Even as an adolescent, Vallena Dyson Harris yearned to inspire students to read and delve deeply into the bottomless mine of printed knowledge of their world. She couldn't have imagined the splendid library that would become her domain.
For most of the past 20 years, Harris operated the classic library, reading room and research center at Santa Rosa's private Sonoma Country Day School. She had been unable to work for two years when she died Sept. 2 from complications from breast cancer.
Speaking of her work in a 2007 interview with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Harris said, "The most rewarding part is engaging students in reading and encouraging them to become lifelong learners."
Devorah Harris of Santa Rosa said her mother so loved what she did in the library, "I could hardly get her to come home."
Vallena Harris also was active in community endeavors. She served in the past on the board of the Sonoma County Public Library Foundation and helped with the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration.
Also, she was a graduate of Leadership Santa Rosa and for years helped judge costumes and human centipedes at the Volunteer Center's Human Race. She was a member of First United Methodist Church.
The former Vallena Devorah Dyson was born in Berkeley and grew up in Oakland. While a student at Oakland Technical High, she volunteered as a Candy Striper at Oakland Children's Hospital.
As a teen, she served on a young-adult advisory committee for Oakland's libraries. She told later of feeling fortunate to have been mentored "by three wonderful librarians during high school and college."
She attended UC Berkeley, earning a bachelor's degree in sociology and a Master of Library Science.
She found her first library job at UC San Francisco. She switched for a time to being a self-employed medical librarian and consultant, and in the early 1980s moved to Sonoma County to work for Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
She did part-time work at libraries throughout the Sonoma County system before being hired at Sonoma Country Day School in 1992.
"She embodied our school mission, 'To Bring Learning to Life,' and shared her passion with all who have been blessed to know her," said Cindy Rodenbaugh, the K-8 school's Dean of Faculty and Students.
In her free time, Harris enjoyed reading, of course, and also walking Spring Lake and the Sonoma Coast's beaches, listening to jazz and gardening.
"She had a really good hand with roses," her daughter said. "We always had impatiens all over the place."
"She also loved hummingbirds."
Harris' friend and former dean, Rodenbaugh, said she was meticulous about all aspects of her life, certainly her dress. Rodenbaugh visited Harris at her Santa Rosa home days before her death, and they had a good laugh about the scarf she wore and how perfectly it complemented her hospital gown.
"This world has been made a better place by her presence," Rodenbaugh said.
In addition to her daughter in Santa Rosa, Harris is survived by her son, Michael, also of Santa Rosa; sister Renee Wallace of Oakland; brother Willard Dyson of New York City; and three grandchildren.
Sonoma Country Day School will host a celebration of Harris' life at 1 p.m. Oct. 19 in the campus' Jackson Theater.