Gwen Reichert, who launched the Caldecott Society, dies at age 65

Written by Marcia Lane and published in The St. Augustine Record on January 9, 2012

The woman who helped St. Johns County school children discover the city's connection to noted illustrator Randolph Caldecott has died.

"Passionate" is how people described educator Gwen Reichert, 65, and her interest and enthusiasm for English artist Caldecott, who died here in 1886 while on a trip to America for his health.

In 1938 the Association for Library Service to Children began presenting the Caldecott Medal to the artist they chose as producing the most distinguished American picture book for children. They named the medal for Caldecott and it features a bas relief of one of his illustrations.

"All the kids know about the Caldecott books ..., but a lot didn't know who he was and then that he was buried here," said Art Boccieri, a friend of Gwen and her husband Allan Reichert. and a member of The Randolph Caldecott Society of America, the organization Gwen Reichert formed.

Gwen and her father, James Artis Patterson, went looking for Caldecott's grave at Evergreen Cemetery in 1967 while she was taking a class at Jacksonville University and discovered he was buried in St. Augustine. "We didn't know exactly where (the grave) was ... so my dad and I spent many hours looking among the briars and brambles," Gwen recalled in 2010. When they finally lifted a tipped-over tombstone, they found his name. "We just sat down and cried."

Her father and the cemetery caretaker fixed up the site. Gwen and her future husband Allan were dating at the time and would take flowers to the site. She never forgot about Caldecott and in 1983, she and others began the Society. Her bubbling enthusiasm was contagious.

"She's been so active. She rediscovered his grave and founded the Caldecott Society. She's been trying to maintain the grave every year and helping people understand who Caldecott is. ... The fact he's buried here is to our benefit," Boccieri said.

Born in Moultrie, Georgia, Gwen moved to St. Augustine in 1964 with her parents. She earned a BA degree in education at Jacksonville University, and later a Masters degree in Educational Administration and Supervision from the University of North Florida. She worked in the St. Johns County School District for 38 years, first as a teacher, later as a principal. She closed Fullerwood Elementary School and then became supervisor of the District's Title I Reading Program before her retirement in 2007. She taught at both Flagler College and JU, as well as writing for a number of publications.

During a 2010 interview, she recalled how she would bring children on school trips to the cemetery to learn about Caldecott. She made sure no one forgot about him, including having signs posted at the cemetery. As president of the Caldecott Society, she each year presided over the annual meeting that brings fans and scholars to celebrate the nineteenth century artist. Four times a year, the Society puts flowers on his grave, which these days is easy to find and always maintained.

Each year, the Society donates a set of the winning Caldecott books to the Main Branch Library and the Southeast Branch Library.

Gwen was active in the Friends of the Library, and served on the board many years. "She was active in anything that dealt with literature and children's literature," Boccieri said. "It's just a tremendous loss."

Judy Fleming Caldecott and Gwen at the 2008 RCSA Meeting

Gwen Presiding over the 2009 RCSA Meeting

Gwen Presiding over the 2010 RCSA Meeting

Gwen, John & Sharon Green at the 2011 RCSA Meeting

Books dontated to the Southeast Branch Library for Gwen's Retirement by the St. Johns County School Board

Gwen speaking at the Literary Landmark Celebration, 2005

Gwen speaking about Caldecott at a Rotary meeting, 2010

Gwen speaking about Caldecott at an FSU luncheon, 2010
Gwen with FSU women during a visit to the RC gravesite, 2010

Allan & Gwen at a concert during a visit to FSU, 2010

Sammie Morris, Julia Zimmerman, Mafe Brooks and Gwen during an FSU Library Staff visit to the RC gravesite, 2011
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