Author Stephanie Keating Berke charms literacy supporters

VERO BEACH — When asked to be the guest speaker at last year’s Love of Literacy fundraiser to benefit Literacy Services of Indian River County, internationally renowned author Stephanie Keating Berke (who publishes under the name Keating) immediately said yes. 

She was equally happy to speak again this year, at a Love of Literacy Champagne Reception held Saturday, Feb. 6 in the Indian River Shores Community Room.

“What better way than to have authors speak about the importance of literacy,” she remarked.

A part-time Vero resident, Keating and her husband Norman Berke have been coming to the area for the past 20 years.  When not residing in their restored 18th century mill, near Montpelier in the south of France or traveling the world, they can generally be found in their Palm Island home.

Having just flown in two days before, a slightly jet-lagged but gracious Keating chatted with guests as they nibbled on an assortment of luncheon hors d’oeuvres, and then addressed the group, speaking about their lives growing up in Africa and the books she and her sister, Barbara Keating O’Hanlon have co-authored.

After their first book, To My Daughter in France, was published in 2002, it quickly became an international best-seller.  “It became addicting,” she admitted.  “You sit at a blank screen and feel the excitement and fear, and take up the challenge.”

Their fourth book, In Borrowed Light, is due to come out September 16th and is the last of the African trilogy, following Blood Sisters and A Durable Fire.  The book follows the fortunes of three families from different backgrounds and Keating whetted our appetite by treating us to an excerpt.

Keating also confessed that she was actually a late learner, not starting to read or write until age six.  But she quickly made up for lost time, gobbling up all the books she could get her hands on.  “It’s a privilege and an advantage to be able to read.”

Literacy Services volunteers and supporters have an obvious passion for the cause, and I caught up with a few of them after Keating’s presentation.  Carol Kanarek and Susan Chenault are serving as honorary co-chairs of the three events that make up the Love of Literacy Authors Series.  When asked why they became involve, Kanarek answered, “Reading opens the door to everything.”

Chenault agreed, and said that her mother Marilyn Chenault had owned The Book Shelf on Ocean Drive for many years.  “My early years were spent escaping into another world through reading.  Besides, I’d so anything for Mary [Silva].  She’s terrific and it’s a great cause.”

Another enthusiastic educator is Don Mann, who has been filling up his time since retiring as a human resources consultant, as a Literacy Services tutor and board member.  He also volunteers with the Guardian Ad Litem program, where he manages five families and his wife Sandy is active with the Education Foundation.

He stressed that even the simplest everyday things that most of us take for granted, such as reading street signs, menus, or the directions on a prescription bottle are difficult.  Mann is currently tutoring a man who came to him with first grade reading skills.  “He brings me his junk mail because he’s not sure if it’s anything important. He was so proud when he could finally write his first check without anybody’s help.”

Literacy Services is the only local organization that provides free one-on-one confidential tutoring to adults and high school students; they also assist foreign-born students in learning the English language.  Mary Silva, Literacy Services Executive Director describes their mission as, “Helping to open up a world of possibilities; one page, one book, one life at a time.”{igallery 145}

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