Is this the year you are going to start your genealogy journey? Or perhaps you started long ago but ran into a problem with your family tree. Call (309) 347-7111 to schedule a 1-on-1 appointment (one hour in duration) with the Pekin Public Library for any personalized help you may need!
With this installment we bring our overview of the Pekin Public Library’s history up to the present.
As we recalled in last week’s installment, in June 2004 the library board and director had prepared a long-range plan to expand and update the library. The plan’s timeline called for the extensive remodeling and expansion of the library over the next five to 10 years, and featured a proposed new south entrance to replace the library’s two sunken entrances, a new south parking lot, and a brighter lobby and overall look.
Initial steps were taken to implement the plans in those years, and on Sept. 2, 2008, the board approved some preliminary expansion and renovation work at a projected cost of $9.6 million. Unfortunately, the stock market crash on Sept. 29, 2008, and the ensuing severe recession made it necessary to shelve the plans.
The nation was very slow to recover from the recession, but in May 2013 the library board revised and scaled back its 2008 plans, instead proposing a $6 million expansion and renovation of the library.
The revised plans retained many of the features of the previous plans, calling for a new south entrance, new south parking lot, a new upstairs community room, a conference room and study rooms, a quiet reading room, a storytime room, a new relocated local history room (in which the old ornate lamp that had been saved from the Carnegie library was to be installed, being restored and relocated from Marigold Plaza), new staff work areas and offices, and a brighter, airier look.
Later that year, on Nov. 12, 2013, the Pekin City Council voted to allow the library board to begin working with Dewberry architects on the design phase of the project, which would be financed through the sale of $5.6 million in bonds and the use of $400,000 of the library’s funds.
A few months after that, on Jan. 28, 2014, the library board decided that the library facility would be closed for just six months during the renovation and expansion work. Pekin library director Jeff Brooks said that while the facility was closed, the library intended to temporarily operate as a scaled-down version of itself from another Pekin building.
The Pekin City Council approved the bond sale to finance the library expansion on May 12, 2014. Then in July 2014 it was announced that the library would lease space at East Court Village (the former Pekin Mall), 3524 Court St., and relocate basic library operations there during the renovation and expansion of the library.
Over several weeks in October of 2014, the contents and furnishings of the Pekin Public Library were packed and moved, with most of it going to storage and part of it being set up at the temporary library location in East Court Village.
The Pekin Public Library opened at its temporary location in East Court Village on Nov. 10, 2014., with the expectation that library operations would resume at the home campus, 301 S. Fourth St., in June 2015. Later the same month, on Nov. 24, 2014, ground was officially broken for the library’s renovation and expansion project at a ceremony presided over by library board president Sue Crowell and library director Brooks.
As expected, construction and renovation work at the library progressed sufficiently over the ensuing seven months that on June 22, 2015, the remodeled library was able to reopen to the public. By that time the majority of construction had been completed and most of the library’s contents were able to be brought back out of storage.
Yet to be completed were the Quiet Reading Room in Adult Services, and the new area of Children’s Services (which had been shifted further to the south). That remaining work continued while the library was open to the public.
At last, with all construction and renovation work finished, the library closed a second time on Oct. 31, 2015, to give staff time to move into the now-completed new additions. About a week later, the library reopened to the public on Nov. 5, 2015. Since then library patrons have again and again expressed their appreciation for the library’s improvements and the new and brighter look.
There is yet one more major event in the library’s recent history that must be mentioned. On Dec. 1, 2018, an unusually severe rainfall inundated Pekin in floodwaters that overwhelmed the library’s pumps and overflow tanks and the city’s sewers, causing significant flood damage to flooring and drywall (but, thankfully, no damage to books or equipment). It was the second major flood to hit the library in its history since June 1980. The library had to close until Feb. 15, 2019, during restoration work that cost about $500,000.
The library subsequently installed several improved measures for dealing with floods – and, as if Mother Nature wanted to underscore the need for those improvements, another less severe flood affected part of the library while installation of the flood mitigating measures was under way. Since then, the flood prevention measures have functioned as intended.
Pekin’s library has undergone immense change and growth over the course of its 155 years of existence – and 125 years as a municipal library. None can really say what changes are yet ahead, or what kind of story will be written when the Pekin Public Library celebrates its bicentennial in the year 2066. Will the library still be a branch of the city government come the year 2096, which will be 200 years after the city assumed ownership of the library?
