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Turning Pages Through Time: How Three Calgary Volunteers Changed Lives with Books

The heartwarming story of Carolyn, Norma, and Nellie’s 50-year commitment to homebound readers

The Calgary Public Library is celebrating a remarkable milestone with three volunteers who have dedicated more than 50 years to helping those who can’t visit the library themselves. 

Carolyn Arrell, 83, Norma High, 91, and Nellie Befus, 96, have been stewards of the library’s Homebound Reader program since 1974, delivering books to people confined to their homes due to health issues.

Nellie Befus was the first to sign up for the program and recalls her early volunteering days. “I don’t drive, so I walked, took transit, rode my bike,” she told CTV News.

Despite the challenge, she filled her basket with books and set out to make deliveries. “I was very proud that I could do this,” Nellie shared. 

When carrying books on the bus became challenging, she started helping with Libraries in Residence.

“I can’t believe it’s been 50 years; I enjoyed every bit,” she said.

Nellie | CTV News
Nellie | CTV News

Never Too Old

Norma  Calgary Library
Norma | Calgary Library

At 91, Norma has also volunteered in the Homebound Readers and Libraries in Residence programs.

The former nurse spent most of her time volunteering in hospitals, sharing books and connecting with patients.

“It’s a wonderful experience. When I look back at all the people I’ve met over the years, I’ve made some wonderful friends. They give as much as I give,” Norma said.

The youngest of the three volunteers is 83-year-old Carolyn. She is one of the original Homebound Readers volunteer and continues to support that program today.

“Taking books to so many different types of people has been quite remarkable,” Carolyn said. 

Nellie | Calgary Library
Carolyn | Calgary Library

She would have never predicted the longevity or the impact Homebound Readers would have on her life, and right now, she has no plans of stopping anytime soon.

“I wouldn’t be able to call it hard work. It’s enjoyable work, if you can even call it work,” Carolyn said. 

Nellie, on the other hand, at 96 years old, has reached the limits of her volunteer capacity.

She’s been living at the Aspen Lodge in northeast Calgary and running the Library in Residence program, but she now she’ll be handing over the reins. 

“I’m not all that well anymore, and I get so tired. I’m sorry, but I will help the new lady that’s coming and get her started,” 

Her heartfelt apology, especially in her condition, couldn’t be more moving. 


The work these women have put in for long hasn’t gone unnoticed. Library staff went all out with personal visits to give awards to each of these ladies. 

Nellie | Calgary Library

“We came out to see each of them in their homes; we brought them flowers,” Chelsea Murray, the library’s Manager of Program and Volunteer Planning, told CTV News. 

The library has also celebrated these women’s incredible impact by “really trying to (share) their stories and hear what they have experienced in volunteering with the library.”

Staff are continuing to recognize the importance of their volunteers.

Murray emphasized the ongoing need: “If anybody wants to volunteer, we would love for them to apply. We have so many programs that people can volunteer for. There is something for everyone.”

Last year alone, the Calgary Public Library benefited from more than 2,400 volunteers who contributed over 48,000 hours across various programs, demonstrating the strong volunteer spirit in the community.

Over fifty years, these amazing women have been a part of countless meaningful moments. 

While many of these small experiences likely blur together over time, their overarching impact has mattered to many Calgarians.

They’ve been a part of a riveting and still unfolding story, and that matters.

If you want to follow in their footsteps, you can learn how here.

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