WORTHINGTON — College sophomores currently sweating about which major to declare can relax: Their choice won’t necessarily dictate their life’s path.
Just ask Sandi Mead, a Worthington native who is preparing to wrap up a 41-year career as a librarian later this spring.
“I graduated from Worthington High School in 1971, then earned a liberal arts degree at Worthington State Junior College [now Minnesota West Community and Technical College],” Mead said.
“In 1975, I graduated from what was then Mankato State College with an elementary ed degree and a minor in library science.”
It was her minor that played a major part in Mead’s professional life, since she finished her undergraduate education during a period when teachers were a dime a dozen.
“I applied everywhere and received 42 rejection letters for elementary ed teaching jobs,” said Mead.
“So, I decided to try something else.”
With those rejections ringing unpleasantly in her ears, Mead wasn’t choosy; she accepted a bookkeeping job at what was then Scholtes Motors before finding a pathway back to library work in 1980 via the Nobles-Rock-Murray-Jackson County Bookmobile.
“I was based in Nobles County and was the bookmobile librarian for a long time,” said Mead. “For the first six years, Richard Mork worked with me.”
With Mork driving, Mead took the bookmobile throughout the four counties, visiting schools and making seemingly random stops along the way for residents hungry for books and media at a time before computers, the Internet, cell phones, iPads or even widespread cable TV channels existed.
“In a lot of the outlying areas, kids didn’t have other library access, and people really, really loved to have us,” said Mead.
“We were hugely popular, especially with women, although sometimes kids would rock the bus to try and shake books off the shelves.”
While cruising the highways and byways of southwest Minnesota delivering books and summer reading programs — often as many as 24 programs involving stories, crafts, games and films within a two-week period — was sometimes grueling, the experience allowed Mead to merge her education and library science training.
“And it was a good feeling to be wanted and appreciated,” said Mead.
“I wish people still liked to read physical books; now they just pick up their [electronic] device,” she continued.
“Even though I understand why, it makes me sad to think they’re not picking up a new book, flipping through its pages, finding a comfy spot and reading without the need for Wi-Fi.”
There was another unexpected perk of the bookmobile job Mead fully embraced.
“I loved getting lunch at the small-town cafes,” said Mead. “It was absolutely fabulous food — mashed potatoes, meatloaf, vegetables, rolls, great desserts — that was good stuff.”
Mead jokes that, despite bouncing on the bookmobile during her pregnancies (daughter Sara was born in 1984, son John arrived in 1989), “Thank goodness they turned out OK.”
Changes for Bluejay, Lady Jay fan
Mead earned a master’s degree in library science (through a Mankato State University program available at Southwest Minnesota State University’s Marshall campus) over a four-year period during which she commuted on weekends to Marshall.
“It took about four years to complete,” she said.
Master’s degree in hand, Mead bid farewell to the bookmobile and became the Nobles County Library’s reference librarian, a position she held until being hired as the Minnesota West Community and Technical College (MWCTC) reference librarian in 1998.
“I am a HUGE Bluejays/Lady Jays booster,” said Mead.
“I like watching all sports, for sure, but I’m a little more partial to football — and I’m also a big Vikings fan.”
Mead’s job positioned her well to aid MWCTC athletes on many levels.
“In the library, I try to mentor them, offer encouragement and help them find the resources they need to make it easier academically,” said Mead.
“I can be a friendly face and often offer advice — and food,” she laughed. “I’ve fed a lot of them over the years.”
Several years ago when a severe student housing shortage existed at MWCTC, Mead opened her home as a makeshift dormitory of sorts.
“I said, ‘Sure, we’ll find room for you; have you got a sleeping bag?’” she responded.
“We had wall-to-wall students, all football or basketball athletes from out of state,” Mead reported.
“Eleven of them lived in my basement for a month until more housing was found — and my son John, who was still at home, loved it.
“They were good and respectful — some more than others — but overall they were some really good kids.”
For a number of years, Mead continued providing housing for MWCTC students — usually football players who hailed from the tough inner cities of metro areas like Detroit and Miami.
“They came from some pretty sad places, and I could tell they needed parental support; you could sense they’d never really had a lot of support sometimes,” said Mead.
“I’m glad I was there to help them out when they needed it.”
Reflecting back, looking forward
The middle child of the late Myrt and John Klumper, Mead grew up with her older brother Wayne and younger sister Karen in the Cherry Point neighborhood.
“Summers were great,” said Mead. “We were always at Centennial beach or riding bikes around the lake.
“And at our grandma’s place along old Highway 60 we rode our horses — Sugarfoot and Sparky.”
Mead’s family belonged to the Evangelical United Brethren Church (more recently home to Emmanuel United Methodist) at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and 14th Street; for the past 30 years she has been an active member of First United Methodist, serving as high school youth director, Sunday school teacher, vacation Bible school teacher and committee member.
Both of Mead’s kids followed her as Worthington High School grads — Sara in 2003, John in 2008 — and John was a three-sport athlete (football/hockey/track).
Today, John lives and works in Denver, Colorado; Sara and her husband Mo are in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, raising Mead’s three treasured grandchildren (Layla, 11; Kayden, 7; and Maya, 6).
“They all play basketball, learning from their daddy’s training techniques, and oh man, are those kids good,” said Mead.
“He [son-in-law Mo] was recruited from the Ivory Coast to play college basketball for South Dakota State University.”
In retirement, Mead hopes to spend even more time with her family and watching the sports that never fail to thrill her.
“When the Vikings win the Super Bowl,” Mead said confidently, “I’ll be there.”