Giving that Inspires features our Eugene Public Library Foundation supporters whose time and energy have benefited our public library. The Eugene Public Library Foundation Board of Directors, Emeritus Board, and Staff humbly thank and honor our donors for their continued service and support of the Eugene Public Library and the programs that are funded through the Eugene Public Library Foundation.
This month’s Giving that Inspires features Tom Kamis, owner of The Davis Restaurant & Bar, located at the corner of West Broadway and Olive Street. Just a stone’s throw from the Eugene Public Library, Tom and The Davis have been strong supporters of the Library Foundation, to the extent of donating delicious hors d’oeuvres to Foundation events.
Do you remember your earliest experience of a library?
I was probably five years old. I went to the library on the south side of Chicago to read stories to kids. I spent a lot time there through grade school. Then I moved to a different town and
school, but I still had books everywhere. I’d either bring home books or animals. My room was just full of books as a child. I still lug around about 20 crates of books from my past.
What brought you to Oregon?
I left Chicago one winter and wanted to get somewhere warm. I was 22, and interested in doing theatre and was planning on going to California or New York but ended up in Arizona. I had serious wanderlust, and moved every season to experience something new for a long time. I’ve lived in 20 different states and 32 different cities.
At one point, I was a river guide in California and came to Oregon to run rivers and lived in Portland for about a year. Oregon really stood out. The two favorite places I’ve lived, scenery-wise, have been Oregon and New Mexico…and, people-wise, Oregon and Minnesota. But Minnesota is way too cold for me.
How did you get into the restaurant business?
My first job was working for Little Caesars – I was 15 and lied to get the job. I was a waiter for a long time and cooked too. It was easy to pick up these kinds of jobs as I moved around, and it also kept me in the industry.
How did that evolve into running a restaurant in downtown Eugene?
I’d been in Eugene about 13 years and already had a restaurant. I heard a rumor that owners of the then Chinese restaurant [where The Davis is now located] were frustrated with the downtown situation and looking for a way out. Because of my parents and family I have a deep-seated affection for community. They drilled into me from an early age how important it is to be involved in your community. I took “involved” to mean inclusion. Here in Eugene the importance of that has been made really clear to me. One of my first jobs in town was working at Café Soriah – “Ib” [owner Ibrahim Hamide] is so connected to our community. He’s the reason I’m still here in Eugene after all these years. I liked working for that man so much and still go to him for advice all of the time – about anything. He’s my favorite person in Eugene; he’s the example I follow.
How did your support for community and inclusion lead to your involvement with the Eugene Public Library Foundation?
It really just happened accidentally with the library. I’d been involved with DIVA a lot, and had hooked up with other causes that I believed were worthwhile. We helped with dinners here when the new library first opened – in-kind donations and the like — and then it just evolved from there.
I think the Eugene Library is great. If there’s one thing I could change it’s that I wish more people would use the library! I know that today’s libraries function more like community centers and am aware of all that libraries need to do to survive. But when I think about libraries, I remember how my mother would go and pick out random books for me all of the time. I started reading at age 3 and by kindergarten she said I was reading at a 4th grade level. That is the proudest moment for her. Still, my sister is the smartest person in the family and she hates reading. She doesn’t even own a book (well, maybe a cookbook). It just baffles me. Every Christmas I buy her a book; she probably gives it away to friends. I wish people would realize what a treasure a book is. I know libraries aren’t and can’t be just about book storage anymore. But it makes me kind of sad. I just wish people would read more!
In what ways have books intersected with your somewhat nomadic life?
I’ve read so many books. Eventually I got tired of reading about places and wanted to go see them. I love to travel and even want to live abroad one day.
In every place I go, there’s a sentence, a story, a word that I want to go and see with my own eyes. For example, there’s a book that I read recently about a guy that repairs brass instruments – tubas – in Arizona, right on the border with Mexico. Mexico has an amazing array of brass bands. So the next trip that my wife and I are going to take is to Yuba, AZ. This book talks about this tuba repair shop there and paints a very quaint picture. I’m sure it’s not like that anymore but I want to see it with my own eyes.
Do you have a favorite book?
Hands down, Watership Down. Currently I’m reading a lot of historical books. I don’t know if I really enjoy them or am just learning from them, because I’m getting more and more enraged with each one I read. People leave books all the time in restaurants. It’s happened my whole life, doesn’t matter what kind of restaurant it is. I picked one up about six months ago – Children of the Night by Dan Simmons. I also really like Hunter Thompson’s writing and his life – it’s so full of everything. My reckless side probably comes from reading him. I like to take chances, and am very comfortable with my life ebbing and flowing as it will. I get that from the books I read.
