By Jared Olar
Last week we recalled the visit of U.S. President Gerald R. Ford to Pekin on Aug. 19, 1975, for ceremonies dedicating the new Everett McKinley Dirksen Congressional Research Center and Pekin Public Library.
The date of President Ford’s visit was chosen because it was the 73rd anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of Pekin’s Carnegie library. The cornerstone of the new library and Dirksen Center had been dedicated by President Richard Nixon during his visit to Pekin on June 15, 1973, but even after the visits of two U.S. presidents in two years, the cornerstone of the new library and Dirksen Center facility still awaited its formal laying ceremony.
Before that day came, the library would get a new director, Dr. William C. McCully Jr. of Champaign and Downers Grove, hired by the library’s Board of Trustees in Sept. 1975.
The honor of laying the new library’s cornerstone went to Pekin Mayor William Waldmeier, who wielded a trowel to apply mortar around the cornerstone on the east side of the library building during ceremonies at a Library Open House on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 26, 1975.
More than 200 people attended the event. The cornerstone laying ceremony and the open house were conducted by the library board and emceed by Mr. Merle Glick, who announced to the attendees that the new library facility was completely paid for and was debt-free.
The event included tours of the library and Dirksen Center, and a special reception sponsored by the Friends of the Library in honor of Miss Josephine Goldsmith, who had recently retired after having served 44 consecutive years as a library board member. As we recalled in a previous Local History Room column, Miss Goldsmith had been instrumental in the organizing of the first Children’s Story Hours at the Pekin Carnegie library in the 1920s and 1930s.
During the reception, Miss Goldsmith was presented with a framed photograph of the very first Children’s Story Hour. The photo, which bears a plaque commemorating Miss Goldsmith’s service, was displayed in the children’s department for many years, but now is preserved in the library’s archives.
A news report in the Oct. 27, 1975 edition of the Pekin Daily Times said, “Tours of the complex were conducted by Mrs. Paula Weiss, children’s librarian, Mrs. Dorothy Heisel, adult department and research librarian, and John Gay, executive director of the Dirksen Endowment Fund.”
Continuing, the article said that Glick —
“introduced members of the board, Miss Vera Dille and Nelson Eddings, both of whom served on the cornerstone committee; Miss Josephine Jubain, board president; and Mrs. Elizabeth Schramm, Melvin Burling, and Richard Lashbrook. Rev. Roy Davis, a member of the board, was unable to attend.
“Glick told the audience that the day was a very special one for Miss Goldsmith. As a child in 1902, she attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony of the old Carnegie Library which was demolished to make room for the new complex. ‘She stood at the corner of Broadway and Fourth streets to witness the event, but found it boring and went home before it was over,’ he said.
“He also introduced Mrs. Louella Dirksen who briefly addressed the audience telling of her association with Miss Goldsmith; and the new library director, Dr. William McCully, Jr. who said that Pekin is at least two years ahead of other libraries. . . . Also attending the event were Dr. Robert Jones, librarian of Bradley University Library; and Mrs. Arthur Ehrlicher, of Ann Arbor, Mich., a former Pekin library director.”
Next week we will review the early years of the new Pekin Public Library during the 1970s and early 1980s and will recall some significant changes in the library’s operations in those days.