At Heritage Village on a recent Saturday, Jay Dobkin shows Jane Doyle the treasures he found at local garage sales. He regularly finds valuable items that he donates to the Beach Cottage gift shop, which is run by Pinellas County Historical Society members to raise money to support the activities at Heritage Village.
LARGO – At 91 years old, Jay Dobkin can run circles around many half his age.
He is often busy as a volunteer at Heritage Village, a personal point of pride for Dobkin. On Saturdays and Sundays, he scours garage sales and flea markets for items that he donates to the village’s gift shop, the Beach Cottage, to raise money for the Pinellas County Historical Society.
Outside of Pinellas County, Dobkin is involved with the University of Tampa. One of the collections he donated to the university was a large number of books published in the 1920s by the Peter Pauper Press. He and two other people have just completed a very large bibliography book on the Peter Pauper Press, which he called “a mammoth undertaking.”
Dobkin also is working on a book on the various early printers from the 1470s to the 1600s. So far, he has over 250 different leaves, or examples, and is continuing to collect more.
Dobkin, a resident of the unincorporated county, started his professional life in Charlotte, N.C., where his parents owned a large business. After getting out of the service, he began his own consumer finance business, with 30 loan offices in North and South Carolina.
“It was not me,” he said. “The business world was really not where I was supposed to be.”
When Dobkin was 40, his father died. At that point, he sold everything he owned, went back to graduate school, got a library degree and moved to Canada. At the University of Toronto, he became interested in rare books, something he still enjoys to this day.
From Toronto, Dobkin moved to Gainesville, where he was head of rare books at the University of Florida. Dobkin soon found himself on the move again, this time to Arizona State University, where he became associate director of their library.
After a brief stint back in Canada, Dobkin moved back to Florida in 1974 to be close to his mother. He took a position as head of special collections at the University of South Florida and became executive secretary of the Florida Historical Society. At the age of 66, he retired and moved to Largo to be near his son, who had a business here.
Dobkin, however, didn’t stay retired for long. He began doing volunteer work at the Largo Public Library, where some of the staff had been former USF students of his. The director of the library was quick to see his talent and knowledge, and he was soon working there full time.
The Largo library has one of the biggest and best genealogy collections in the country and that’s due to Dobkin.
“I put that together; that was my baby,” he said proudly.
At the age of 75, he once again retired. In 1976, while still at USF, he had given some advice on setting up a library at the newly formed Heritage Village in Largo. Not one to rest on his laurels, Dobkin soon found himself volunteering at the village, often transcribing early documents and records.
“Having already been familiar with early handwriting, it was easier for me then it would have been for someone else,” he said.
Heritage Village Museum Operations Manager Ellen Babb said, “he’s amazing.” In recent years, there hasn’t been a curator or an archivist. Dobkin has stepped in and provided the assistance they need.
“He has a depth of knowledge that is just incredible,” said Babb. “He has been able to help researchers and staff with many of the questions they have.”
Pinellas County volunteers can expect to make a difference in the life of their community, while exploring interests, sharing knowledge, assisting others and making friends.