Do you believe that books find you?
My mom believes that 100%.
You’re a fixture in our downtown community. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I once got to have dinner with David Sedaris. A while back, the UO bookstore was sponsoring his visit to Eugene. I knew a few people there, and said, “I’ll treat him to dinner if you bring him to Café Soriah.” I’m never afraid to ask. Never be afraid to ask…always throw it out there and see what comes back. Sure enough, he shows up!
So there we were: me, my girlfriend at the time, David Sedaris, and his manager having dinner. The only bad part of the meal was that his manager talked too much. I do remember he was very surprised to learn I had a connection to his sister [Amy Sedaris, a comedienne]. When I was in Chicago, I went to Second City and met Amy there and we were in an improv group together for about one minute!
Anyway, when I saw him in person, it was the first time I ever felt starstruck. Every book he’s ever written I’ve read five or six times over.
Don Churnside has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Eugene Public Library Foundation since 2014. Including two years as Board President, he and his firm have been enthusiastic supporters of our library since 1998. We are pleased to introduce you to Don Churnside as our donor in the spotlight.
Are you a native Oregonian? If not, what brought you here?
Law school. I grew up in Portland, was born in Seattle.
Why did you stay?
Eugene had the feel of Portland when I was growing up. I loved the access to the river.
Any particular reason?
I enjoy being on the river in a drift boat – I’ve had one since the 1970s. I had a wood one to start with, then went to aluminum so I didn’t have to keep maintaining it. It’s been fun to give riverboat trips for the Eugene Public Library Foundation (EPLF) as auction items – actually, I’ve done that for almost every local organization that has an auction. I’ve met some really nice people.
Any crazy adventures?
I’m too chicken to have a near miss but I’ve been with people who have been thrown out of their boats. It’s more fun to watch. I’ve been behind people going down the river, and have had to rescue people. I’ve run the Rogue River (30+ times) and the John Day. I go down the McKenzie a number of times each summer, less now that my son has relocated.
What kind of library did you grow up with?
We had the Milwaukee Public Library in downtown Milwaukee. In high school, we had a school library and librarian. The library was an embracing place to go to study – it was a social place. I had a library card and took advantage of the opportunities there. I remember the access to all those books and knowledge…but it doesn’t come close to the many programs and opportunities that the Eugene Public Library now offers.
When did you feel a part of this community?
Right away. It’s easy to get involved – there are a lot of opportunities to make yourself a part of it. I’ve been involved with several boards in town. You meet people, you grow with the board. It’s fun to have the challenges. Doing what I do, you seize these opportunities to help organizations.
Tell me more about your work at Gaydos, Churnside & Balthrop and why you give to the EPLF.
Charitable giving has always been an aspect of our firm. It’s easy to support the library – they offer such a wide range of services. They’re a center of the community so to be part of that is fulfilling. To watch what the money can do, what resources you can expand, it’s fun to see the whole as bigger than the sum of the parts.
What are your goals for the EPLF?
We need to get more people on the board. A board needs a wide range of talents to make it a resource as well. Diversity adds strength.
What do you notice when you first walk into the library?
The people. That’s what we’re there for…it’s satisfying to see all the use that the library gets. The wide range of people…it’s bittersweet when people are there getting warm but it’s an important service; and the kids – the strata of economic diversity of the community is evident. As you work with the board you become more familiar with the depth of the library and that changes your impression. If you walk in from the street, you might question the clientele as you look around. But I look around and see that there’s a wide range of citizens using the opportunities and the programs of the library.
How do you characterize the strengths of the library?
Its personnel, its people. Foundation staff, library staff. All those individuals that make the feel of the library so good in addition to the resources that are available. It’s such a welcoming place.
Churnside is a Scottish surname. Ever use the library’s Ancestry.com subscription to do a little sleuthing about your family background?
Never have, no, but my sister-in-law has. There is a town in Scotland called Chernside, spelled “ern.” We have run into “Chirns” [irn] before. You haven’t run into an “urn” that wasn’t my family…I can’t explain it…either poor spelling on my family’s part or there’s been reason to dissociate from the “ern.” I’ve never been given a good explanation.
What books are on your bedside table?
