Ex Libris: Beaufort’s longest running book club celebrates 20 years

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By Lanier Laney

Ex Libris, Beaufort’s longest running book club, was started in 1994 and is now celebrating 20 years of good friends getting together to discuss literature.

After developing a reading list at the beginning of the year, the women meet once a month to discuss the book — and maybe drink a little wine. They try to include a variety of genres from fiction to biographies to self-help and historical fiction. They have developed a reputation as the serious book club.

Members of the Ex Libris book club. Front, from left: Gwen Sanders and Sandra Myrick. Second row: Nancy Brown, Valerie Fisher, Vicki Mix, Rosemary Cuppia and Audrey Montgomery. Third row: Cindy Newman, Mary Sanders, Mary Segars, Priscilla Coleman, Fleetwood Bradshaw. Back row: Kathy Kilgore, Sally Post and Frances Cherry.
Members of the Ex Libris book club. Front, from left: Gwen Sanders and Sandra Myrick. Second row: Nancy Brown, Valerie Fisher, Vicki Mix, Rosemary Cuppia and Audrey Montgomery. Third row: Cindy Newman, Mary Sanders, Mary Segars, Priscilla Coleman, Fleetwood Bradshaw. Back row: Kathy Kilgore, Sally Post and Frances Cherry.

There are roughly 25 members; 16 of them have been with the club since the beginning. Some of the original members include Rosemary Cuppia, Gwen Sanders, Frances Cherry, Cindy Newman, Fleetwood Bradshaw, Vicki Mix, Kathy Kilgore, Sally Post, Mary Sanders, Priscilla Coleman, Fran Sanders, Mary Tatum, Sally Shepard, Laura Dukes, Sarah Kern, Robin Koppernaes and Liz Malinowski.

They have seen a lot of changes over the years — babies born, high school and college graduations, marriages, and now even grandchildren.

The group first came together at Kathy Kilgore’s house after several members had heard about book clubs being formed elsewhere. Those original members have now read and discussed 240 books (one a month for 20 years). Their first book was “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and one of their most recent books “The Fault in Our Stars” is also being made into a movie.

Kathy says, “I think our club is dynamic because many of us don’t socialize together any other time except book club. We come together and get one another’s perspective on a whole range of subjects. There are always a few disagreements, but we respect each other’s opinions.”

They take turns having the meetings at each other’s homes and each person brings appetizers to go with the wine.

Even with 25 members, between prior commitments, family events, and other distractions, they usually end up with 12 to 15 people at a meeting, which, as one member said, is the perfect number to be able to discuss the book. That’s why current membership is limited to 25, and there is a waiting list.

Member Vicki Mix admits that they particularly enjoyed reading the young adult books. “It lets us know what our kids are reading,” she said.

Fleetwood Bradshaw said, “Over the last 20 years, the lives of our members have been interwoven creating a tapestry of friendship. We have gooed over babies and wept over graves. We have cheered each other’s accomplishments and supported each other during times of illness, disappointments and sorrow.  We raised babies, built houses, attended school and church events. We’ve taken our children to college and our parents to nursing homes. We watched our children marry  and now watch as our babies have babies. Who knows what books and what events will take us through the next 20 years. We met over the love of words and we stay for words of love.”

She adds, “A wise friend once told me, you will never be lonely as long as you have a book to read.”

Says Kathy Kilgore, “Personally, this club has encouraged me to read books I may otherwise have not picked up. It provides me with a new perspective on many subjects and it has been a wonderful journey with a fabulous group of women.”

As a group they have contributed more than $3,000 to a variety of causes including Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry, DSS Adopt a Family, Born to Read, National Wildlife Foundation and Friends of Caroline Hospice.  They pick a deserving organization to give to every year. And every December they invite spouses and guests to an annual Christmas Party.

They have also hosted many visiting authors such as Mary Kay Andrews, Lois Battle, Cassandra King and Tommy Hayes. A favorite highlight was hosting Matthew Bruccoli, a professor of English at the University of South Carolina and the preeminent expert on F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Kathy said, “Many people don’t realize that The Matthew J. & Arlyn Bruccoli Collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald constitutes the most comprehensive research collection for the study and teaching of Fitzgerald and is housed at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.”

The club’s current “leader” is Sandra Myrick. She says, “I would like to thank the founding members for all their efforts throughout the years in motivating the group to continue for the past 20 years!  What an accomplishment. I would also like to thank all of our members past and present for giving of their time and talents to keep this fine organization of lovely ladies meeting to discuss an open-minded collection of reading and contributing to the many nonprofits over the years. I hope that we will be celebrating our organization many, many more years to come. The past 20 have proven very successful so I am hoping in the next decades to have the same success.”