SUBMITTED BY THE BOCA GRANDE HISTORIAL SOCIETY – Pansy Cost is one of a handful of Boca Grande’s colorful, old-time residents and visitors who will be featured at the Boca Grande Historical Society’s “Lunch with the Legends” at the Gasparilla Inn on November 3.
Look for more information about this event in the weeks to come. Tickets can be reserved at the Historical Society office, 964-1600.
Today, a visitor to the Johann Fust Community Library at 1040 West 10th Street might ask one of three people for help in finding a good book: Toni Vanover, branch manager and senior librarian, or Chris Thomas and Mary Vickers, library associates.
But until 2002, when she retired, the individual who knew everything there was to know about the library’s many publications was Pansy Cost. She worked at the library for more than 50 years.
The pretty, dark-haired librarian was born in Wachula, Florida in 1921 in her grandmother’s house, as was the custom in those days. After her birth, her parents, Matilda and William Polk, brought her home to Boca Grande.
The little town where Pansy grew up had everything to meet the residents’ needs, including three grocery stores, a department store and a drugstore with a pharmacist. An electrical shop, post office, dress shop and theater were also part of the community. Beaches were pristine – and mostly devoid of people – and the railroad was the focus of much excitement as visitors arrived from the north.
After Pansy graduated from school, her mother allowed her to travel with friends to Birmingham, Alabama. There, she attended Wheeler Business College and met her future husband, Tommy Cost. When Tommy was discharged from the military, the young couple came back to Boca Grande.
This was where they wanted to be, she recalled in an article published in the spring of 2004 for the Boca Grande Historical Society. The island and books were in her blood.
She remembered her introduction to books as a young girl, “In my own home, there was a bookcase in the hallway, and I was constantly pulling those books out and reading them. I got into a group of books that were children’s westerns, like the X Bar X Boys on the Ranch. It was something similar to the Hardy Boys.”
There was no library on the island in Pansy’s younger years. People who wanted to read could usually find a good book in the room over the Railroad Depot – left behind by travelers or by readers wanting to share them.
Pansy’s first experience in a librarian-type role came when Mr. Riley, the real estate agent for the railroad, asked if she could help “check out” books in the depot room – and ensure that they were returned.
Later, Pansy was working at a club for bridge players, when Boston banker Roger Amory and his wife, Louise, decided to build a community library and asked her if she would help manage the operation. Pansy was standing next to the Amorys when the front doors of the Johann Fust Community Library were opened in Jan. 1, 1950.
Under Louise Amory’s direction, Pansy learned about becoming a librarian. Her abilities and her curious nature made her an indispensable asset, not only to the library but to the entire community.
“We had a lot of music events,” Pansy remembered. “We also had the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday afternoon. That was piped out into the garden. Sunday afternoon we had an hour and a half of concert music for people to come and listen to. I can just see all those people sitting out there and so many of them doing needlework, just keeping time with the music. When Mr. Amory died, the concerts died with him.”
It was Amory’s idea to have a book boat for people living on surrounding islands who did not have access to a library. Several days a week during the “season,” the boat would go to different islands, including Bokeelia, Useppa, Mondongo, Sea Grape Island, Cabbage Key and Captiva.
The boat, the Papyrus, was docked at Miller’s Marina, and was used for about four years, starting in 1954. It was replaced by the Papyrus II, which operated until sometime in the 1960s and was sold in 1972 because of expenses related to its upkeep.
The Papyrus II was often used by Tommy Cost to take people fishing – with Roger Amory’s permission, of course.
The cottage next door to the library, where Tommy and Pansy lived, is named the Cost Cottage in their honor.
To find out more about the history of Gasparilla Island and the town of Boca Grande, visit the Boca Grande Historical Society’s Museum and Gift Shop at 170 Park Avenue or at their website at bocagrandehistoricalsociety.com. You can also find them on Facebook.
n Above, Pansy Cost. Below, the old book boat called the Papyrus.