CLEARWATER — A few weeks ago, Teresa Baucom was headed to meet her husband at the Long Center gym, when an estate sale sign on Keene Road caught her attention. She turned the car around and discovered a page from her past.
"I did a U-turn and swung in," said Baucom. "It was kind of strange. I hadn't been to an estate sale in 10 years and there were at least 100 cars parked everywhere. Why I went in was beyond me."
Baucom looked at leather furniture and other items. She started to leave, but realized there was another room in the back of the house.
"I saw all these books lined up on the floor," said Baucom. "I thought I recognized a few. I asked who had lived here. No one seemed to know."
So Baucom left after buying a few items. But first she inquired if the sale would be going on the next day. She was told it would, so she planned a return.
"I went back on Saturday and there were more books," said Baucom. "Books in the living room and bedrooms. I knew I couldn't pay for each of the books, so I said, 'Why don't you make me a deal?' "
Then Baucom asked again about the person who had lived in the house.
"Sounds nutty, but I asked the person overseeing the sale to tell me whatever they knew about the homeowner," said Baucom. "I knew the books had to belong to an instructor, a professor or a wanna-be. They told me her first name was Betty. I asked if the last name could be Tutton. And it was."
So Baucom, Dr. Betty Tutton's student in the early 1970s, paid $350 for what she describes as a few hundred books. That, and the opportunity to construct a lasting tribute to a professor she admired.
Tutton died on April 20. She had come to Clearwater in 1966 and taught Composition, Literature, and Eastern and Western Humanities on the Clearwater campus of St. Petersburg College (formerly St. Petersburg Junior College) for 40 years.
For many of those years she served as chair of the Humanities Department.
Baucom had lost touch with her former professor and friend over the years. The last time she'd visited Tutton, the professor lived in a duplex on Drew Street.
Baucom was so delighted to have Tutton's books, she needed to tell someone — someone who knew Tutton. Someone who would understand. Her thoughts turned to Mim Houk.
"The last time I saw Mim was at a garden party," said Baucom. "When I left, she said to give her a call and she, Betty and I would go out and have lunch. I never did. That was 10 years ago. After I bought the books, I had to share the knowledge with someone. I called Mim."
"Betty was an amazing woman," said Mim Houk of Clearwater. "Her books meant the world to her. She had earned her Ph.D from the University of Minnesota and was a true scholar."
To honor Tutton, a 12-foot-long wall in Baucom's lofted great room, once a guest house above the garage of her 100-year-old house, will become a reference library, a quiet spot with a photograph of Tutton and a plaque that designates the books as once belonging to the professor.
"Betty Tutton expected a lot from her students," said Baucom. "She was a fascinating lady and a tough teacher. I knew I had to study hard. She was well thought of by all the Clearwater campus instructors and students. I liked her a lot and really respected her. She made you want to do your best."
Tutton's books will inspire a new generation of young people. Both of Baucom's high school and college-age granddaughters will use the library, with books on various topics that run the gamut from art to music and travel to philosophy.
"Betty had an interest in so many things," said Houk, 85. "She traveled extensively and gave lectures everywhere, from the introduction to music before the symphony played, to teaching at her church.
"She was a wonderful person with an amazing library," Houk said. "For her books to be set up in a library is the greatest honor anyone could bestow on Betty."