A Never-Ending Story
By Karen Rieser
For over one hundred-fifty years, the residents of the Old Mission Peninsula have had the great privilege of local access to a library. During the mid-eighteen hundreds, libraries for public use were rare and thus became the philanthropic venture of Andrew Carnegie. He built you a library, you filled it with books. However, it wasn’t Carnegie who brought access to books to the peninsula, it was the citizens of the peninsula.
The peninsula’s library began in 1859 when its residents voted to create a community library. For fifty-one years the library was located in the private residence of Eugene Umlor, just north of Mapleton. In 1910 the community decided to divide the library between the seven one-room schoolhouses on the peninsula. The question of library location rose again in 1957 when the schools were consolidated into the Old Mission Peninsula School grades K-8.
It was suggested that the Township and the school create a joint library in the new school building. The president of the Board of Education for the Old Mission Peninsula Schools, Ellis Wunsch, an instructor at Northern Michigan College and an advocate for education on the peninsula, fervently supported the idea. A group of proactive woman formed a committee to explore this issue.
The library exploration committee first looked to the State of Michigan Library Development Office for support and guidance. After some consideration the state said that they would not support a shared library as they felt it would not be successful. They were concerned it would become a school library and the township would be short changed.
The volunteer committee strongly disagreed. They felt that the peninsula was isolated enough that its citizens had a strong sense of community. The populace would respect and support both a school and public library in the same building.
The Peninsula Board of Education and the Old Mission Peninsula ladies’ clubs led the way to making a Peninsula Community Library (PCL) possible. The ladies got the word out through the ladies’ clubs newsletters and got petitions signed. A great many ladies from the ladies’ clubs, local citizens, and library volunteers were present at the Old Mission Peninsula Township meeting to discuss the issue of a public library housed in a public school. A vote was called and the motion carried.
The PCL opened on a warm summer day in 1957 showing off its collection of seven-hundred books. The Grand Opening took place on December 2, 1957.
Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) did not have the funds or personnel to schedule a teacher to operate the library, therefore, it initially depended on the volunteer services of its citizens. The first librarian of the PCL was Rebecca (Stutsman) Mericle. Rebecca was born on the peninsula but moved to Dearborn, MI when her father was hired by the Ford Motor Company. Her summers were spent on the peninsula. In the 1950s, Rebecca returned as a permanent resident. By this time, Rebecca had earned a degree in library science from Simons College in Boston and had worked briefly for the Detroit Library. Rebecca was tasked with setting up the PCL on the stage located at the back of the school’s gym and was provided a very small budget.
Rebecca took on the challenge. She first devised a simple system to account for books. Teaching proper cataloguing would require too much time. She wanted books available as soon as possible. Books were accounted for by the many volunteers from the ladies clubs using 3×5 cards. A card catalogue unit was acquired so that the cards would be available to the public in an organized manner. Rebecca also asked for donations of chairs, tables, shelves, and books and got them. It was under Rebecca, in 1959 that PCL became an independent township library under the guidelines of the Library Law of the State of Michigan. After three years of organizing Rebecca moved onto become a librarian for Northwestern Michigan College where she served for the next twenty years.
In 1960, Marge Arney became the first paid librarian. Over the next fourteen years under Mrs. Arney the library grew in its offerings.
It was in 1974 that Wanda (Hoxie) Crampton was appointed Library Director. In 1984 the PCL became a member of Traverse Area District Library still maintaining its independent status. During Mrs. Crampton’s time both the children’s and adult collections grew. With this growth the library was remodeled twice, each time adding more room.
Wanda Crampton had hired Julie Maxson to manage the children’s collection. Julie followed Mrs. Crampton as library director. In 2004 Vicki Shurly was hired to direct the PCL. Vicki has followed in her predecessors’ footsteps expanding the library’s offerings to the point where it was bursting at the seams. She had also been immersing the facility with the latest technology, not an easy task as technological offerings seem to change by the minute.
As with all things time changes opportunities, responsibilities, and abilities. Our world has experienced an explosion in the area of technology. We can carry our phones in our pockets, communicate with satellites beyond the solar system, and use our personal computers, not 3×5 cards, to locate and read books. Sadly, our personal safety and the safety of our children has also been challenged by school violence, bombings, and shootings. School entrances are locked, some entries require the use of metal detectors, lock down drills are frequent and unexpected, signing in and out and the use of identification badges are the norm. School funding has also been a political pariah.