We’ll conclude with a quote from the remarks that library director Brooks delivered at the groundbreaking ceremony for the 2014-15 renovation and expansion:
“Last week I walked through this building after every sign had been removed from the walls, and every piece of furniture hauled away, and I was struck by how very unlike a library it is now. In fact, I could have been looking at any vacant office space.
“This got me thinking about what a library truly is.
“And so while next year our architects at Dewberry, and our new friends at Peoria Metro Construction, will give us a wonderful 21st century building — a building with huge potential, for any owner – in the end though it will be my staff who will work their magic, and fill that space with a library for all ages to enjoy.
“It’s the people who work here, their experience, their training, the books and movies and music they select, and it’s the services they offer the community that create a library.”
As we have proceeded through this series on the history of the Pekin Public Library, we now move into the first years of the present century.
One of the most notable events in the library’s history during those years was the retirement of Pekin Public Library Director Paula Weiss on June 30, 2004. She had worked at the library for 33 years, beginning as the director of the children’s department, then being appointed the head of adult services, and finally serving as library director for 22 years. Weiss was succeeded by Jeff Brooks, the library’s head of technical services, who has been director ever since.
Another event of note took place within the first year or so after Brooks became director. That is when the old, obsolete card catalog, no longer updated since 1999 and rarely used, was removed from the library and discarded. A few years later, in the latter months of 2010, the library’s obituary card index — a genealogical reference resource that had not been updated for several years ever since an online digital obituary index had been created for the library — was also removed and discarded.
But, without a doubt, the most significant development in the library’s history during those years was the departure of the Everett M. Dirksen Congressional Research Center in September of 2003.
As you will recall from an earlier installment in this series, it was the brainchild of Pekin Mayor J. Norman Shade and other Pekin leaders in the 1960s to replace the 1902 Pekin Carnegie library with a larger facility that would house both the public library and a special research center housing the papers of Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Pekin.
The library and Dirksen Center had operated from the same facility since 1975. However, with the passage of years the Dirksen Center’s collection had grown, and in the late 1990s the Dirksen Center’s collection was greatly augmented by the addition of the papers and mementos of U.S. Congressman Bob Michel. The library was unable to give more space to the Dirksen Center, because by that time the library’s adult and children’s collections had exceeded the library’s designed capacity.
With only so much space available at the library facility, the Dirksen Center’s board began to consider a move to a new building of its own. In February of 2002, Dirksen Center board member Frank Mackaman officially announced that the Dirksen Center would leave the Pekin Public Library building and move to a new facility of its own, to be built on the east end of town at 2815 Broadway Road at an estimated cost of $1.1 million to $1.3 million.
The prospect of the Dirksen Center’s departure meant the Dirksen Center’s space at the library would be vacant and available for use by the Pekin Public Library. That, however, would require the library to buy the space from the Dirksen Center.
After several months of wrangling, on Oct. 14, 2002, the Pekin City Council agreed to spend $310,000 to help the Pekin Public Library purchase the facility space being vacated by the Dirksen Congressional Center. The former Dirksen Center space was purchased for a total cost of $620,000, with half to be supplied by the city and the other half from the library’s funds.
Among the suggested uses for the space were additional space for collections or a community room. (The library opted for the community room.) Also, library technical services behind the circulation desk moved to the second floor.
Ground was broken for the new Dirksen Center facility on Oct. 24, 2002. And then, at last, on Sept. 4, 2003, the Dirksen Center vacated the Pekin Public Library facility and moves into its newly completed building. The large bust of Sen. Dirksen, designed by late sculptor Carl Tolpo, that had long stood in the library’s Marigold Plaza, was relocated to a spot outside the new Dirksen Center.
With the completion of such a major realignment of the library facility’s usage of its space, and considering that the building was about three decades old, the library board began to consider what could be done to refresh and update the facility. (In fact, library officials had been considering an expansion and remodel since 1996.)
In June 2004, the library board released a long-range plan to remodel, expand, and update the 30-year-old library facility over the next 5 to 10 years. The plan included a new south entrance to replace the library’s two sunken entrances, a new south parking lot, and a brighter lobby and overall look.
Things advanced as far as the Pekin library board on Sept. 2, 2008, approving some preliminary expansion and renovation plans at a projected cost of $9.6 million.
