Growing up in Richmond’s West End, Ricky Waller came to VCU in 1976 to study psychology after graduation from Douglas Freeman High School in Henrico County. At that time, VCU’s campus had a much smaller footprint and was more blended with the City of Richmond. Waller met his wife, Gloria Jean Atwood-Waller (GJ) in 1980 at one of the then-plentiful local nightclubs on West Grace Street. They became friends and started dating about a year later.

“I know it sounds a bit dramatic, or even silly, but I was enchanted when I first saw her that night at the club,” Ricky recalled. ” had a deep feeling our friendship would lead to something much more.” The two were married in 1984 and next year they will have been married 40 years.

Following graduation from VCU in 1982, Ricky worked in the periodicals area at the Cabell Library while GJ finished her degree in marketing in 1985. The couple planned a trip to Europe following her graduation and spent three days in New York before their departure. On a whim, each applied to open positions they found there. GJ was the first to be hired at John Wiley and Sons and upon their return from Europe, Ricky soon accepted a position as a human resources recruiter with The New York Public Library. About a year and a half at NYPL solidified Ricky’s decision to become a librarian. He attended Columbia University and focused his training on library automation and technical services.

After positions with the American Institute of Physics and the American Management Association, Ricky was hired by St. John’s University in Queens in 1999. He will celebrate 25 years there in February 2024. Serving as the Assistant Director, Access and Digital Services at the Davis Library, his days are spent at St. John’s Manhattan Campus, Astor Place, in Greenwich Village.

The work is a good fit and provided Ricky an opportunity to pursue his second master’s degree in systematic theology at St. John’s. This program provided him an opportunity to participate in an independent study abroad at Keble College, University of Oxford. Of the experience, he said: “I loved studying at Keble College and was able to spend time in their wonderful library. When I arrived I met with the head librarian at Keble and told her I was also a librarian at my university in NYC. Amazingly, our conversation went so well she gave me a key to the building while I was there. I could go in and work whenever I wanted. It was amazing to be alone many evenings, near midnight with a single alcove light lit in such a historic space. Just around the corner from Keble on St. Giles Street was the famous pub, The Eagle and Child or more colloquially known as The Bird and the Baby where two of my favorite authors, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, who were professors there, would meet in the afternoon after classes for a pint, often discussing stories they were writing. It is a small pub and I’m sure I sat in some of the same seats as these two literary giants. Imagine what a treat that was!”

The St. John’s University location in the East Village has provided Ricky inspiration to delve into the history of the neighborhood and he can easily point to local landmarks that have seen visits from such figures ranging from Abraham Lincoln to beat poets like Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, anarchists like Abbie Hoffman and rock icon Debbie Harry. The site of the famous Fillmore East is just around the corner on 2nd Avenue as well as the original branch of the NYPL.

Ricky and GJ share a passion for their family business, Seashell Santas. With Ricky’s long white beard, jolly personality and GJ’s marketing skills, Seashell Santas provides a real bearded Santa to gatherings in the Mid-Atlantic, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. When asked how long he has been Santa, Ricky answered “about 1,753 years.” So when Santa is not busy at his day job, he and his wife are bringing seasonal joy to others. The couple have created two books – Twas the Night (featuring Santa in photos) and Seashell Santas about Santa’s summer activities along the shore.

After a busy holiday season, we wish Ricky and GJ a Happy New Year!

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