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For 39 years it was all about the books.

Mysteries and sci-fi and cookbooks and history books. Self-help tomes and coffee table anchors and craft guides. Poetry and large-print, fiction and non-fiction, romance and aviation, all sorted and arranged neatly on covered tables.

For years, people cleaning out and cleaning up, those moving or making room brought armloads and tubs and boxes full of used books to the Lincoln Area Retired School Personnel.

The retired teachers and nurses, custodians and bus drivers stored thousands of books and puzzles, records and cassette tapes and CDs in storage units. 

Several times a year, they got into those storage units, sorted the books and displayed them for their book sales.

For the last 18 years, it’s been a labor of love for book sale chairwoman Wauneta Peterson, who spent 38 years teaching physical education at Belmont and a host of other elementary schools.

Two years ago, she let her fellow retired school members know she would be stepping down as book chair, but nobody volunteered to take over the time-consuming work of managing all those books.

And so, when the doors close to this week’s sale at 2737 N. 49th St., that will be it.

“Nobody else stepped up,” Peterson said. “You know, I hate it, but I can’t store all these books here.”

On this last book sale, the tables, tablecloths and carts are for sale, too, though the tablecloths are already sold.

When the doors close for good Saturday, they’ll give all the books away to retirement homes and day cares, to dialysis and cancer centers, Lighthouse and the Child Advocacy Center and the City Mission.

Not one of those books will end up in the landfill. That’s a promise.

“At least somebody’s going to get something out of it,” she said.

She’s sad the sale will end, but knows it’s a lot of hard, physical work and the 250 members are getting older. Peterson just turned 80. They just celebrated one member’s 100th birthday.

Peterson isn’t exactly sure how the sale started nearly four decades ago, but figures somebody thought it would be a good moneymaker.

And it has been. In its heyday, the book sales generated $15,000 to $20,000, she said. They’re not so lucrative anymore, but still fund four $1,000 scholarships for education majors. At one time, they also gave $500 scholarships to student teachers, too, as well as donations to various youth-related organizations.

Over the years, they've had other money-making ventures, but the book sale was a constant.

The first few years, it was held at East Park Plaza, then for about 30 years at Gateway.

The last few years it's been in a former dentist and doctor's office, in a building owned by a regular book sale attendee who knew the group was looking for a new site.

The group holds four book sales a year, two at the north Lincoln office building and two at the Lancaster Event Center.

For years, the group had five storage units to hold the books. Recently, it consolidated to three.

Peterson has fielded calls for years — sometimes five a day — from people looking for somewhere to donate books.

“The people loved it because they felt their books were doing something good for someone else,” Peterson said.

Over the years, sales have dipped for a number of reasons, but they’ve always had regular customers, those looking for a good deal on a good book.

“We have some of the same customers over and over and over again, but I can see that (sales) have fallen quite a bit,” she said. “But I still am happy to see people who like to read and have a book in their hands.”

The group will still have a scholarship program, though likely won’t be able to fund four a year. Not without the books.

“I enjoy the setting up and sales part,” Peterson said. “I’m really going to miss it.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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