC stands to lose one or more senior centers. Once a center closes, it will never re-open, impacting future senior citizens.  


Wednesday, March 16, noon. 58th Annual Noon Concert Series. UCB Dept. of Music. (510)642-4864. Hertz Concert Hall, free admission:  

University Symphony Orchestra: LEROUX. University Symphony Orchestra, David Milnes, conductor. Philippe Leroux: De la disposition; L'unique trait de pinceau for saxophone and orchestra, David Wegehaupt, soloist. 

Friday, March 18, noon. DEATH AND THE MAIDEN. Tammy Lian, violin; Vivian Hou, violin; Alexey Drobizhev, viola; Rio Vander Stahl, cello Schubert: Death and the Maiden Quartet; String Quartet No. 14 in D minor D. 


Dorothy Bryant’s book review of Lastingness: The Art of Old Age, by Nicholas Delbanco, in last week’s Planet issue.  

Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at No email attachments or phone calls.