Rebellion, Murder and Pulitzer Prize, about a murder that happened in Medford in 1933 but was tried in Eugene. A lot of the transcripts from the trial are in the book. My wife’s son recommended and bought it for me. After a day of working in a law office – I don’t mind coming home and reading more about the law. I agree with many of the objections in the transcripts. I bring maybe a jaundiced perspective of it. I was reading a biography of Lincoln awhile back. Before that The Killing of Patton. A lot of World War II stuff.
Do you prefer to look backwards or forwards?
It’s fun to look backwards; I’m not afraid to look backwards. But the focus is more on the forward.
Do you finish a book no matter what?
I’m into closure. I don’t remember the last time I said “this wasn’t a good read.” I might read something a little faster and with less intensity but I still get to the end.
Kindle or paper?
You’ve hosted some lovely holiday potlucks for members of the EPLF Board at your home. I’m wondering who your favorite literary dinner guests might be?
Robert Ludlum – he’d be fun to talk to. He comes up with a lot of fun twists that keep me interested and guessing.
What’s the last wildlife sighting you’ve had on your property?
A bunch of turkeys. The dog lost a fight to a skunk a while ago. You count the deer on your way in. There have been cougar sightings but I’ve never seen one. There was a neighbor reading on his patio once when he felt an uncomfortable feeling and looked up and saw a cougar looking at him. Red-tailed hawks – those are fun.
I know you’re a tennis player so I have to ask. Federer or Nadal?
Flossie and Phil Barnhart served as honorary chairs for the 2018 Eugene Public Library annual fundraiser, Booked for the Evening. We recently caught up with Flossie, longtime Eugene Public Library supporter and advocate.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and love of libraries?
I grew up in Kentucky, in small towns that were surrounded by farmland. When I was 6 years old, I started the first grade in Maysville. I made a friend, and one day I walked home with her, and discovered that she lived in a magical place: she lived in the library. It turned out that her mother was the librarian, and the family lived in an apartment upstairs… I couldn’t imagine anything better!
Now, I couldn’t really read in the first week of the first grade, at 6, but by the end of second grade, I could read just about anything, and I loved it. I bet I read half of the books in the children’s room, and had started on the adult books there, and I also read the books at my high school.
You moved to Oregon to attend graduate school, didn’t you?
Yes, I graduated from the University of Kentucky, where I majored in English, and then went on to earn a master’s degree in medieval French and German from the University of Oregon. I found that Oregon was a better fit for me than Kentucky. I met Phil at church and we got married. Phil was an attorney who also earned a psychologist’s degree from UC Berkeley. After 4 years in California, our family returned to Eugene, where we used the library extensively.
How did you become involved with the Eugene Public Library Foundation?
I was asked to be on the Library Foundation board in the late 1990s, and I couldn’t say no. The library on 13th Avenue was much too small for the population of Eugene, and too small for the number of books. And the kinds of things that could be part of library services were growing. The people of Eugene had been trying to build a new library for a long time. They now had the funding package agreed on, and the plans were being drawn up. This was an exciting project to be a part of, for me and many others in Eugene: we raised pennies, we had read-a-thons, we met to discuss the plans as they developed.
Our new library is beautiful and usable. It is full of light and art, and so many astounding things that come under the deceptively bland words “Library services”: in addition to the puppets and storytime that I had in 1955, there is Internet access, media, Maker spaces. And yes, still, books!
Can you say a few words about the importance of libraries?
Love is the most important thing in the universe, and libraries come next. Well, education and libraries. The library is something that everybody, regardless of economics, has access to. Public libraries and public education are how to make people be created equal.
Foundation donors understand the impact a healthy library has on a community. We are grateful for their partnership and try to honor them in some way every day, including those who have passed on, but whose presence is still felt. This issue of the foundation eNewsletter highlights the late Charlie Henry.
Charles Henry passed away on May 14, 2018 at the age of 97. As Eugene’s fifth city manager, he embodied the essence of a public servant, working on the development of a variety of civic projects. Parks and open spaces like the Delta Ponds, Wayne Morse Park, and Petersen Barn and Park all benefited from his efforts. He worked on an $18.5 million bond measure to help pay for the Hult Center, which opened after the end of his tenure with the city. He continued to work on many community projects including the new library building that we enjoy today. He loved our public library. Just as Charlie was always ready to lend a helping hand, he saw the library as the center of learning where anything was possible for those who entered. He also saw the library as an extension of his service to the City of Eugene. His son, Stuart Henry, remembers, “He loved Eugene, and he loved Oregon.”