All of those plans were upended, however, on Sept. 29, 2008, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 777.68 percent in a single day, ushering in an economic recession. Due to the collapse of the economy that fall, the Pekin City Council did not approve funding for the expansion and remodeling project. Any such plans had to shelved for a few years.
Next week we will recall the plans that were developed after the economy recovered.
In our series on the history of the Pekin Public Library, we have reached the final two decades of the 20th century. That was a time that saw some very significant developments in library services due to advances in technology.
The decade of the Eighties was when personal computers became widely used at home, in business, in schools – and in public libraries as well. Here in Pekin, it was on March 5, 1984, that the library installed its first public-use microcomputer terminal. That was the era of the floppy disk, and about a decade before the widespread adoption of email and the internet.
The library’s computer terminal used the same software as Pekin’s high school and grade schools. The rules for the public-use computer allowed any Illinois Valley Library System cardholder age 8 and up to use it, while children under age 8 had to be guided by a parent or older sibling.
Another notable change in the library’s collection during those years was the result of the popularity of VHS video cassettes and video rental stores. On April 25, 1986, the Pekin Public Library added VHS video cassettes to its circulating collection. A grant of $1,500 from the Friends of the Library enabled the library to obtain videos through the Video Co-op, a group of area libraries that had agreed to sharing a rotating collection of videos.
The library continued to offer VHS movies in its collection for several years after VHS had been supplanted by DVD and Blu-ray, but withdrew the last of its VHS tapes from circulation in 2014 just prior to the library’s major remodeling and expansion project.
Of all the rapid technological changes of the past few decades, the creation of the World Wide Web has been among the most influential, bringing about profound changes in the way we live and share information. The internet arrived at the Pekin Public Library on June 25, 1997, with the official debut of six public computers that gave patrons access to the Web. The computers were installed by librarian Jeff Brooks, who had been hired April 28, 1997, as head of the library’s technical services.
As library operations were computerized and digitized during the Eighties and Nineties, by the late 1990s the library’s old card-based index files quickly became obsolete and saw less and less use. It was on Sept. 7, 1999, that the Pekin Public Library “closed” its old card catalog. From that date, no further cards were added to the card catalog. Then on Oct. 15, 1999, the card catalog was removed from regular public access, and over the following days the catalog’s cabinets were relocated.
With the closing of the card catalog, library patrons would instead search for books, music, or periodicals using “Everybody’s Catalog” on the public computer workstations. Today RSAcat computer stations are available so Pekin library patrons can search the databases of the Alliance Library System for the materials they need.
As a footnote regarding notable events in the library’s history during the 1990s, the mid-1990s saw a campaign to change the Pekin Public Library from a semi-autonomous local municipal library operated by Pekin’s city government into an independent Library District.
As a municipal library, the library’s district boundaries are the same as Pekin’s city limits, but the proposed district was to have wider boundaries that would be coterminous with the boundaries of Pekin Community High School District 303. In addition, the library board members would be chosen by the voters instead of appointed by the mayor, and the board would have taxing powers.
The referendum on the proposed Pekin District Library was defeated at the ballot box on April 4, 1995.
Next time we will review the library’s history during the first decade of the 21st century, with a special focus on the departure of the Dirksen Congressional Research Center from the library facility.
As we have proceeded through our series on the history of the Pekin Public Library this year, the library’s story has unfolded in such a way that one might conclude that the library in the past had no disturbance to its normally smooth and calm operations.
But such a conclusion would be erroneous. A closer look at the library’s history reveals that its operations have at times been suddenly interrupted by disaster and controversy.
Some of those moments occurred during the construction of the new library facility. Originally it was expected that the library’s staff and collection of books would be able to move in by March of 1974, but several problems were encountered during construction that pushed that milestone back until September of that year.
Further problems arose even after the library was all moved in. One problem was the shattering of three smoked plate glass doors. The first door failed in June 1974, but two more failed during the brutally cold winter of 1974-75, one in Dec. 1974 and the third in Feb. 1975. Replacing those doors caused delays as the architect had to reject the doors supplied by the manufacturer until the company proved and certified that its doors were without defect.
Another, more ominous problem during construction was the failure of some of the building lintels. One failed in May 1974, but another lintel failed during the winter of 1974-75 on the Fourth Street side of the building. Further on, we will learn why the Fourth Street side failure was ominous. The winter cold caused cracks to form in the lintel, apparently because it was not built according to design specifications. A St. Louis representative from The Engineers Collaborative came to Pekin to oversee the construction and installation of replacement lintels. Although the lintel failures did not incur any additional construction cost to the city, it did contribute to delays.
