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'Knock on the next door'

Thirteen years ago, she was a champion seller of Girl Scout cookies. Was it something in those cookies that made her such a dynamo, then and now?

By JEFF KLINKENBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Jeff Klinkenberg]
Girl Scout Avis Berry still has the enthusiasm that made her a top seller of Girl Scout cookies 13 years ago. ("Well, sir, there's this cookie, called the Trefoil, that has only 24 calories! And it's very good! And you know, cookies are only $2 a box…'')
Last time I bumped into Avis Berry she sold me Girl Scout cookies.

It was 1988 and Girl Scout cookies were the last thing on earth I needed. I had bought Girl Scout cookies from my own daughter and from daughters of friends. I had bought Girl Scout cookies from children guarding the door at Publix. I was trying to lose a few pounds.

I knew I'd lose any argument with Avis. She would appeal to my good citizenship and remind me that cookie money pays for camping trips and other neat stuff. As for my expanding waistline, she'd suggest a low-cal cookie.

"I'll take the Thin Mints," I said, surrendering to her huge brown eyes.

"Good choice!" said Avis.

I was under the spell of one of the best cookie sellers in Suncoast history. She was 13 and for two years running had sold more cookies than any girl in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties. In her best campaign, she had delivered 1,552 boxes to folks who couldn't say no.

Avis was an honors student in the gifted program at Dunedin High, served on the student council, managed the girls' basketball team, belonged to two service clubs, practiced the clarinet, took dance lessons and sang in the choir at Clearwater's Calvary Baptist Church.

I was pretty sure she was going somewhere in her life.

But we lost touch.

Thirteen years passed, and this month, as Girl Scouts deliver the cookies they have sold, I thought of her.

Whatever happened to Avis Berry?

"Well, I'm doing just fine," she said, when I caught up with her in Tallahassee by telephone. "Thank you for asking!"

At 26, she has four careers. She is a wife, a mother, a librarian at FSU and a professional singer.

"I graduated from Florida State with a degree in voice performance," she said. "I toured all over the world with the Florida State University Singers. Ever hear of us? We performed in London -- I was on the BBC! -- and Vietnam. I sang popular music and opera. I love singing opera, especially Puccini."

Wow.

"I'm a librarian at FSU's school of music. I really love it. I'm thinking of getting a master's degree in library science, but we'll see. I'm kind of busy."

Sounds like it.

"I'm in a band. Our name is Spindrift. I'm lead vocalist. We have a dobro, mandolin, guitar and congas. We do all kinds of music, from folk to blues to bluegrass to even reggae. We do original material, and our goal is to put our songs on a compact disc."

Sold.

"Oh, thank you! But the big news is I got married on Sept. 9, 1999. I married a wonderful man from Kenya. His name is Amon Rwito. Do you want me to spell it? I'd be glad to. He's got a masters in counseling, but he's now getting a degree in education at FSU. He wants to teach elementary school. Isn't that wonderful?"

We need good teachers.

"Our daughter was born on Oct. 11. We named her Raziah. She's beautiful! You should see her! Oh, she keeps me so busy. So busy it's hard to keep up with everything. I keep looking at the Girl Scout Web site just to see what's going on, but I'm not active right now. I'll have to wait until Raziah is older and a Scout herself."

I asked what she had learned from selling Girl Scout cookies.

"To get anything you want in life -- why, you just can't be lazy. Nobody is going to hand you anything. You're going to face rejection. When you sell cookies, doors are slammed in your face. When I was a girl I'd come back to the car -- my mom would drive me from door to door -- and I'd be disappointed. And she'd say, "That's okay. Knock on the next door.' That's what I learned. When one door is closed, another opens."

Bought any Girl Scout cookies lately?

"Oh, my God! Yes! Who doesn't? Those little girls outside the Winn-Dixie are cute as a button."

What are her favorite Girl Scout cookies?

"When I was a girl I used to love those Chocolate Chunks. I'd put them in the microwave and heat them just enough to make them soft. But they don't sell them anymore! I'm so mad! Now I love the peanut butter ones, the Dos-si-dos. "But I'm not supposed to eat them. When I was pregnant, I was diagnosed with diabetes. I have to be careful now. I take injections and try to watch my weight. But don't feel sorry for me! I'm really blessed in this life.

"Plus, I can eat the Trefoils. They're the lower fat shortbread cookies. Only 24 calories. They're delicious!"

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