ARIPEKA — When Rene Bennett moved to the quaint Gulf-front fishing village of Aripeka almost four years ago, she took a walk with her daughter and discovered the little community’s quaint library.
“We loved books and to read,” she recalled. “We walked in and could smell the old books; I loved it.”
Patsy White, the longtime librarian, answered with an enthusiastic “yes,” when Bennett asked if the library could use a couple of volunteers. Bennett and her daughter, Kristin, got to work. They’ve been at it since, and now Bennett is the president and head librarian.
The more-than 5,000 books in the tiny block building are now cataloged and organized with the help of volunteer and local historian Lou Charity, so she’s now turning to getting some attention for the library. The library’s future depends on it, as there is little funding to sustain it.
But she’s optimistic, and she has a plan for programs like a summer reading challenge for the month of July that encourages people to check out and read books. Prizes will be awarded to the top readers. Details are on the library’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AripekaLibrary. She encourages people to bookmark the page to keep up with other activities coming soon.
“It’s time,” said Charity, referring to the library kicking things into gear to draw more people.
He’s hoping the new local history room he’s set up in the library will attract people interested in the 170-year history of Aripeka, as well as other communities in Pasco and Hernando counties. Already, archaeology students from Pasco-Hernando State College have used the library for research, and more will be making regular visits when school resumes in the fall.
Bennett is looking at holding an indoor game days at the library. She’s keeping an eye out for a croquet set for the library yard. A Harry Potter movie marathon is in the works. She’s toying with the idea of a “coffee morning” at the library and opening more often to accommodate groups and clubs who want to use the building as a meeting space. It’s a small facility, but the main room can handle about 10 people comfortably, she said.
Because the interest level isn’t where she wants it to be just yet, the library is open only Sunday and Wednesday between 1 and 3 p.m. That shouldn’t stop anyone who wants to come on other days, including evenings, she said, as special hours can be added to accommodate groups.
Bennett also wants to attract children, and to that end the library has expanded its children’s book collection. She wants to hold an event for children to write a book. It would be a collaborative effort, where children would write chapters to build a book. When done, it would be a paper book they can hold, thumb through and experienced in a tactile way as opposed to electronic reading online.
Aripeka is a small community that although isn’t an incorporated city is referred to on some maps as the “Town of Aripeka.” The 2010 census put the Aripeka population at 308. That may not be enough people to support a library, and the same question has come up several times in recent years regarding the town’s post office. There is no mail delivery to homes, but more than once the tiny post office has nearly closed down due to U.S. Postal Service cost-cutting efforts.
The Aripeka Library is at 18834 Rosemary Road, east of Aripeka Road, off Jake Lane. The building it occupies originally was a first aid station to serve the community’s sick or injured.
Aripeka got its start in 1859, when Maj. John Parsons and Nannie Yulee received a deed to property in what became Gulf Key, later Argo, and finally Aripeka, a name attributed to a Seminole Indian chief believed to have lived nearby. The town split in two when Pasco separated from Hernando County in 1887. One of its most famous early visitors was Babe Ruth, who fished the Gulf and local lakes. The town also became something of an artists’ toward the end of the last century, and was home to pop art pioneer James Rosenquist, who died in 2017.