2014 Community Leader of the Year: Thelma Booker

Lots of people have drive and vision. What sets Thelma Booker apart from the rest is a better understanding of how the world works. At 80 years old, she knows how to get from point A to point B. And she’s willing to share that information with anyone. 

“There’s excitement about Thelma because she is bigger than these buildings and the titles we give her,” said Joy Rankin, director at Riverhead Free Library, where Ms. Booker is entering her sixth year as trustee — this time as vice president. “She has such a foundation in her community and a history that she clearly understands. She’s progressive in her thoughts and knows the steps that are needed to get us there. She’s a teacher in that regard and, like any good teacher, her classroom is always full.”

Friends of the Library Photo Show chairwoman Thelma Booker in 2014. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)
Friends of the Library Photo Show chairwoman Thelma Booker in 2014. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Ms. Booker isn’t just taking up the position of vice president at the library, where for well over a decade she’s also volunteered with the Friends of the Library support program. She’s also the incoming 2015 president of the Peconic Bay Medical Center Auxiliary and, as such, is a member of the PBMC Board of Directors. She’s a past president of the Woman’s Club of Riverhead and a former head of the Woman of the Moose. And that’s an abridged list.

It’s safe to say honoring Thelma Booker as a News-Review Community Leader of the Year is overdue.

“She’s a volunteer at everything,” said Ralph Passantino, a past governor of the Moose Lodge, where Ms. Booker and her late husband, Hilly, were both longtime members. “She’s still very active in the Lodge right now. She’s always been active with the children of the community. She’s a good girl.”

Ms. Booker is now preparing for the 50th Friends Annual Photography Contest at the library, an event she took over around 2000.

“Thelma is in charge of the photo contest and she’s doing something special [for the anniversary], but she won’t tell us what it is,” said Friends of the Library co-president Laurel Sisson, a fellow octogenarian. “I wish I had her energy. She’s blessed with abundant energy and she shares it with the community for good.”

In a 2010 News-Review article about the Woman’s Club of Riverhead, Ms. Booker, who at the time said she was also a member of the Kiwanis Club and East End Arts Council, gave a plain and simple response regarding what attracted her to the Woman’s Club and the other organizations.

“I like to join wherever there is activity,” she said.

She’s also full of ideas, other volunteers say.

It was Ms. Booker who suggested beginning a collection of school materials for children in need in the Riverhead School District about 10 years ago. She still runs the program today, using Friends of the Library donations to purchase materials, and bargains with local merchants for the best deals. The supplies are then delivered to the students discreetly so that they aren’t singled out as being needy.

“She’s a very effective buyer,” said library trustee Robert Hall. “She starts in July or so; this way the supplies are ready for the children in September.”

In nominating Ms. Booker for Community Leader of the Year, Friends of the Library co-president Arleen Peck said so many people “know, respect and like Thelma.”

Beside her own volunteer duties, Ms. Booker’s enthusiasm for everything she does is infectious. And that helps with attracting other volunteers.

“She’s just really fun to work with,” Ms. Peck said. “She’s a great person and fun and awesome.”

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Previous Winners
*The award was previously called Civic Person of the Year

2013: Vince Taldone
2012: Georgette Keller
2011: Nancy Swett
2010: Rich Podlas and Chuck Thomas
2009: Tom Gahan
2008: Keith Lewin
2007: Open Arms and Bread & More Inn
2006: Mike Brewer
2005: Sid Bail
2004: Kathy Berezny
2003: Jill Lewis
2002: Chrissy Prete
2001: Joe & Gloria Ingegno
2000: George Klopfer & Lt. Col. Anthony Cristiano
1999: Louise Wilkinson
1998: Charles Ramsey, Gwen Mack
1997: Judy Jacunski
1996: Peter Danowski
1995: Sherry Patterson
1994: Barry Barth, Bobby Goodale
1993: Arnold Braunskill, Don Owen
1992: Bernice Mack
1991: Judy Weiner
1990: Nancy Gassert, Gwen Branch
1989: Betty Brown
1988: Paul Baker