American philosopher William James, said, “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” Out of his commitment to the people of Eugene, Charlie initiated an advised fund at Oregon Community Foundation. This fund will continue to benefit the organizations and institutions he loved, including our library. It’s not surprising that his final legacy is continued service to all of us. Thanks Charlie.
Eugene Public Library continues to be the heart of our city. Library managers and supporters alike believe that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities making the library one of the last egalitarian institutions in our country.
Ron and Christina Friberg
Ron and Christina Friberg are generous supporters of Eugene Public Library with both their gifts and their time. Ron joined the EPLF Board of Directors in 2017.
What would you like people to know about you?
Both Christina and I grew up in Eugene. I moved here from Minnesota when I was 5…Christina from Iowa when she was 2. We attended Sheldon High School and both attended the University of Oregon in the day when tuition was about $100 a term! Our families were not wealthy. Hard work was valued and they sacrificed to send us to the University. We both received two degrees from the University. I had a gratifying career in accounting & finance, and Christina had a long teaching career at Pearl Buck Center. We are both retired, just regular people who feel it is important to give back to our community.
There are many deserving nonprofits and organizations in Eugene. Why did you choose to support the Eugene Public Library Foundation?
The library was never a big part of my life growing up. In my family we didn’t seem to have a lot of time to go to the library.
We moved back to Eugene from Portland in 2005 and shortly thereafter discovered the Eugene Public Library. I don’t think people in Eugene really realize how wonderful our library is. It is so much more than a place to check out books. I became a part of the Foundation because we see the Eugene Public Library as a vital asset in our community and we wanted the opportunity to contribute to its ongoing success.
What are some of your favorite things about the Eugene Public Library? What do you think that people should know about the library, but probably don’t?
This library offers so much it is hard to know where to begin. We love to read and we use the reserve system regularly. We go online, find what we want, reserve it and go pick it up! Christina prefers historical fiction. I read mysteries. We are constantly using the library. We check out books, DVDs, and sometimes come for interesting speakers or to attend events. People in the library are incredibly helpful and can assist you with almost anything you are looking for. The Library and Foundation are always evolving to support new technology and improve access to information to all our citizens.
Most Eugeneans don’t realize that the Eugene Public Library, with 100% funding from the Foundation, pays to have a book delivered every month FREE to any signed up 0-5 year old in Eugene, via Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. What an amazing program. Eugene has 40+% of the 0-5 year-olds in Eugene signed up for the program, by far the most in the State of Oregon. The Foundation’s goal is 100%, and lots of volunteers and committed people are trying to make that happen. Early literacy is proven to kick-start a child’s early education. Reading is critical for life long success.
What would you say about the library to a stranger moving into Eugene?
I tell everyone, if you haven’t been to the Eugene Public Library, you are missing a wonderful part of Eugene. Do yourself a favor! Explore it! It is magnificent! For a city Eugene’s size, its Library, and its myriad of services, is outstanding.
We understand you are moving to Bend, a huge loss to the Eugene Public Library and the Foundation.
Christina and I will continue to be supporters of the Eugene Public Library Foundation every month via automated donation. It’s so easy to contribute monthly. We want to do what we can to make a difference. We encourage everyone to do the same. We value our experience with the Eugene Public Library and want to make sure it is there for others for the long-term. You don’t have to be terribly rich, you just have to want to give back a bit to your community. Anyone can help make a difference in their community and what better place than through the Eugene Public Library Foundation?
David and Paul Pottinger
What is your earliest recollection of a library?
Both Paula and I grew up in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, a relatively small town. As a child, I remember that my father – a steelworker – would send me to the library to get him books. He always said “the librarian will know what kind of books I like”. I would go and she’d come out with a stack of novels. My father devoured books. I think that set the stage for what a library could do.
Paula: I grew up in the same area but lived outside of town, so access to the library was easier for Dave. I went to the library after school and took a bus home afterwards. I remember it well – it was a red brick building.
Dave: It was just how you would envision it: a very quiet space. People only read or maybe did research. There was nothing about the library that extended beyond the walls. It was just an edifice. You got your books there and took them back.
