ZEPHYRHILLS Susanne Tyler Broadbelt, almost magically, could ferret out just the right book at just the right time for the child or teacher who needed it.
Kathleen McDermott knows. When McDermott was pregnant, Broadbelt handed her a book that helped her explain her pregnancy to her students.
“She loved what she did and it showed,” said McDermott, a reading-intervention teacher at Chester Taylor Elementary School. “She was great around children.”
Broadbelt, a retired reading specialist who worked in Pasco County schools for more than 30 years, died in October in an ultra-light plane crash at the Winter Haven Municipal Airport. She was 60.
Former co-workers described Broadbelt as an adventuresome sort, just the kind of person who would take up flying in her later years.
“She had a snake she used to keep in one of those large tanks,” McDermott said. “The kids loved it.”
Broadbelt was so full of life that those who knew her were all the more stunned by her death. They also were determined to honor her memory.
Thus was born the Susanne Tyler Broadbelt Memorial Book Drive, an effort to collect donated books for every student at three Zephyrhills schools — Chester Taylor Elementary, Woodland Elementary and West Zephyrhills Elementary.
“Literacy was her love,” said Kelly Harlow, an exceptional-student education teacher who became chief organizer of the book drive. “She always said children who can’t read can’t do anything else.”
Word spread about the book drive, which began in November. Momentum grew.
Former teachers now working for the military shipped in books from overseas. People dropped off books. Others called Harlow and asked her to come pick up books.
For months, the tomes stacked up in Harlow’s room, where her curious students eyed them, made note of favorite titles and waited eagerly for the giveaway day to arrive.
That happened Friday at all three schools.
In the media center at Chester Taylor Elementary, delighted children skittered from table to table where the books were displayed, arranged more or less by reading level.
Students thumbed through such titles as “Cowboys of the Sky” by Steven C. Levi, “Armadillo Rodeo” by Jan Brett and “The Book Report From the Black Lagoon” by Mike Thaler.
McKayla Prior, 6, a first-grader, clutched a copy of “Rabbits and Raindrops” by Jim Arnosky. She chose it “because it has big words.”
Principal Julie Marks said some of the school’s first- and second-graders have already progressed to chapter books. Dekken Stuckey, 7, a first-grader, is one of those. His advanced reading skills allowed him to peruse a table with books for older children.
After a quick look, he grabbed “The Ugly Truth” by Jeff Kinney, a volume in the humorous “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series.
“I usually like to read Goosebumps books that are chapter books,” Dekken said. “I’ve got a bunch of them at the house.”
A few students marched to the media-center desk with their picks, operating under the assumption they needed to check out the books and return them at some future date.
Marks momentarily halted the proceedings to set them straight.
“These are your books,” she said. “You do not have to check them out. When you go back to your classroom you can put your name in it.”
The book drive collected more than 2,500 books for the three schools, topping the target of 2,300 that would place one book in the hand of every child.
“I hope we made Sue proud,” Harlow said.
Kit Broadbelt, the reading specialist’s ex-husband and also a retired school district employee, praised the effort.
“Nothing we do in education is as important as reading,” he said.
Second-grade teacher Donna Stallings said Broadbelt had hoped to fly over the school someday.
The scenario called for students to stand in the courtyard and wave to her as she soared past.
It’s a moment that will never happen.
But Stallings didn’t forget.
On Friday, she planned to take her students to the appointed place.
There they would wave to the empty sky and thank Broadbelt for their books.