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When the winter holidays come around, children in the Benelux area, especially those within the 254th Base Support Battalion region, enjoy "decorating" Patty Anderson's paper Christmas tree.
When the winter holidays come around, children in the Benelux area, especially those within the 254th Base Support Battalion region, enjoy "decorating" Patty Anderson's paper Christmas tree. (Kevin Dougherty / S&S)

SCHINNEN, Netherlands — Mention Patty Anderson’s name around Schinnen and you’ll get rave reviews from the folks on post.

Like a new work by a popular author, Anderson tops everybody’s best-seller lists. She sells books; she sells her employer, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service; and she sells the community, which she and her family have been a part of for 17 years.

“I think my son said it best: I’m the ‘community mother,’ ” Anderson said one recent morning while she stood watch at the local BookMark.

Anderson refers to the bookstore on the Emma Mine Complex, the community hub for Schinnen, as her “little home away from home.”

Few would argue.

It seems that Anderson spends every waking minute in the simple, prefabricated building across from the main exchange on this post in southern Netherlands. The bookstore is just a few feet from the headquarters of the U.S. Army support command for the Benelux region, which includes Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The command provides assistance to more than 7,300 people.

In a way, the BookMark that Anderson manages is a point of convergence.

Like a country store, the shopping is often only half the reason folks walk through the door. Many come to simply catch up on community matters or to discuss current events with Anderson or her husband, Andy, a community giant in his own right. Though cramped, the bookstore has a homey, relaxed air about it, as if Anderson sprayed the place with a calming agent.

“When they talk about a model for customer service, she is the perfect example,” said Ray Landau, a bowling alley manager who has known Anderson for more than a decade.

“You won’t find customer service like she gives it. She could put a smile on just about anybody’s face.”

Ask Anderson where you might find this restaurant or that product on post or off, and it’s a good bet she’ll have an answer. Her knowledge and connections stretch from Bremerhaven, a port city in northern Germany, to Brussels, the capital of Belgium and home to NATO headquarters, to the communities just outside the gate.

“This is information central,” Anderson said with a sweep of her hand, referring to the bookstore. “If I don’t know where it’s at, it’s probably not worth finding.”

But Anderson doesn’t fashion herself as some proxy tourist agent.

Books and reading have become her forte, and she promotes them relentlessly, whether it’s recommending a new book to a customer or leading the community book drive. She cringes at the notion of people tossing away good books and magazines when they could be of use to troops downrange.

She also does whatever she can to promote reading, especially among the children. Anderson may understand what the adults want, but it is the children she reads best.

“She’s good with kids,” said 12-year-old Madeleine McGraw, a sixth-grader from nearby AFNORTH Elementary School. “She just seems to be a ray of light. ... And it seems so cozy in there and happy,” she said of the bookstore.

Through the years, Anderson’s name has become synonymous with Schinnen. Last year, in recognition of her service to the Schinnen and NATO communities, AAFES honored Anderson for her “superior achievement in supporting” the 254th Base Support Battalion.

Anderson “planned and implemented numerous events focusing on all elements to include the National Guard, children and, most notably, our deployed servicemembers,” an AAFES certificate read. “Patty developed a program which provided books and magazines to our [troops] deployed” in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

“You name any segment of this community, and she’s involved with it,” said Rich Fair, manager of AAFES’ main exchange in Schinnen. “Patty is our community relations person. Nobody does it better.”

Anderson seems to be in perpetual motion, a bundle of energy ready to spring forward to help the community or move her merchandise.

“I’ve got [two grown] kids,” Anderson said. “I know how it works. If you buy for one, you buy for all.”

Her sales pitch, though, is measured and fine-tuned, always adapting to the customer and the situation at hand.

Tell Anderson you are putting together a care package for someone downrange, and she’ll invariably disappear into the office behind the front counter and emerge minutes later with a fistful of books or magazines donated by another patron. The offer comes with no strings attached, except, perhaps, the understanding not to let much time elapse between this visit and the next.

“She talks to everybody like she’s known them for years. That’s the way she is,” said Landau, the bowling alley manager. “I’ve been to a lot of bookstores in Europe, but [at the Schinnen store] you feel like you’re home.”

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