How a former artist and Miami native wound up becoming Miami’s librarian
Stereotype a librarian. What comes to mind? Glasses, perhaps. Someone who is soft spoken and introverted. What doesn’t typically come to mind is someone well-traveled, mischievous, artistic, outspoken, and yet charismatic. Librarian Delvan Hayward just happens to be all of these things. And, yes, she also wears glasses. Hayward is the type of person you can spend hours talking to. It must be the endless wit and a contagious laugh. When I showed up to the Miami Public Library on a Thursday afternoon, I had one question in mind–finding out how this woman went from being a traveling artist to a librarian.
Growing up in Miami
On this day she is wearing a white, button-down blouse, long turquoise strands around her neck, and matching turquoise earrings. At 66 years old, it’s a much different look for her than the one she wore more than 40 years ago. The library we are sitting in was once her high school gym. Hayward remembers it well.
“I was in the locker room smoking cigarettes,” she laughs.“I was considered not a hippie but a beatnik,” she tells me. “One of those girls that always wore black and tights and had the white lipstick and the black eyes, kind of what would be goth now, yeah I was one of those kids.”
To prove it, she pulls out a Miami High School yearbook from the shelf and shows me a small square photo. There is Delvan Hayward, minus almost 50 years, her hair pulled into a sleek bun, wearing black horn-rimmed glasses and a charming smile.
Yes, once, Hayward was a high school student here in Miami. This is where she grew up. Hayward’s family moved here when she was a baby from Fort Sumner, NM. After a javalina hunting trip, her father decided to keep the family in Miami so he could work for the mines. Eventually he left permanently, leaving behind Hayward’s mother to raise her and her sister. To Hayward’s bewilderment, her mother felt safe raising her daughters in Miami.
“She felt that this was a safe place, in spite of the miners, to raise her two girls alone,” Hayward laughs. “It was real rough and tumble, the town was mainly bars and brothels.” The Miami Hayward grew up in during the 1950s is quite unlike the Miami that exists today. At that time, there were more than 10,000 people living in Miami, she remembers.
“So I’ve always considered myself a city girl, because I grew up in downtown Miami,” she says. Hayward, her mother and sister always lived in apartments, usually above the shops in the downtown area. Sometimes they all shared one room in a studio apartment, because it was all that her mother could afford. In the other apartments often lived maiden school teachers, school nurses and the occasional cowboy, she recalls.
“I always credit my creativity [to] the fact that I spent so many hours in the bathroom with the door shut, just to be alone,” she laughs. “Or outside, or on the stairs, or roaming the streets.”
Her mom worked selling tickets in the movie theaters, both the Grand Theater and the Lyric, where the park on Sullivan Street is now. Between unlimited movie access and a creative mind, Hayward had no trouble entertaining herself as a child.
“My mother liked to say I was precocious as a kid,” Hayward says. “I was very curious, I was always wanting to know what was going on.” For instance, when Hayward was little, she broke into Sonny Miles’ mortuary so she could see the dead bodies. She was caught. Sonny, the police and her mother decided that Hayward’s punishment would be to help in the mortuary several days a week. As it turned out, Hayward had a blast. The experience triggered some of her earliest interests in the human body, art, and her desire to become a medical illustrator.
“Delvan is the most gregarious introvert I’ve ever met.”
Hayward left Miami in 1965 at age 19. She moved to Newport Beach with her husband at the time, where their daughter was born. After two years in California, her husband got a job in Phoenix, so they found themselves back in Arizona. Phoenix became home base for the next 30 years. During that time she raised her two daughters.
“I was this isolated, hippy housewife,” she says. She corrects herself, “Not really hippy, but just really art-y, isolated.”
The isolation, she says, was by choice.
“I think I’ve always been a loner,” she explains. “As my mother said, ‘Delvan is the most gregarious introvert I’ve ever met.’”
Though Hayward was isolated in many ways—not being able to drive, never having gone to college—she and her husband were always active, she remembers. Their curiosity constantly drove them to explore, spend time in libraries, research, and work on projects.
All the while, Hayward kept herself busy with art.
“I was doing murals, and I was doing different things,” Hayward remembers. “For someone that didn’t work, I always was doing some art project for someone, or sewing, or painting or decorating or doing something.”
It wasn’t until Hayward reached her 40s that she enrolled in art school, or learned how to drive, for that matter. For so long she battled the discouraging thoughts that crept into her head, the thoughts that she wasn’t good enough, or was too old. Yet the desire remained, and it only increased when she realized she wanted the support of other artists and students.
“It wasn’t until I really realized that action comes before motivation,” she says. “So I think of myself as a real late bloomer.”
