Library dynamo steps down as president

 

Virginia Johnson is the dynamo that powered a successful effort to build a new Tawakoni Area Public Library.

She steps down this on this month as president of the library’s board of directors after 15 years at the helm but stays active and involved as vice president. Denise Turner is the new president.

Johnson began her service to the library in 1997 as a volunteer. She was soon asked to serve on the board of directors, and about a year later, she was elected president.

Soon after, 35 children and that many jars of orange and black paint sparked the start of efforts to expand the library.

“We were doing Halloween, and we were painting with orange and black tempera between the stacks. The kids were on the floor doing the project. People were trying to get books. I just thought we can’t grow,” Johnson said, and remembered trying to maneuver around stacks of books and jars of paint.

The cramped space provided the motivation for the launch of a project to build a new building “to have the room we needed to grow.”

Soon after taking the reins as president, the expansion fundraisers began.

“We celebrated our 25th year. I sent out letters to all the original people who were on the board,” she said. The event was held at the Methodist Church where original board members and others who had contributed to the library were invited to attend.

“I think I had some kind of a halfway model of a library there. We talked about that was what we wanted to go for and got that out among the people,” Johnson said. Husband Wayne who has been another major library supporter made the model and followed that up with a set of blueprints when it was time for construction.

“Then, we started our fundraisers, like the first one we did — the big one — was “My Big Fat Geek Wedding.”

Jim Johnson was the bride, and Bill Slaughter was the groom.

Johnson said the hilarious wedding was a financial success for the library fundraising effort.

What Johnson terms “a big surprise” was when an envelope that arrived in the mail one morning was opened. Inside was a check in the amount of $40,000 from Mac Southall. (Her name was Wilma Inez and she went by Mac to friends.)

The big surprise became the seed money for the new building. Johnson began applying for and receiving grants, and additional fundraisers followed.

When discussing the efforts to build the library, Johnson always talks about Jim Gilmore who stepped up and volunteered his services as the contractor. A Jim Gilmore Reader’s Award is given in his honor by the library each year.

The directors took a “leap of faith,” and the miraculous library was built.

The miracle continues as the $30,000 annual budget to operate and keep it open is raised with only $4,000 from the county and $6,000 from the City of West Tawakoni are the only firm amounts of support. Johnson said the remainder comes from the grace of God and the goodness of the community.

“We have people bring us money that is most unexpected just because they value what we do. They value reading and learning. That fills in the gap between this $10,000 we can actually count on and the other $20,000 we have to have. Individuals make up the gap, and that’s a lot of money. We never know how it’s going to come, but it always comes. Like I said, it’s a leap of faith. It is,” she said.

Johnson is enthusiastic when she talks about children’s programs. She was an elementary schoolteacher 21 years and completed her career at Wilshire Elementary in Euless after earning a Master’s degree at Texas A&M University-College Station after her children were school-age.

“I love working with kids,” she said. Johnson combined that love with her love for science and the natural world when she started the popular Super Science Saturdays at the library. Another summer program for children is the summer reading program.

Johnson proudly recalls that some of the participants have gone on to success in college in science and engineering. One grandmother pointed out the library was a big part of the success of her granddaughter in going to Princeton University.

In addition to Turner as president and Johnson, vice president; the board includes Linda Eure, treasurer; Jack Harris, secretary; Margaret Fleming historian; and Deanna Upchurch, publicity.

Vicki Nix is the library director, and assistant librarians are Harriet Gumler and Kathleen Morgan. Rose Walker is a dedicated and popular volunteer.

Tawakoni Area Public Library is open Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.