“People who buy books are nicer than people who buy anything else,” Marion Ballard once told the St. Petersburg Times.
For 14 years, she and three friends ran a small bookstore for students and faculty at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus — and for people who loved to read.
Ballard, who could offer an expert review on just about anything she’d read, and she read just about anything, died Oct. 14 from a long-term illness. She was 81.
No surprise — as a child, Ballard loved reading.
“She had a love of books always, and I think she wanted something to do that was worthwhile,” said her sister, Mary Wyatt Allen.
Ballard, who married a newly commissioned naval officer, spent a lot of time alone early in her marriage while her husband was at sea, said Bill Ballard. She got her bachelor’s degree while he served, and later earned her master’s degree after they moved to Florida.
“She was very capable in everything she undertook,” her husband said.
The couple had three children, whom they raised in St. Petersburg, where Ballard volunteered with several community organizations. She devoted her time to social justice, health care, the arts and supporting the university and the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library.
As her children grew, Ballard started talking with her friend, St. Petersburg City Council member Sally Wallace, about opening a business.
“It was going to be a bookstore or nothing,” Ballard told the Times in April 1994.
To prepare, Ballard took junior college classes in taxation and business, and she started an unpaid internship at another bookstore. She and Wallace found a spot at 121 Seventh Ave. S, adjacent to the campus, and brought in two more friends, Marty Wallace and Marianne Rucker.
Bayboro Books opened in 1982.
“It was an iconic bookstore,” said J.M. Tschiderer, the university’s special projects facilitator.
“It was just the intellectual center of our campus,” said Kathy Arsenault, the former dean of the Poynter library. “We were all so grateful for that.”
Bayboro Books was a place for faculty, staff and students but also the community. It hosted author events and book clubs and made a mission of getting people the books they requested. Ballard kept reading, and it helped her business.
“If you wanted a book review of any book, Marion, if you asked her, would give you a marvelous and esoteric perspective,” Tschiderer said.
Ballard continued volunteering and coordinated a popular used book fair for the Poynter Library, reserving the first day for students.
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“She was a legendary volunteer,” Arsenault said.
When Ballard was recognized with a community service award, though, she skipped the luncheon.
“She didn’t do things to be recognized,” Tschiderer said.
The Barbershop Book Club
Bayboro Books closed in 1997. Its owners were ready for retirement, a Barnes & Noble was moving onto campus, and the timing seemed right.
Ballard became more active with the St. Petersburg Yacht Club’s Salty Sisters, a sailing club, continued her volunteer work and served as president of The American Stage during a crucial period for that organization, and she was always into another good book.
Her love of reading and the community will get a fitting tribute later this month.
On Nov. 22, one of Ballard’s book clubs, Women of Words, will present books to barber Antonio Brown. Brown runs the Barbershop Book Club for children from his shop, Central Station Barbershop & Grooming. He chooses from a carefully curated list of books, and when kids read to him from one of those, they get to keep the book and get a free haircut.
Inside the donated books will be a note about Ballard.
Book club member Betty Shamas said they thought that would be wonderful way to honor their friend.
Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.
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