Betty Collins Exudes Joy In Her Love Of Learning And Life
You walk into the Musser Public Library in the middle of the day, the stark sun of noon cutting shadows through the brisk winds of new spring, and immediately in this typical bastion of quiet reading and contemplation, you hear a giggle.
Then you hear it again.
You follow it to a desk near the back of the library where a man and a woman are scrunched together sharing a small blue swivel chair. Both are laughing. Both are wearing red construction paper hearts taped to their foreheads. Both are joking and smiling for pictures being taken by a woman in a loud, jovial sweater vest and glasses and a name badge that would seem to indicate that she may be the person you’re looking for.
“Excuse me,” you say to her, as she lowers the camera and smiles, “I’m looking for Betty Collins. Are you Betty?”
“No, I’m Betty!” another perky voice chirps up from behind you.
The woman gets up off the chair, takes the red construction paper heart off her head with one hand, and extends her other, as she smiles brightly.
“I’m Betty Collins.”
And the man with her?
“This is my husband.”
To say Betty Collins’ incandescent and playful way of living suits her job as children’s librarian is an understatement. From her clothing to her energy to her demeanor to her speech, she exudes a demeanor as youthful and vibrant as a handful of pop rocks. She and her husband, with whom she says she’s “still best friends and still very much in love with,” Dan Chapman, have been together for 31 years. And it all started when they met at tiny Graceland University (no affiliation to Elvis) in Lamoni, Iowa, with her persistently pestering him for a date, that first outing being awful, and the two of them deciding to climb trees.
“I asked him about five times to go out with me, I just knew he was the one I wanted, so I didn’t give up,” she said. “We went to go see this terrible movie, ‘Have You Checked The Children,’ and we both hated it, and I was thinking, ‘well, this isn’t going well.’ But on the way back to campus, we were kind of walking and one of us suggested we climb a tree, and the other one said ok, and we had so much fun doing it and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.”
“We’re just really good friends, we have a lot of fun together, and make each other happy, and we make that decision every day to be happy and be really good friends,” she says, as if it’s the easiest and most obvious thing in the world, and maybe it is. “Every day is an adventure, no matter what we’re doing.”
And in many ways that echoes her life to this point. Her father was a minister and she was born in Ohio, although she’s moved around the country a number of times, in places big and small, from Los Angeles to Lamoni, including two stints in Muscatine. Her first was in the ‘80s, when she was the teen coordinator for the library, working with her mentor, the legendary children’s librarian Duffy DeFrance.
“I saw how much fun she was having and thought I really wanted to do that,” Collins said. “She was wonderful, such a great friend and mentor.”
And, so, in 2003, when DeFrance was retiring, a friend called Collins, then living in San Francisco, and suggested she apply for the job. She got it, and she’s been here ever since.
“I loved San Francisco, but Muscatine has plenty of great attributes as well, and my family lives in Iowa, so it’s great to be nearby family,” she said. “And I love the job. I love it. I can’t decide what part I love about it most, the literature, the people, the learning and the adventures of learning, I get to be a part of all of it. I get to see children come here as babies and grow up and become wonderful young adults and see them discover all the great worlds of books around them. It’s really the best.”
She’s also excited about the new renovation to her work home, with Musser scheduled to move into the new digs within the year.
“I’m really excited about us moving into a new spot!” she said. “It’s going to be great for the community.”
In her spare time, she loves spending time with family, gardening, traveling, learning new languages, being a parent and just having adventures with her husband and kids.
“One thing I learned a long time ago is that there’s so much about life you can’t control, you can’t control what comes your way, you can only control how you react to it and deal with it,” she said. “So I’m very blessed to have someone in my life who is my best friend, who is always there with me for whatever may come. Whatever happens, I’m determined to love my life, and to make each day an adventure.”
Even if that involves tandem rides in a swivel chair and construction paper hearts.
“That’s true!” Collins laughs. “Don’t overlook those things! Those little silly things, those fun times you create every day out of the little things in life, they seem like just little things, but really, they’re the big things. Those are the things that really matter. Those are the things that make your life wonderful.”