"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."


By on May 23, 2021 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments

Gloria Piper Roberson thumbs through Goodnight Moon, a book she has long read to elementary school kids.

For the past 26 years, she has been reading to schoolkids — and loving it

By Susan Sampson

Did you go to grade school in Wenatchee? Or did your kids? Or if you are old, did your grandkids or your great-grandchildren? 

At Washington Elementary, Newbery, Columbia, Lewis and Clark, St. Joseph’s Catholic School, Mission View, or for a while at Sunnyslope? 

If so, how many of you recognize the name “Mamo”? Her real name is Gloria Piper Roberson and she was born on July 20, 1932. She will be 89 years old on July 20, 2021, and for the past 26 years, she has been reading to schoolkids. 

“Mamo” is not a foreign language. That’s the name her first granddaughter, Piper, gave Gloria, and it’s the name that school children know for the lady who has read books to them in their classrooms, following them from kindergarten through the fifth grade. 

It started in 1995, when Gloria felt the need to have a better bond with her standoffish 6-year-old grandson Micah. 

Teacher Ms. Larson at Washington Elementary allowed Gloria to read books to the children in her class. Gloria sat on the floor with the kids around her feet and read. 

Micah remained at the back of the room. He stood back when the other children surrounded her to say goodbye at the end of the session, until the end of the school year. Then he asked, “Will you come back next year?” 

“If you want me to,” she answered, and he did, and hugged her, and the bond she longed for was made. 

Then her other grandchildren asked her to read in their classrooms too, and how could she not? 

She read in higher and higher grades to follow her “grands,” and their teachers asked her to come back to their next year’s new classes as well, so her agenda grew, until it included her “greats” —  her great-grandchildren. 

Waiting outside for her time to enter Mission View school, she once saw children playing outdoors in the winter without mittens, so she knitted three mittens per classroom for kids to use who had none, or who forgot theirs, or who missed only one. Then she went inside to read. She figures she knitted 500 mittens. 

When Gloria reads, she wants to be at the level of the children. That’s not difficult for her — she is a petite 5 foot, 1 inch. 

She leaves her shoes outdoors and shows off her colorful mismatched socks. She sits on the floor and the children sit around her. 

She opens her tote bag that the children have come to recognize. Out comes the day’s books, plus her chocolate milk bottle now washed out and filled with water, and her notes for the day’s proceedings. She notes the books read, the time ’til the next class, the place for her next audience. She keeps the daily log, and by now, it’s a stack of pages 8 inches high. 

Maybe Gloria wasn’t born to entertain, but her mother forced her into vaudeville, performing in Los Angeles between movies, doing tap-dancing, ballet and acrobatics, starting at about age three. 

That ended at age 18, when she tap-danced in her ballet toe shoes and injured her toe. 

Her vaudeville career ended, but she didn’t care: Show business was onerous. She finished high school and met Don Robison in 1950. They were married from 1951 until he died in 2013, for 62 years. 

To choose a book to read to schoolchildren, Gloria visits the public library, scans books and checks out up to 30 books at a time. At home, she reads them carefully and chooses what she likes. First, she loves good illustration. Second, she loves a story.

Gloria reads the books she has skimmed, then reads closely to prepare for reading them aloud in class. Once, she stumbled over a word and forgot to Google it ahead of time. When she got to class, she stumbled over the word “vociferously” again. While the teacher tapped it into her computer, Gloria told the students, “I’ll have to look it up in my dictionary.”

“You have a dictionary?” an incredulous fifth-grader exclaimed. Gloria realized she’d have to show her computer-age students what an old-fashioned dictionary looked like.

Another time, she read a story to fifth graders about snakes shedding their skins. It was called Changes, and its theme was about changes to come in life. 

Gloria challenged the group — “What do you think are the changes you are facing, starting with the letter M?” she asked. She was thinking “Middle school.”

“Menstruation!” a girl shouted. 

A student at a school with a high Hispanic enrollment asked her to read a book in Spanish. Gloria didn’t feel that her studies in Spanish had equipped her well enough to read. “We’ll help you,” her student offered. 

Gloria realized a dream when she read for her grands, the twins for whom she had read from kindergarten, until they entered middle school. Recently, she read for another grand, in kindergarten, and another, younger grand, is in the waiting line. 

For one group she read to from kindergarten to the 5th grade, Gloria started with Goodnight Moon. When they hit the 5th grade, she read it to them again. She says that they loved it. 

For people who want to follow her example, Gloria says to expect children to want to hug, and who want to have attention. Expect them to be perceptive and surprising. 

And expect them to be an absolute joy. 

Susan Sampson met Gloria Piper Robison one summer when they both enrolled in Derek Sheffield’s poetry-writing class. A retired Seattle lawyer, Susan writes from Malaga.

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