Susanne Broadbelt was like many Pasco County reading specialists. Her face turned serious at district meetings when we discussed state mandates and ways of testing reading skills. But as soon as the topic turned to children and books, her face lit up like a light bulb.
A few years back, she and I held the same job at different schools. Sue worked at Chester W. Taylor Elementary in Zephyrhills. I worked at Longleaf Elementary in Trinity. When we crossed paths at those district meetings, I could see she was passionate about connecting children and teachers with good books.
It's fitting now that the staffs of Chester W. Taylor Elementary, Woodland Elementary and West Zephyrhills Elementary are holding the Susanne Tyler Broadbelt Memorial Book Drive, with the intent of gathering about 2,275 new or gently used books and putting a book in the hands of every child at those three schools before the winter holidays begin in mid-December. It's a formidable challenge but, as a colleague of Sue's, I'll gladly donate a handful of books, in honor of this special woman who dedicated her educational career to cultivating children's love of reading.
Sue, who died Oct. 14 at age 60 in an ultralight airplane accident at the Winter Haven airport, would be thrilled at the idea of such a book drive. In fact, I think it's the very thing that would bring that beaming smile many of us saw in pictures at her recent memorial service at Loyless Funeral Home.
"I remember the way her eyes would just dance when we talked about literacy and opportunities for helping students and teachers," said Rachel Powers, a former Pasco reading supervisor. "She would talk fast and fervently — then she would always apologize for talking so long. I loved those talks, they were the moments when her passion for teaching and learning overtook her and inspired me and those around her. You knew that this was what she was meant to do."
Sue retired in 2009 after more than 30 years as an educator, most in Pasco County. She'd continued mentoring students, volunteering and substituting and, in fact, had been in classes a couple of days before her untimely death.
She made great efforts to put quality books in the hands of young children and help them find the joy of unlocking words to release a fulfilling story.
"I'll always remember her love for books, and she was spectacular with kids and teachers," her friend Mimi Bridges said. "She'd help anyone with anything — reading, writing and even things that really weren't even her job. Collecting books and giving them to kids is wonderful and her family agrees that it's a fitting way to honor Sue."
It was hard enough to realize Sue had retired, no longer holding that tough role as reading specialist — now called literacy coach. But it's even tougher to realize her special touch with kids and books is stilled forever.
The loss is felt deeply by a host of close friends, fellow teaches and former students.
Recognizing how Sue impacted many lives as a promoter of literacy, staff members at the three schools feel that through the book drive, her passion to get children reading will continue in the lives of many more young people.