Jean Pike’s love of books followed her through life

Jean Pike enjoys reading — and reading people.

“My favorite thing was putting people together with books that they liked,” says Pike, who recently sold her business, The Wonderful Bookstore in North Little Rock. “Since I’m such an avid reader, I wanted them to enjoy books, too.”

Pike, 84, was first a customer in the bookstore, having discovered it when she ventured from her home in Lakewood to Park Hill for groceries and to buy clothes for her six daughters.

“I would go up to shop for the girls, and of course, always stop at the bookstore,” says Pike, who became friends with the store’s owner.

When she got the chance, 30 years ago, she bought it.

“We built up a lot more books than we originally had when we started, and in sections,” Pike says. “I could take people over to that section and help them find something they liked.”

Pike lived in Prattsville until she was in second grade, when her family moved to Memphis and, a few years later, Little Rock.

“When I learned to read, I always had a book in my hand,” she says. “Ever since I learned to read I’ve had a book with me.”

She graduated from Little Rock Central High in 1955 and then went to Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

“I liked being in a big school, so I wanted to go to a big school. I loved Baylor,” she says.

She had been at Baylor for four quarters when her parents, who had moved to Conway, asked her to come home and try out Hendrix College.

“They said I could go back to Baylor if I didn’t like it,” she says, and that’s just what she did.

“It was different living at home. Baylor was very strict — you signed in and out for everything. But I was more independent in a way,” she says.

She lived with her sister and brother-in-law in Fayetteville for a few months while he was in law school before returning to Texas. Following her graduation from Baylor, she went back to Fayetteville to pursue a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Arkansas.

“I was kind of a peripatetic traveler,” she says.

She taught remedial English while in graduate school, prepared for the job by the head of the English department who had written a grammar book used for the course.

Pike’s friend was moving to Los Angeles to work for Pepperdine University, and Pike decided to join her. With a recommendation from the English department head, she got a teaching assistantship at the University of Southern California, where she enrolled to get a doctorate degree.

“After a year of that, I was tired of school, and I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this. I want to get married and have a family,'” she says.

She had met George Pike during her time at Hendrix. While she was in Texas and California, he was at Harvard Law School.

“We would come home for the holidays and we would get in touch and we decided that we were meant for each other,” she says of her husband, who died last year.

She had him over for dinner on one of those occasions and, she says, her mother cooked a wonderful meal.

“We kind of pretended I might have done that,” Pike says.

Pike’s mom had worried because Pike didn’t cook while she was home.

“I just wanted to read if I had spare time, but I said, ‘Mom, I know how to read. I can get a cookbook,'” Pike says.

She had, in fact, gotten a “Better Homes and Gardens” cookbook while she was working on her master’s degree, and practiced recipes like shepherd’s pie and stroganoff.

“I would make the whole deal, enough for four. My apartment was upstairs and the guys from downstairs would come up and eat and it worked out great,” she says.

Years later, her daughters make some of the same recipes for their own families. They remember various animals residing with them over the years.

“We had every pet you could imagine,” Pike says. “We had gerbils, hamsters, we had a raccoon, an old quarter horse, lots of dogs, lots of kitties.”

There were several Dutch rabbits, including a special one the girls found in their yard that liked to sleep nestled next to their golden retriever, many ducks and geese and, for a few months one winter, a wayward roller pigeon.

Pike enjoyed running the bookstore, even when it was a struggle to stay afloat amid the influx of electronic books.

“I knew that was coming but it came much more quickly than I thought it would,” she says. “The bookstore did really well before that. But we still had all these customers who liked to read and who wanted help picking out their books. Fortunately, people just kept coming.”

She misses the bookstore, although less so since one of her daughters created a home library filled with some of her favorite books.

“She fixed me this beautiful library, just full of books — some I’ve read and a lot I haven’t read,” she says. “It’s wonderful.”

If you know an interesting story about an Arkansan 70 or older, please call (501) 425-7228 or email:

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Jean Pike graduated from Little Rock Central High and pursued higher education at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, Hendrix College in Conway, the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and the University of South California at Los Angeles, where she is pictured here, before she married and settled down in North Little Rock to raise six daughters. “I was kind of a peripatetic traveler,” she says. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

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