Nevertheless, all of those challenges were overcome, and the library opened to accolades from a grateful and appreciative community.
Before long, those accolades even extended beyond the borders of our state, as indicated by a Pekin Daily Times article dated March 27, 1976, and headlined, “Pekin Library-Dirksen Center Wins Top Award In National Library Building Program.”
The Daily Times article reports that the new library and Dirksen Center facility was one of three public libraries – and the only new public library – to receive a First Honors Award in the 1976 Library Building Awards Program, sponsored annually by the American Institute of Architects and American Library Association. The award especially recognized the then-current and prior library directors Dr. William McCully and Richard Peck, as well as the Peoria architectural firm John Hackler and Co., the structural engineering firm The Engineers Collaborative, and the general contractor Del Construction.
The library’s archives mention no further problems or mishaps for the remainder of the 1970s, but on June 2, 1980, a severe summer rainstorm flooded large areas of Pekin, and illustrated one serious drawback to the library’s sunken design, for the flood waters filled Marigold Plaza and made their way into the library. The flood caused water damage to the library, but books and most furnishings were unharmed. Mitigating measures were then added to try to prevent future floods.
Then in the first month of 1984, the old problem with the lintels returned to vex the library. This time the lintel failure was dramatic.
On Jan. 16, 1984, at 5:44 p.m., the library’s 45-foot overhang along Fourth Street collapsed, causing about $35,000 to $45,000 in damage. Thankfully, no one was injured – but the library remained closed until the building was confirmed to be safe.
After dueling investigations and reports by, on the one hand, the architects and engineers who built the library and Dirksen Center, and on the other hand, the Peoria-based structural engineering firm of Randolph and Associates, the cause of the collapse was found to be a serious design flaw that put stress on the lintels that was well in excess of that allowed by building codes, coupled with the weakening of a 7-foot lintel by a seasonal cycle of moisture seeping into cracks in the library wall and freezing during the cold winter weather. The lintel then gave way because of a lack of vertical steel reinforcement in the masonry.
The overhang was repaired, two lintels were replaced and reinforced, and seven other cracked lintels were repaired, all at a cost of $94,000 (which included repairs to the sidewalk along Fourth Street). Two supporting steel beams, not in the original Hackler design, were added to bolster the overhang and prevent further collapses.
Fate had not yet finished playing her games with the library, though. On July 16, 1984, construction worker Dick Tucker of Otto Baum and Co. was hurt when a jack slipped while he was helping to repair the lintels along Fourth Street. Tucker was on scaffolding several feet off the ground when he was injured, but a backhoe’s shovel was raised to support the scaffolding while ambulance personnel placed him on a backboard and moved him into the backhoe’s shovel, then climbed into the shovel themselves to hold Tucker as the backhoe lowered them to the ground. He was taken to Pekin Memorial Hospital, where he was treated and released the same day.
Next week we’ll continue our account of the library’s history, turning to the stories of some less dramatic yet very significant developments in library services and technology during the 1980s and 1990s.
With the completion and dedication of the new Pekin Public Library and Dirksen Congressional Center accomplished in 1974 and 1975, the new facilities rapidly were able to assume and continue the role of an engine of Pekin community life that the Pekin Carnegie library previously had.
One of the ways the library did that was by hosting art exhibits – something for which there was no space in the Carnegie library. The first art exhibit in the new library building was a group of more than 60 prints by Peoria photographer Lynn Swigart, which ran from Dec. 8, 1975, to Jan. 17, 1976.
Swigart’s photography exhibit was followed on March 1, 1976, by an exhibit of large color prints by Bloomington photographer Don Freese, whose photographs filled the walls of the library’s auditorium until April 9 of that year.
In 1976 communities across the United States joined in the celebration of the nation’s bicentennial. The Pekin Public Library helped Pekinites celebrate the bicentennial throughout 1976 with a number of programs, starting with a series of historical, biographical, and geographical films shown each Tuesday evening in the auditorium.
Also during the nation’s bicentennial year, the library began to host community events in its sunken plaza, which was dubbed “Marigold Plaza” in honor of the late Sen. Everett M. Dirksen. Among the events in the plaza that year was the premier performance of “Pekin Broadway ’76” on July 15, and a one-man dramatic presentation during the month of August by Kirk Hard, entitled, “Your Obedient Servant, A. Lincoln.”
