When librarians Barbara Kelley and Laurel Parker organized a Valentine’s Day tea at the Windham Public Library in 2005, it was supposed to be a one-time, holiday community gathering.

“Originally, we thought that we would have a tea party and that would be it,” Kelley said.

“Just one.”

The event’s popularity convinced Kelley and Parker otherwise. The librarians started hosting a monthly “Tea for You” with free home-cooked food at the library’s meeting room. Ten years, 80 events, and 4,500 cups of tea later, the library’s Tuesday afternoon tea is still going strong.

On Tuesday afternoon this week, more than 30 people congregated in the meeting room to celebrate the Windham tea’s 10th anniversary. (The celebration was delayed a month due to February’s blizzard.) They sipped green, orange pekoe, spicy peppermint and apple cider tea, while munching on vanilla wafers, dipping pineapples, strawberries and marshmallows in a chocolate fountain, and socializing.

Kelley, who was serving tea with Parker, said she is quite satisfied with the evolution of the Tuesday tea, which now occurs once every six weeks from 1:30-2:30 p.m.

“We wanted something that would be a community time to gather,” Kelley said. “What we found out was everybody mixes really well. Even at 2:15 p.m., the kids will come over from school and they come in here and mix and mingle and talk and sit down with everyone. It’s actually, I think, pretty unique for this town. Unique in the sense of, when else does everyone get together like this?”

Through the years, the Tuesday tea has celebrated a number of landmarks and holidays, such as Mardi Gras and the library’s 40th anniversary. Parker recalled a 2012 tea that celebrated the centennials of a variety of organizations and institutions.

“One of my favorite teas was celebrating many different organizations that were 100 in 2012 – L.L. Bean, Saint Joseph’s College, Girl Scouts, Fenway Park, Lifesavers,” Parker said. “There were 13 or 14 different things, including a couple of states that gained statehood that year.”

Jen Alvino, Windham’s library director since late 2013, described the teas as open and friendly.

“It’s really a wonderful community event,” Alvino said. “It’s just to give people an opportunity to meet and visit in an informal atmosphere, to give people a place to come together as a community.”

The anniversary was attended by several regular tea-goers, such as Sherry Andre, a retired children’s librarian who has gone to nearly every tea since she moved from Connecticut to Windham two years ago.

“I have friends that I have made through coming,” Andre said. “It’s an opportunity to get out of the house, see people, learn new places and new things. Everyone has something new to tell me that I need to see about my new home state, so it’s a wonderful opportunity.”

Andre sat next to Barbara Millett, who has been attending the tea since 2006. Millett used to meet with a group of friends who filled up a table of eight – nearly all of whom have since died. Yet Millett can’t stop coming – thanks to the happy atmosphere, she said.

“I come every time I get a chance,” Millett said. “I enjoy it. I enjoy meeting everybody, and the food is good.”

When she first started attending, did Millett expect the event to last into 2015?

“Yes, I did, because it was a good turnout every time,” she said.

In the past decade, 2,236 people have signed the Tuesday tea guestbook, according to Parker. For Kelley, the presence of a wide variety of community members – including public servants – is one of the event’s best features.

“I like it that there are members of the town government, that the councilors come, the town manager has been here, office people come, school kids, everybody,” Kelley said. “I like that. Everyone’s very friendly and introduces themselves. That’s exactly how I wanted it to be, how we wanted it to be. Plus, we get to bake.”

With Windham Councilor Bob Muir looking on, Librarian Laurel Parker offers a cup of tea during Tuesday’s 10th anniversary of the Windham Public Library’s “Tea for You.” Staff photo by Ezra SilkLibrarians Barbara Kelley, Jen Alvino, and Laurel Parker celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Windham Public Library’s Tuesday tea – a popular social event held every six weeks. Staff photo by Ezra Silk

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