BELLWOOD - Hazel Bilka isn't your stereotypical crabby librarian.
Bilka, 64, has been with the Bellwood-Antis Public Library for 38 years.
She does not own a pair of reading glasses on a chain, and she does not wear her hair in a bun. But Bilka does wear many hats, as she is heavily involved in her community.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Hazel Bilka works Aug. 8 at the Bellwood-Antis Public Library.
"My involvement in the community is what's most rewarding to me," Bilka said. "I want to make things happen in this town."
Many of Bilka's activities branch out from her role as the secretary and treasurer of the Bellwood-Antis Community Trust.
"It's a community full of really special people, and being involved in different aspects of community has given me a chance to get to know all of them," she said.
The group purchased a building in 1999 at 521 Main St., Bellwood.
George Palmer of Tipton first used the building for FrontLine Ministries.
From there, "The Door" was established, an after-school ministry for at-risk youth. The program takes in between 20 to 40 children daily, who are provided with home-cooked meals and tutoring.
Bilka said the program offers a safe and secure environment for the children.
"It's a great program with a homelike atmosphere," Bilka said. "We were kind of in the background getting it started and off the ground, but I'm certainly proud of it."
She's also the president of the Bells Gap Rails-to-Trails, a 2.25-mile hiking trail that follows the former Bells Gap Railroad.
"The trail runs through some beautiful scenic routes of our township," Bilka said.
The Community Trust applied for a Growing Greener Grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection. DEP provided $188,000, which was matched by the nonprofit group.
Though Bilka's primary responsibility is to oversee the terrain, she credits much of its maintenance to a core of volunteers.
"[The volunteers] do a wonderful job. I would love to see the trail be expanded and enlarged. I think if there were more trails, more people would use it," Bilka said.
Sue Johnson, a member of the Community Trust, said Bilka has worked extremely hard in establishing the trail.
"She's the one who really initiated it, and it's a project that she won't let drop. She's always there to keep things going," Johnson said.
If all that weren't enough for her, Bilka is also the editor of the Bellwood-Antis Community Trust Newsletter, which was created in 1998 and is published four times a year.
The newsletter covers events occurring in the town, and Bilka said the main purpose of the newsletter is to help keep the town informed of upcoming club meetings and events.
"I try to coordinate and get the word out," Bilka said of her responsibilities as editor. "It's a group effort."
Of course, she also holds the position of executive director of the Bellwood-Antis Public Library but said the title gives her more credit than she probably deserves.
"It's only a two-person library, so I don't direct a whole lot of people," she joked.
Library assistant Pam Ayers said Bilka is very helpful to all patrons.
"When people come in and have questions or need help finding a book, she's very willing to help people look up information and do research," Ayers said. "She's very community-minded."
Bilka said her primary concern is trying to raise money for the library's needs. She said she hopes to see funding increase on the state level in the near future.
"The state government needs to realize that we are important and need to be supported. All the libraries are having to hold bake sales to raise money and keep our doors open," Bilka said.
Bilka said she views libraries as the centers of their communities, explaining that the Bellwood-Antis library is the designated polling place as well as a monthly meeting area for more than 45 clubs and organizations.
The library itself also holds several annual reading programs, including "One World, Many Stories" and "Sprouting Readers."
"Most parents bringing children here actually started as children themselves. We get a lot of extended families," she said. "I think being able to offer that to the community makes people appreciate it."
The library also takes part in the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, which occurs the Monday before Thanksgiving. The event brings in carolers from local day cares and the high school. After the community Christmas tree is switched on, Santa Claus rides into town on a fire truck and hands out gifts to children on the stairs of the library.
Bilka has worked alongside the borough in making sure the ceremony, which is entering its 15th year, is successful and memorable, Johnson said.
"Whenever she finds something she wants to do, she doesn't get discouraged." Johnson said.
Bellwood resident Melinda Wolfe said she agrees with Johnson's sentiments.
"She's just really energetic in the community. She's willing to help to make Bellwood better. Anything that involves Bellwood, she'll do," Wolfe said.
There's no doubt that Bilka is a busy woman, but despite her hectic schedule, she never misses a Penn State home game.
"I'm a football fanatic," said the Penn State Altoona alumna. "[My husband and I] really look forward to the games."
She also loves to travel and has already been to Hawaii, Alaska, Italy, Russia and Germany.
"I've always wanted to see the world," she said. "I'm not sure where I want to go next. I just want to go everywhere."
But Bilka said she never leaves home for long. She's always quick to come back to the town that she's grown to love.
"I love doing things that develop a sense of community," she said. "I really think the best thing about living in Bellwood is that sense of community."