‘Garden Club’ eases book-buying crush


For students, buying books means braving lines winding to the back of the stores, toting stacks of texts weighing slightly less than a German shepherd, and shelling out hundreds of dollars.

It was more or less the same 30 years ago, which is why a group of women decided then they would change the experience for students. At Iowa Book, 8 S. Clinton St., between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., they can be spotted sporting gray hair and bright attitudes.

“The students used to come to the bookstore to check out the cashiers,” said Dee Vanderhoef, the founding member, and laughed.

It started in 1979, when she received a phone call from her husband, Iowa Book owner Peter Vanderhoef, asking her to help fill in.

“He also asked, ‘Do you have any friends?’ ” Dee Vanderhoef recalled with a laugh.

She did. Dee Vanderhoef and five of her friends headed downtown to lend a hand.

Since then, a group of women —though not all the originals — has manned the cash registers and answered phones during the first week of classes. They celebrate with a night out at the end of the week, though likely not in a fashion the bookstore customers are used to.

They can deal with long lines and sassy students. Just don’t call them “the old ladies,” they insist.
Hence the misnomer “The Garden Club”; with the exception of one member, they are not at all associated with green thumbs.

Over a lunch of sandwiches, Scotcheroos, and salads, the club members recalled changes they have seen over the years. They joked about the old cash registers and difficulties that came with switching to a computerized system.

“I always pushed the buttons on the new ones too hard,” Dee Vanderhoef said, stabbing the air vigorously to demonstrate how she handled the old-fashioned models.

And that led to her once ringing up $4,000 for a student’s book by accident.

That isn’t why she stopped working up front, however.

“She’s too short to reach the buttons,” her husband exclaimed.

Thirty years ago, Pete Vanderhoef built a small platform so Dee Vanderhoef could see the top row of buttons on the machine. Now, she answers phones.

All the members agree that the best perk of being in the store for “rush week” is improving students’ experience in shopping for books.

Garden Club member Ann Ruby said she enjoys being a sort of mother figure to freshmen who are on their own for the first time. And certainly their affection doesn’t go unnoticed by students, even those in graduate school.

UI senior Molly Daggett and freshman Lainey Tick agreed it was great to see a friendly face at the end of the long checkout line.

“The ladies working are so pleasant and easy-going,” Daggett said, toting her bright yellow bag full of books.

As much as the ladies enjoy helping students and working together they see another major benefit to volunteering.

“We’ll work for the food,” Ruby said with a laugh.

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