Once her children grew up, she involved herself in various art workshops in Santa Fe, and traveled, because she could. Then, at last, she pursued a bachelor’s degree in art at Arizona State University. She spent the summers in Italy studying anatomical drawings of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. When she came home from Italy that third summer, right before graduating, her husband had packed up and filed for a divorce. At that time, she was gearing up to pursue her master’s degree in drawing and painting. This was during the 1980s. Her mother had retired and been mugged twice, so Hayward had her mother move in with her in Phoenix while she carried on with her divorce. In 1994, Hayward returned to Globe-Miami for her 30th high school reunion.
She was still working towards her master’s at Arizona State. Meanwhile, the divorce settled.
“I won the divorce lottery,” Hayward says with a laugh. “So I could move anywhere in the world.”
Now she was faced with the decision of where to relocate. At this point, she had traveled plenty. She had seen Italy, Ireland, England, and Egypt. As Hayward and her mother drove into Globe-Miami for the reunion, her mother suggested they stop at a family friend’s house. He suggested that Hayward and her mother move back to Miami.
“There’s nothing in Miami,” she told him. To which he replied, “You could make something of it.”
Inspired, Hayward made calls to realtors around town, looking for a building to buy in town. With the help of friends, she came across the building on Chisholm Street, the Soderman building.
“I said at the time, ‘Get out of here!’” she says.
“I spent most of my teenage years in the Soderman building with the old miners, sitting around smoking cigarettes, you know, and drinking whiskey.
And I ended up buying it.”
She visualized a bed and breakfast, and an art studio. During that time, she had commissions to do artwork and portraits in Santa Fe and Scottsdale. She was also still working on finishing her master’s.
“Never happened,” she says flatly.
“Which part?” I ask.
“Art,” she says.
Reviving the Soderman building, which had been abandoned for years, turned out to be a far greater task than she anticipated.
“I didn’t know I would end up being my own contractor,” she says. “I also did not know that you weren’t supposed to invest every penny you had, your life savings, into a building here. Which I did.”
The bed and breakfast, Delvan’s Drawing Room, lasted seven years. She got it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“That became my artwork,” she adds.
“This is my first full-time job in my life.”
As the bed and breakfast grew physically demanding, and Hayward continued taking care of her ill mother, Hayward realized at the age of 60 that she needed to look for work. She arrived at the unemployment office with a resume, only to be told she needed to go online. So she went to the library, where the librarian got her online almost instantaneously.
“I was so impressed with the librarian and what she had done,” Hayward remembers.
As it turned out, the librarian was also looking for an assistant. It took nine months before Hayward landed an actual job at the library. Meanwhile, Hayward’s mother passed, and she sold the bed and breakfast. It took another five years before Hayward became a full-time employee and got insurance. Hayward has been at the library seven years now, two as the manager.
“People don’t believe me, why I’m still working at 66,” she says. “This is my first full-time job in my life.”
Nowadays, she spends her time running the library, with the help of her assistant, Roy Plasencia. On any given day, she will help an elderly person find out information about social security, help travelers get boarding passes online, or help someone look for a job.
“One of the biggest joys I have being at the library is helping young women that come in here that haven’t made it to college, are in a very bad domestic situation, [and] are losing faith that their life is ever going to get any better, and telling them there’s time,” she says. “If you just take care of yourself, there’s time.”
“It’s extremely satisfying, it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
“Everyday we can help somebody do something,” she adds. “It’s extremely satisfying, it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
When she is not helping people, she is running the summer reading program, or organizing and updating. Now she is working on digitizing old mining photos, 1200 lantern slides from the Miami Copper Company.
“Did you ever think you’d become a librarian?” I ask.
“No! No! Never, never,” Hayward replies. “I always respected librarians very much, but first of all, I always thought I talked too much.”
“Every country I ever visited, I would go to the libraries, in England, in Ireland,” she adds. “I love libraries, and I love doing research. And I still really enjoy that part of being at the library, doing research for people.”
I ask,“So do you ever make time for art anymore?”
She is always reading about it, thinking about it, and has her easel set up in her studio ready to go, she replies. She still draws here and there from time to time.
“Thank God I bought good art supplies, they’re all archive-able materials!”
But she gave away most of her drawings.
“I find that, when I was doing all of that drawing, [it was] very isolating,” she says in retrospect.
Nowadays, Hayward says her mind is in a different place.
“To me the goal is to make people happy,” she says. “Frankly, at my age, and with my limited working experience, this is the best gig in town.”
©Globemiamitimes/GMTeconnect LLC and Globe Miami Times, 2013
Jenn Walker began writing for Globe Miami Times in 2012 and has been a contributor ever since. Her work has also appeared in Submerge Magazine, Sacramento Press, Sacramento News & Review and California Health Report. She currently teaches Honors English at High Desert Middle School and mentors Globe School District’s robotics team.
A very nice article ~ Delvan is truly a one-of-a- kind lady.