Ten years ago, before we moved to Eugene to be near our grandson [The Pottingers’ daughter and son-in-law work at the UO], we lived in southern California. We first noticed libraries starting to change in San Diego. I remember a branch of the library opening near us – in fact, aside from corporate donors, we were the first donors to support it – and it seemed that they were becoming a larger part of the surrounding community, though not nearly in the ways you see in Eugene. The community involvement and services provided here are what draw us to supporting the Eugene Public Library as donors.
You’ve alluded to the evolution of public libraries during your lifetime. Can you elaborate on why you believe it’s important to support the Eugene Public Library?
Dave: Access. There are so many examples of where access to a library opens up opportunities that many of us take for granted. We were in the library the other day and came across someone using his feet to control the mouse to use the computer. He wouldn’t have had access to the internet otherwise, but the library provides that. I can log in from home and do research. Or maybe you can’t afford a Netflix or cable subscription, but there’s a huge collection of videos that can be checked out. Our support for the library’s new teen center – that, too, is access – these are things that impress us. It’s so beyond what anybody’s context of a library used to be. It just seems like the programs continue to evolve. These are the things that move us.
Paula: I think it’s also the feeling you get when you’re in the library. It kinds of opens a whole new world. Sometimes you don’t even know where to start…or may not even realize you’re interested in something that the library has to offer until you see it. Everything you can possibly imagine, it’s there. It expands your mind like nothing else.
What was your first impression of the Eugene Public Library?
Dave: One of things that surprised us when we moved to Eugene – besides not knowing it was home to a symphony and opera company – was that we were blown away by the downtown library. Just blown away by the architecture. As we became more acquainted with all of the programs, well, we just felt so lucky. We love the author talks in particular. In fact, because of our travels we were able to bring author Patricia Schultz to Eugene. We met her husband on a trip to New Guinea some time ago and became friends. When I found out she was on a West Coast book tour, I thought it would be great if she could come to our library. We were so tickled to be able to do that.
In addition to all the programs, it’s always a great place for research. For example, to celebrate the Eugene Symphony’s 50th anniversary I was responsible for a Symphony archive project. [Dave Pottinger is currently President of the Eugene Symphony Association Board of Directors.] I spent hours and hours at the library researching this. Nancy Horner and Connie Bennett made sure the right resources were made available for the work. Researcher Clark Kent helped pave the way to all the stuff I wanted to find, preparing an extensive list of Symphony references to get me started and taking the time to instruct me on how to access the EPL’s Register-Guard microfilm library and answer questions as the project continued. In the end, this research resulted in a series of 18 posters that covered the history of the Eugene Symphony. These were first showcased in the Jacobs Gallery and then hung in the reading room of the library, thanks to Shawn Grant’s help mounting the exhibit.
I remember we had a soft opening for the show under the library’s cupola, with some Symphony players and a short presentation. It was a “come one, come all” kind of thing, and afterwards we invited everyone upstairs to look at the posters. I liked how this project was so well integrated with the library. People find themselves in the library and then all of a sudden, here’s the Eugene Symphony. It’s hugely important to create opportunities for cooperation between the library and any nonprofit or community arts organization because the collaboration ends up benefiting the whole community. It also breaks down barriers; it’s no long just “symphony people” or “library people’. It’s about community. By its very nature, we think the library is a great place to support that.
Do you have a favorite book or genre?
Dave: I don’t – I go through stages mostly, like the time I went through a whole series on the British Navy. My tastes are very eclectic – sometimes Paula recommends books or I get them from friends.
Paula: I’m kind of all over the place but if I find an author I like I try to read or listen to all of his or her books. I really like Haruki Murakami. I read his What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – it was so different than all of his other books! I’m also big on audio books. I do a lot of sewing and like listening to an audio book while I do that since it uses a different part of the brain. I also like mysteries. And, I listened to The Iliad and The Odyssey. I never read those in high school or college for some reason!
Dave: What I typically get from the library is an audio book. I remember really enjoying the series Guns, Germs, & Steel [a PBS program] – so I can listen to that when I’m gardening. I find that program extraordinary.
Do you ever seek out libraries when you travel, and if so can you share any that have been particularly memorable?
Paula: We’ve always felt passionate about public libraries, I’m not sure why. I guess we grew up that way. There’s always some real pull for us to go to a library, even when we travel. When we went to New York, we could have spent a whole day walking around the NYC Public Library. It’s just phenomenal.
Dave: I also remember about 10 or 15 years ago we were in Australia and went into this little library, and just walked around. Obviously, we weren’t going to check out a book, but the people were so nice.
