102 Club


Kentucky library honors four centenarians for their love of reading

Clara Custer, 102, of Bowling Green, KY.
Clara Custer, 102, of Bowling Green, was the second Kentuckian to join the 10² Talking-Book Club.

The Kentucky Talking Book Library inducted four book-loving centenarians into the NLS 10² Talking-Book Club in the autumn of 2006. The library honored these individuals at personal ceremonies in their homes. Each woman grew up loving books, in a family that read together.

The centenarians—Clara Custer, 102, of Bowling Green; Marie Elliott, 103, of Springfield; Frances Harrison, 100, of Owensboro; and Helen Pohl, 103, of Lexington—are avid readers, each devouring fifty to eighty books a year. Elliott is the most voracious bibliophile of all, having read more than one thousand books over the past ten years. All inductees received a 10² Club certificate, a letter signed by NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke, and a gold-tone 10² Club pin.

The first ceremony, held in early October, honored Pohl, the first Kentuckian to join the 10² Club. The event included accolades from the first lady of Kentucky, poetry readings by honoree Pohl, and a television broadcast of the gathering on the evening news. Pohl resides at the Lafayette, an independent-living facility, which supports an active book club.

Helen Pohl, 103, of Lexington, KY.
Helen Pohl, 103, of Lexington, recites "Little Orphant Annie" while Kentucky first lady Glenna Fletcher looks on.

At Pohl’s induction ceremony, Kentucky’s first lady Glenna Fletcher praised Pohl’s love of literature. She presented Pohl with an Unbridled Spirit award, which is given to an individual who has accomplished something for the good of the commonwealth. "I am honored to recognize her amazing dedication to learning," Fletcher said.

"Receiving this honor and having the first lady here with me makes this the proudest day of my life," Pohl responded. The former university drama and high school literature teacher delighted the audience by reciting James Whitcomb Riley’s poem “Little Orphant Annie.”

Raised without television or radio, Pohl’s family read together. She read Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist when she was nine years old. "In my family, education was like a religion. I decided that books would always be my constant companion," she said.

Francis W. Harrison, 100, of Owensboro, KY.
Francis W. Harrison, 100, of Owensboro, celebrates her induction into the Kentucky 102 Talking-Book Club.

"In the one year she has been listening to talking books, she has read sixty-two books," noted regional librarian Barbara Penegor. Pohl’s favorite is Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. She enjoys reading Shakespeare ("He knew the human heart"), Robert Louis Stevenson, and John Jakes.

In another October ceremony, Clara Custer, 102, of Bowling Green, hosted regional librarian Barbara Penegor and participants from the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives in her home. Custer was born in Germany, where her mother read fairy tales to her when she was a girl. Her family immigrated to America in the 1900s, entering the country through Ellis Island. Custer attended nursing school after graduating from high school, and worked as a nurse until retiring at age sixty-nine, when she began a life of travel by cruise ship and motorcoach. A talking-book patron since February 2006, Custer has already completed more than eighty books. Like Pohl, Custer’s favorite is Gone with the Wind. She likes authors Nicholas Sparks, Richard Paul Evans, James Patterson, Jonathan Kellerman, Danielle Steel, and Nora Roberts.

Marie Elliott, 103, of Springfield, KY.
Marie Elliott, 103, of Springfield, has read 1,160 books in ten years.

Harrison was born in rural Illinois and grew up enjoying reading more than doing her chores. She started school when she was five years old, in a two-room schoolhouse. Unable to afford college during the Great Depression, she attended nursing school at Indiana University, which then cost $50 a year. Currently, Harrison enjoys reading history and just finished a biography of Abraham Lincoln. "Mrs. Harrison has been a talking-book patron since 2003 and has read 166 books," Penegor said.

Elliott has read more talking books than the other centenarians combined: 1,160 books since 1997. As a child, Elliott attended school only through the eighth grade, but she didn’t stop learning. Because Washington County didn’t have a high school, she attended eighth grade three times to learn as much as she could. Elliott is still soaking up knowledge, and currently enjoys the books of Janette Oke.