ST. PETERSBURG — Presentations of annual reports during City Council meetings tend toward the dry and boring.
But that was definitely not the case when Barbara Ponce got up to report on the doings of the Pinellas Park Library.
One year, she handed out cardboard tube-shaped banks for "services you can bank on." Another year, she handed out DVD cases with "reviews" of the library. Yet another time, she mimicked the National Enquirer with a library scandal sheet of crazy, alarmist headlines: "Teens locked in library eat plants to stay alive," about a lock-in reading event during which kids were given vegetables, among other things, to eat; and, "Sci-fi meets Wi-Fi," complete with a picture of a stuffed alien seated at a computer, to announce the coming of wireless Internet for library patrons.
That cheerful creativity helped elevate her from an administrative clerk in the library to head of community activities, overseeing the departments responsible for the fun side of Pinellas Park government. Mrs. Ponce retired in 2009 and died Wednesday. She was 73.
"Barbara's passing leaves a hole in our hearts but a lifetime of memories as she generously shared her zest for life, passion for knowledge and lessons of life experience with everyone she met," Pinellas Park city spokesman Tim Caddell said. "It is difficult to laugh through our tears but we will remember the times that her humor brought tears to our laughter."
City council member Rick Butler said he enjoyed the working relationship he and Mrs. Ponce had. But he got to know her better after she retired during trips their families took together.
"She had a great sense of humor," Butler said. "She always had a great spirit."
Mrs. Ponce's annual reports, he said, "were something we looked forward to because we knew it was (going to be) different."
Her son Michael said she was a great role model who was ahead of her time in many ways. She had left college but returned to the University of Florida when the youngest of her four sons entered first grade. After that, she went to the University of South Florida for her master's degree in library science. Her children and others were inspired, he said, by watching her raise four sons while attending school and working full time.
A Jacksonville native, she began working for Pinellas Park in 1978 under a training program established by the federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act. Within five months, she had been promoted from administrative clerk to full-time librarian. She was promoted to assistant library director in 1983, then to head librarian in 1985.
Mrs. Ponce was promoted to community activities administrator and library director in 1999. The job placed her over the Pinellas Park Library, parks and recreation, and media/public events.
During her tenure, she automated and streamlined the library, helped design the library and chose the carpet, tiles, wall colors and signs for renovations to the Pinellas Park City Hall, Park Station and the Performing Arts Center. She oversaw the department during a period of growth that included the development of the city's equestrian park area, the paw park at Freedom Lake Park and the addition of 20 acres of parkland to the city.
In 1989 she served as an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida School of Library and Information Science, facilitating a class in "Building Library Collections." She was one of the first to volunteer when Vision Cable, now Bright House Networks, started community access programming. Her production of Inside City Limits, Pride in the Park received a 1991 Community Access Spotlight Achievement Award. In 1994, Mrs. Ponce was appointed to the Florida Advisory Council on Libraries and served until 1997.
After her retirement, Mrs. Ponce served as the chairwoman of the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative's board of directors, where she continued to advocate for libraries and their services.
Mrs. Ponce, who lived in St. Petersburg, is survived by Patrick, her husband of 57 years; sons Patrick Jr., of Raleigh, N.C., and Michael (Cynthia) of Sarasota; a sister, Sister Carol Stovall SSJ of St. Augustine; and numerous nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by sons Robert and Steven.
Visitation will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday at Anderson McQueen Funeral Home, 2201 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Paul's Catholic Church, 1800 12th St. N, with burial following at Sunnyside Cemetery.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.