Over time the PCL has had to deal with these issues and more. For some time, the library space has been rented from TCAPS. On those blustery winter days when the school was closed for inclement weather the per day fees for snow plowing and salting charged by TCAPS were massive, forcing the library to close. TCAPS also chose to close the Mission Peninsula Elementary School as it was a drain on the city system. Today the school is no longer the property of TCAPS.
Having to sign in and out and be identified in a public library violates one’s civil rights. As a forty-year educator in a city school down state, I was personally amazed that the public could have free unsupervised access to the school. I cannot believe this would have continued for much longer as a major renovation would be needed to create a private library access. Creating this private access, more likely than not, would have had to be at the library’s expense. It became clear to many that it was time to make a change in order to provide the outstanding services the PCL has to offer and the ability to continue to dream.
In 1990, with great foresight, the library board raised funds and purchased 5.25 acres of land at the corner of Center and Island View Roads. This location was perfect as it is close to the geographical center of the peninsula. It was thought that at some point the library would need to expand and they would be prepared. For twenty-six years the acreage was a home to butterflies, wildflowers, and grasses. That time had arrived for an independent standalone library and it was here it would be built.
In the winter of 2016 the library board under the direction of its president, Heatherlyn Johnson Reamer, the Friends of the Library, and library staff initiated a capital campaign to build a new library. Not desiring to have a mortgage the goal was set at 2.5 million dollars which would cover construction and items needed to open. It was hoped that they could reach this goal by July 1, 2019.
The race was on! Under the supervision of the library board a variety of funding raising activities were developed. The Used Book Sale, Books at the Boathouse with a live auction, the Brick Project (purchase a brick with your name on it for use in the landscaping around the library), and Dinners at the Boathouse to name a few.
The response was overwhelming as within a year one million dollars had been raised. The monies came from residents, businesses, grants, and foundations. Nancy and Bill Davy made an amazingly generous lead donation. Tom’s Markets offered $155,000 to fund the children’s and teen area. AcenTek Communications and the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation also contributed to the overall project. Over the next year funds kept finding their way to the new PCL project, nearly one thousand gifts, until the goal was reached.
What an honor and immense task it has been to design the new PCL. After all, one hopes it will be here over a hundred years. After a great deal of thought it was decided to create a building that looked like a farmhouse, with a front porch, a screened in back porch and carriage house. This would fit into the current palette of the library’s rural surroundings. The building’s grounds would support a children’s play area, a patio, gardens displaying native plants and trees, and of course ample parking. The Cornwell Architectural firm came up with the perfect design.
The Grand Traverse Construction Company was awarded the building contract and broke ground in October of 2018. Like the Postal Service neither rain, sleet, nor snow seemed to slow the workers down. Yes, their silhouettes got a little rounder with the colder temperatures, but they were there and working hard.
What can we expect from the PCL interior? The 5,700 square feet features plenty of room for children’s, teen and adult book collections. A computer area is available supporting the latest technology. WIFI ports are located near the seating areas. Historical documents are stored in the Johnson Carroll Homestead Room for inhouse research. Community rooms are available for public use. A large public meeting room, capable of holding one-hundred- twenty people, with state-of-the-art audio and visual capabilities is also available for local group meetings. There are several smaller rooms for small gatherings. Space is available to house DVDs and audio books. Just to add a special touch there is a fireplace and veranda. And, for all those eager to use our very fine PCL, there is parking for sixty-one vehicles including four spaces for handicapped parking.
I fully believe, under the direction of Vicki Shurly, the library board, with support by Friends of the Library and the generous residents of Old Mission Peninsula the PCL is living well above its mission statement:
“The Peninsula Community Library is dedicated to serving all segments of a diverse rural community by providing access to information and support for personal enrichment in a friendly, welcoming environment.”
The New Peninsula Community Library is open on beautiful Old Mission Peninsula. The farmhouse style building is set amidst the cherry trees and wineries of northern Michigan. Visit them today!
Written in memory of Rebecca Stutsman Mericle who sat with me on a cold spring afternoon discussing the library’s early history. We also enjoyed admiring the first crocus coming up in her yard.
Written in honor of Vicki Shurly and the endless number of volunteers and local residents who have supported this most magnificent project.