Sometimes in the retelling of a story, details are added or subtracted and the achievement becomes more or less than what it was. But if we tell this particular story correctly, you will understand that the truth is enough. How a small group of ladies from the local Methodist church transformed an idea into an initiative…and how a community built a library where there was once none.
On an evening in 1954, the Mary Martha Circle was meeting at Beth Leege Crandall’s home when those present started talking about what could be done for the town. Rhea Shuart said…”What this town needs is a library…” and so it began. Within a couple of weeks, Rhea and other library pioneers Jan Rublee and Bea Cobb met with the Town of Stockton librarian who told them, “all you need is a book drive and $25.00”.
Bake sales were soon organized and the seed money was secured. The only thing they lacked was the books. But not for long.
By all accounts, it was the worst blizzard of the year on a January night in 1954. Indeed historical weather records confirm that January was the coldest month of that year. But they were determined. So in the middle of a snowstorm, Bea Cobb, Helen Bunce, Beth Crandall, Bonnie Foulk, Wilma Newman and Marge Roth and other volunteers’ names which are lost to history set out to collect books. Pulling children’s wagons through the snow, they went door to door until they had collected the volumes they needed.
The American Legion of Kennedy offered to renovate a 12’ x 12’ room in the front of a building they owned and with the help of Stockton librarian Mrs. Sullivan, the group filled the room with shelves, books and a card catalog. A local couple, Louise and Percy Anderson, volunteered to serve as librarian and janitor respectively. They were unpaid positions so we can say it was a true labor of love. Around 1959, the Legion bought the old school on Church Street and the Library moved into the former gymnasium of that building.
Louise Anderson served as librarian until 1978. Sue Abbey, daughter of library founder Rhea Shuart, took over for Louise and served until 1984 when Linda Bish became librarian. Linda served as librarian for the next 25 years bridging the critical gap between manual and automated archiving and brought the computer age to the library. In 1996, volunteer Marylou Terrill typed in every book owned by the library to create the database.
After Linda retired in 2010, the library appointed Melissa San Angelo as librarian and Leslie LaBarte as her assistant. In January of 2012, Izabela Nowak was hired as Library Director and Maggie (Cheryl) Ruth was hired as her assistant.
Following approval from the Library Board of Trustees in 2013, Nowak and Ruth proceeded to write grant applications to help fund a new library. The Board did have adequate funds from the Walrod Family endowment to purchase the building but there weren’t monies for anything else. Fortunately, the library was awarded grants from the Lenna Foundation, the Sheldon Foundation, the Community Region Foundation and the Carnahan-Jackson Foundation. These monies, totaling just under $200,000, were used to purchase everything the new facility required including computers, desks, shelving, chairs, a conference room table, signage, lighting, a well, a septic system, handicapped accessibility, a retaining wall, sidewalk, paved parking lot, the heating and air conditioning system and other smaller necessities.
The new library opened to the public on October 8, 2014. A formal grand opening was held on January 8th and over 60 people attended including family representing the original founders as well as representatives of the grant agencies that had been so generous in their financial support of the new facility.
As of May 2015, the Kennedy Free Library continues to be a vital community resource, serving an average of 800 visitors per month and lending over 14,000 books annually. Additional activities include hosting a pre-school story hour, tween/teen pizza parties and a conference room available for tutoring and civic group meetings. New initiatives include partnering with the Kennedy Recreation Committee to offer academic trivia contests for middle school kids who can earn prizes. We also offer reading-related live performances in the summer months.
In November of 2016, Iza Novak left the Kennedy Library to become the librarian at the Myers Memorial Library in Frewsburg, N.Y.. Maggie Ruth was promoted to the Director of the Kennedy Library and in January 2017, Diane Carey was hired as assistant librarian. In August of 2018, Maggie Ruth retired and Diane Carey was appointed Director.
The adage “when there’s a will, there’s a way” was certainly proven true by the group of dedicated women and men who founded the Kennedy Free Library over half a century ago. We continue to be inspired by their efforts.