A large of bronze bust of Senator Dirksen, crafted by sculptor Carl Tolpo, was brought to Pekin in late July of 1976. Commissioned by the State of Illinois for the Dirksen Center in Pekin, the bust was temporarily displayed in the main lobby of First National Bank & Trust Co.’s new building at 111 N. Sixth St. Subsequently a base was prepared for the bust in Marigold Plaza, and the Dirksen bust was placed there.
Apart from the art displays that the library began to host in 1975 and 1976, the library lobby was also adorned permanently with a set of five framed stained glass windows that had been saved by the Friends of the Library from the old Carnegie library before its demolition. The Friends donated them back to the library on Dec. 9, 1976, as a Christmas gift to the Pekin community.
Among the other notable events that took place during the early years of the new library building’s existence, on Aug. 1, 1978, Paula Weiss, who had been head of Children’s Services since Feb. 1971, became head of Adult Services. Mrs. Janice Giles was appointed as Weiss’ successor as head of Children’s Services.
It was in the following year, on Oct. 15, that, as we have mentioned in a previous column, the Pekin Carnegie library’s “Grandmother Clock,” that had been purchased by the Pekin Civic Chorus in 1904, was donated back to the Pekin Public Library. The clock had been intended for a proposed Tazewell Historical Museum, but instead was stored in a number of homes before being returned to the library by the Pekin Civic Chorus and Pekin Woman’s Club, whereupon it was placed in the Adult Services Department.
Then on Nov. 8, 1979, Library Director Dr. William McCully announced that the estate of the late David George Reuter had donated a Baldwin grand piano to the library, in memory of Reuter’s aunt Agnes Velde Herget. (The library’s piano is now in the second-floor Community Room.)
That same year, the library began a four-part program to computerize its operation and services, starting with the transfer of the library’s financial records to the city of Pekin’s computers. Then in 1980, the library acquired a computer to enable use of the Columbus, Ohio-based Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) for interlibrary loans.
In the summer of 1982, the library began the computerization of the check-out process with the acquisition of two computer terminals for the circulation desk, to enable the library to link with the collections of 17 other libraries in Central and Western Illinois. Those two terminals became operational in 1983.
While the library brought its processes into the Computer Age, the library also got new leadership. On Oct. 8, 1982, Dr. McCully finished seven and half years as library director, having tendered his resignation so he could accept the directorship of the Illinois Public Library in Park Ridge. Succeeding him was Paula Weiss, director of Adult Services, who would serve as director of the library for the rest of the millennium, and then some.
The subject of next week’s “From the History Room” column will underscore that the library has had its moments when its normally smooth and calm operations could be suddenly interrupted by disaster and controversy.
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.
This week we reach the point in the history of the Pekin Public Library when Pekin was visited by a sitting U.S. president for the second time in just two years.
As we recalled last month, it was on Friday, June 15, 1973, that Pekin was visited by President Richard Nixon, who came to unveil and dedicate the cornerstone of the new library and Dirksen Congressional Center. Nixon came to honor the memory of an old friend and fellow Republican, U.S. Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Pekin, whose papers were to be archived and made available for study at the new Dirksen Center.
Nixon had come to Pekin in 1973 at the invitation of Dirksen’s widow Louella. After Nixon’s return to Washington, D.C., however, his presidency foundered due to the Watergate scandal. Facing impeachment and the probability that he would be removed from office by the Congress, Nixon resigned the office of the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974, whereupon Vice President Gerald R. Ford became president.
The following summer, Mrs. Louella Dirksen invited President Ford to visit Pekin to dedicate the new Everett McKinley Dirksen Congressional Research Center, along with the new library building in which the Dirksen Center was housed.
The date for the dedication ceremony was set for Tuesday, Aug. 19, 1975 – not coincidentally, that was 73 years to the day since the cornerstone of the 1902 Pekin Carnegie library was dedicated and laid.
Just as had happened during Nixon’s visit two years earlier, the area adjacent to the library and Dirksen Center was filled with several thousand spectators and special guests. In addition to President Ford and the First Lady, the guests of honor included Sen. Dirksen’s widow Louella and their daughter Joy, son-in-law Sen. Howard Baker, and grandchildren Darek and Cynthia Baker.
