This afternoon, a dear friend of mine from college, Linda Lewis, posted photographs of the newly finished library where she is librarian.
This reminded me of the Elwood Public Library where I worked all four years of high school. It was one of the most remarkable experiences, and I loved every minute of it.
For 94 years, 1903-1997, the $30,000 Carnegie funded library stood at the Southwest corner of North A Street and 16th St., directly across from the old Elwood high school gymnasium. It was one of 164 libraries funded by the Carnegie Foundation.
As a child, I seldom had reason to go upstairs to the imposing cavernous, columned halls of the adult library. When I did enter the main floor, elevated a good 10 to 12 feet above the street level, it was one of the biggest moments for me. It was as exciting as being allowed to take mail into the equally imposing post office, by myself, where my great-uncle, Dewey Smith, was one of the postal workers.
And age 15, I had a dream job where I was surrounded by books, a tremendous wealth of Elwood and Indiana history, genealogy, and most of all, wonderful people with which to work, as well as a plethora of personalities from all throughout the community.
One beloved patron, Mr. Hampton, a former swing band trumpetor, shuffled into the library, promptly at 9:15 AM every morning. He was a very quiet gentleman, but always full of smiles, kind words, and every now and then, provided a glimpse into Elwood’s history.
Betty Caldwell was Elwood’s principal historian, and a wonderful, dedicated resource.
Several times, I was fortunate to work alongside this lovely lady in the Wendell L. Willkie collection. I remember one afternoon, after dragging some boxes down to the meeting room in the basement, Betty and I scoured the autograph books, marveling at the 300,000+ who came to witness the Republican nominee for president who returned to his birthplace to offer his acceptance speech.
I credit Betty for igniting my love for historical research.
Wendell L. Willkie returns to Elwood
I still maintain contact, via social media, with several of those with whom I worked.
Mitzi Thomas, the children’s librarian, Fancie Robertson (through her son, Mike), adult librarian, Darlene Summers, adult librarian, and fellow student librarians, Jan Eddy and Julia Summers. There were also adult librarians Lynn Ischay, Rita McQuitty, and Margie Stiner, and student librarians Shawn Heaton, Cheryl McQuitty, and David Richards.
Margie Stiner, adult librarian and overseer of the teens, had been best friends with my grandparents, and knew all my great-grandparents, and other family members. I loved working Tuesday nights, so I could close with Margie, and learn more of my family’s history. Margie also sparked my interest in genealogy.
I also loved working with Francie Robertson who loved sharing stories about her Irish father, Fireman Kelly. Francie also had traced her lineage back to Lord Ponsonby of England. I think it was Ponsonby.
I primarily worked with Mitzi, the children’s librarian. Mitzi, only a few years older than me, shared many of the same interests: history, choir/show choir, and especially, movies. One spring night, Mitzi, her husband, Scott, and I, drove down to Indianapolis’ Emerson Street movie theater to watch GONE WITH THE WIND on the big screen.
One summer, Mitzi was in the final stages of her pregnancy with Ian Alexander Thomas. It was a miserably hot summer, and I don’t ever recall Mitzi displaying anything but cheerfulness and laughter.
One year, the library was completely repainted, and though it was a chore, working around plaster dust, painter’s ladders and equipment, and constantly reshelving books… endless reshelving…. we all worked together, cheering on the progress, and gleaming beauty transformed each day.
Several of us student librarians, standing on ladders, decided to leave permanent notes on top of the non-fiction shelves on the western side of the main hall. Looking back 35 years, it seemed as though we were leaving our mark as part of the library’s legacy, rather than a typical teenage graffiti prank.
The Elwood Public Library was far from being a relic, and even further from being merely a building in which to store, and share books, periodicals, records and tapes, VHS tapes, etc.
The Elwood Public Library was all about its people, the staff, and the patrons.
Always, always support your public libraries, and use them to their fullest!