Sen. Baker himself arrived in Pekin on Monday evening, Aug. 18, so he could personally crown the 1975 Miss Marigold Queen Karen Geier at the 3rd Annual Pekin Marigold Festival. Sen. Baker also introduced President Ford prior to his speech on Tuesday, Aug. 19.
Much of President Ford’s dedicatory speech was a recollection of the years that Ford spent in Congress when Dirksen was the Senate Minority Leader. “I learned a lot from Ev, and it is only fitting that others also should learn from him.”
Ford also recalled a comment that Dirksen wrote in 1968 in the days after Sen. Robert Kennedy was assassinated:
“Senator Dirksen said, ‘The time has come to rethink our history. It should have emphasis in every school, church and forum in the land. The legacy which is ours came from those who were here before us. Into this land they built their skills and talents, their hopes and dreams, their tears and sacrifices.
“‘Today we are the trustees of America. Upon us is a two-fold duty. The one is to those who came before us and gave us this land for our inheritance. The other is to those who shall come after us.
“‘Perhaps three words can state the whole case – dedication, discipline and duty.’
“I know that those words, spoken as only Ev Dirksen could say them, are somewhere in this edifice, reminding Americans of their continued need for dedication, discipline and duty. Yes, Louella, his words still echo.”
After his speech, the president and his entourage attended a brief reception in the foyer of the Pekin Public Library, and toured the interior of the Dirksen Center and library.
Even after Ford’s visit, it would still be a few months before the cornerstone of the new library and Dirksen Center – which had been unveiled and dedicated by President Nixon in 1973 – would be formally laid, signifying the completion of the new library facility. We will tell that story next week.
Last week we told of the founding of the Friends of the Pekin Public Library in 1973 and how the Friends rescued the library’s “Grandfather” and “Grandmother” clocks when the furnishings of the Carnegie library were auctioned off 31 Aug. 1974.
Before that auction could be held, however, the library’s collection of 45,000 books and other materials had to be moved from the Carnegie library to the shelves of the new facility.
To accomplish that task, the library received the help of 270 Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Brownies, and Girl Scouts in around the area. The Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts belonged to the Tomahawk District, while the Brownies and Girl Scouts were from the Kickapoo Council.
The Scouts arrived on Friday morning, Aug. 23, 1974, and, supervised by their adult members and the older Scouts, lined up to form a “bucket brigade” to transfer the books out the windows of the Carnegie library and into the adjacent new library. The new library had been built so that the western and southern walls of the Carnegie library were just a few feet from the walls and northeast entrance of the new building.
Before long it was determined that the bucket brigade method was too slow and was inefficient, so the Scouts switched to walking the books out of the old library and into the new one, carrying as many at a time as they could. Library staff members would remove the books from the old shelves and stack them for the Scouts to pick up, and other staff members would place them on the new shelves as the Scouts brought them in.
A Pekin Times report at the time said, “Workers were organized in shifts, alternately working and resting. Energy and enthusiasm of the young people didn’t flag thruout the long day, and one librarian commented, ‘It’s the greatest feeling in the world to look out that office window and see all those kids and all that enthusiasm.’”
The Carnegie library was emptied of books in a matter of days, in time for the auction which was held in the rooms of the old library. Shelving of the last of the 45,000 materials in the new library, which was accomplished with the volunteer help of U.S. Army Reservists, was completed by Sept. 5, 1974.
The next step after the auction was to complete preparations for the demolition of the Carnegie library. The task of demolition was assigned to Helmig Excavation of Pekin, and Helmig’s wrecking ball and bulldozers began their work on Sept. 19, 1974. The razing of the 1902 structure was completed over the next few days.
Per the Hackler designs, the former site of the Carnegie library at the corner of Broadway and S. Fourth became a brick-paved sunken plaza. As were the bricks of the exterior and interior of the new library, the plaza bricks were a dark brown.
In the plaza was installed one of the two ornate lamps from the Carnegie library entrance. The other entrance lamp had been auctioned off and now adorns the property of a Pekin family. The plaza lamp was wired to illuminate the plaza in the evening.
While work was completed in transferring library operations to the new building, meanwhile the papers of Senator Dirksen also were organized with the help of the Library of Congress and were moved into the Dirksen Congressional Research Center located in the northwest area of the new facility.
A large bust of Sen. Everett M. Dirksen was commissioned for the Dirksen Center, with money for the bust appropriated by the Illinois General Assembly. The $125,000 sculpture was the work of portrait sculptor Carl Tolpo (1901-1976). Work on the bust was delayed by the General Assembly’s failure to pay the sculptor for his work in a timely fashion. When finished, the bust was brought to Pekin in 1976 and installed in the sunken plaza in 1977.
With the old library gone and the new plaza finished, the library and Dirksen Center opened to the public in the fall of 1974.
Next week we will recall the visit of President Gerald R. Ford to Pekin to dedicate the new library and Dirksen Center.
As we have recalled the story of the construction of the new Pekin Public Library and Dirksen Center in the early 1970s, we have revisited many significant milestones in the library’s history. One of those milestones from that period was the organization of the Friends of the Pekin Public Library.
It was during a meeting of interested Pekin residents held at the library on Sept. 11, 1973, that it was decided to organize a community auxiliary foundation to support the library’s operations. At the meeting, a steering committee was appointed to establish the foundation. The committee members, as reported in the Oct. 19, 1973 edition of the Pekin Daily Times, were Clarence Woelfle, George Udry, Mrs. George Stolley, Helen Wainman, Library Trustee Vera Dille, and Library Director Richard Peck.
The Sept. 11 meeting also determined that the Friends of the Pekin Public Library would have four goals: 1) to focus public attention on the library; 2) to promote wider knowledge and use of the library and its services; 3) to support and cooperate with library staff in developing library services and facilities; and 4) to encourage gifts and memorials for the library.
The Friends of the Library held their first regular meeting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, 1973, in the Hospitality Room of American Savings and Loan Association, 300 S. Fourth St. At that meeting, which was chaired by Clarence Woelfle, the Friends approved by-laws and voted for officers.
During the first year of its operation, the Friends’ officers were Mrs. Beverly Grimes, vice-president, George Udry, treasurer, and Miss Helen Wainman, secretary, with the office of president being unoccupied for part of that year. Vera Dille was then the library board’s representative to the Friends of the Library, while the directors of the Friends were Robert Culshaw, Mrs. Margaret Frings, and John Velde Jr. Membership dues were set at just $1 a year for individuals, $5 a year for organizations, and $25 a year for patron-level membership. (The dues schedule is different now, but still starts at $1 a year for an individual membership.)
Today the most visible activity of the Friends of the Library is the book sale room adjacent to the library’s entrance. Proceeds from book sales are donated by the Friends to the Pekin Public Library.
Library Director Peck’s decision to include the clocks in the auction was controversial, eliciting a large number of complaints and letters to the editor from Pekin residents who cherished the way the clocks, and especially the Bavarian “Grandfather” clock’s chimes, had enhanced the library’s beauty. But Peck defended their sale, saying Pekinites wanted more books rather than clocks.
On Thursday evening, Aug. 29, 1974, a small group of Pekin’s citizenry met in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ed and Fran Zobel, 1321 Royal Ave., to organize a “Save the Clocks” effort. The others in attendance were Charlotte Jibben, John Walker, Carol Bagley, Doraline Lippi, Chic and Sue Renner, and Library Trustee Vera Dille. During the meeting, Dille informed them of the Friends of the Pekin Public Library and advised them to join the Friends as a “Save the Clocks” committee. They followed Dille’s advice, and then set to work on their plans to ensure that the clocks would remain in Pekin and that at least one of them would adorn the new library facility.
The auction – which was held after the library’s collection of books had been moved to the new facility – took place only two days later, Aug. 31, 1974, and was overseen by local auctioneer Mike Fahnders. The auction itself netted the library $11,500. As we noted in a previous column, during the auction the Grandfather clock (donated to the library circa 1938-39) was purchased for $4,000 by George Udry on behalf of the Friends, and the Grandmother clock (donated to the library in 1904) was purchased for $1,650 by Chic Renner on behalf of the Civic Chorus.
The Grandfather clock was then restored and placed in the Children’s Department of the new library. The Grandmother clock was destined for a proposed Tazewell Historical Museum. When that plan foundered a few years later, the Pekin Civic Chorus and Pekin Woman’s Club donated the clock back to the library on Oct. 15, 1979, whereupon it was placed in the Adult Services Department.
Through the work and generosity of the Friends of the Pekin Public Library, the library’s patrons can still enjoy the clocks, which not only tell the time but form a link back through time to the library’s earlier days, and the days when Pekin’s Carnegie library served the community.