Paula: One of the things I notice is that we go to a lot of countries that don’t have a library. It makes us appreciate the Eugene library even more.
Sherrill Kirchhoff is a long time and enthusiastic supporter of the Eugene Public Library. She worked for what is now the state Office of Student Access and Completion for 20 years and retired in 2003 as the Scholarship Program Manager. The program for privately funded college scholarships grew from annual awards of $200,000 to over $11 million during those 20 years. Oregon is the only state in which a State agency encourages and administers private scholarship dollars. Sherrill was a founding member of the Friends of the Library and the Imagination Library, and is an advocate for children’s literacy.
What are your earliest memories of a library?
I am the 5th of 6 kids. My family has been in Oregon since the early 1900’s. My family moved to Albany in 1941. We never had babysitters and my mother worked. After school care was the library. The library was a sanctuary, a safe place, a solace for me. This was an old Carnegie Library. I would start at the bottom shelf, Louisa May Alcott, and then I would turn the corner and read up to the next shelf and just keep reading each shelf. I was the bookworm in the family.
Would you describe some favorite libraries that you have known?
I love visiting libraries.
- My first favorite library is the Albany Carnegie Library because it is a beautiful old library that was such an important part of my childhood. I always go back there to visit when I am in Albany.
- The State Library was another important library in my life. For a while, we lived on a farm and I would get my books through the mail from the State Library. When we were through with the books, we would put them back in the mailbox with a nickel in the pocket of the book. Years later I had the opportunity to design a scholarship for Master of Library Sciences students sponsored by the Oregon Library Association (OLA).
- The University of Oregon Library was there for me when I had little money and couldn’t buy many textbooks. I had to reserve my books, read them, take notes and return them.
- The Eugene Public Library, in three locations!
- Library of Congress and the Trinity College Library, Dublin, are great libraries in beautiful buildings.
- The library in Ephesus, Turkey, is an amazing reminder that in ancient times libraries were important.
What were some of your favorite books growing up?
I didn’t have many books of my own when I was young. My first book was a gift from the doctor who gave me my preschool shots. It was published by Junket Rennet Powder and I still have it! I think I’ve read Little Women at least 12 times. Dig for a Treasure was also a favorite. It was about kids on their own, kind of the sweet side of Lord of the Flies. I read The Diary of Anne Frank when I was about 16 and then had an opportunity 20 years later to see the Frank hiding place in Amsterdam.
It is sometimes eye opening to reread as an adult, the books you loved as a child. Times, language, and attitudes change and you often see how very racist these old favorites were!
Will you share a bit about your involvement in the Eugene Public Library?
I was a charter member of the Friends of the Library. At that time volunteers were a ‘new concept’ to the culture of the library. I was the secretary of the Friends and was Chair of the book sale the first two years. We actually used the National Guard to help us move books to Valley River for those first sales. Once the sale was moved to the Fairgrounds it really took off and I have participated almost every year since the beginning.
I served on the Foundation Board for 3 1/2 years and I am a very enthusiastic supporter of the Imagination Library.
The library is an important part of my daily life. I even stalked the man who became my husband at the Eugene Public Library! That is another story.
There is so much access to information online. Why should we care about the library today?
The library is the great leveler, it is there for anyone. It offers so many options. No matter what you need or who you are, the library resources and staff are there for you. You never know what you will find in the library just walking around. Books open so many worlds, some unexpected. I just got The Radium Girls and I know it will be about so much more than just the women who painted watch faces.
You have a long history of service to the Eugene Public Library. What is your current focus?
Getting books into the hands of children! I can’t stress that enough. Children need books, need to touch them, to smell them, to take the books to bed. We must get children away from screens and provide access to books.
I belong to a service group, Altrusa, which has established libraries in each of St. Vincent’s housing developments in Eugene. Altrusa-Eugene is a Founder of the Imagination Library, as am I.
I am absolutely passionate about the Imagination Library. I LOVE IT! I am targeting my activities and resources here. One of the reasons I think it is so wonderful are my memories of my 11th birthday when my mother gave me a book a month; I still have them. It was important then and it is important now for children to have books. We are so separate these days. What else unites us as a people if it isn’t the culture that comes through the books that we share?
This month, it is our pleasure to feature Larry Deckman. Larry joined the EPLF Board of Directors for thirteen years, and also served as Board President 2010-11. This interview was conducted by EPLF Board Vice President Lisa Calevi, in June 2017.
What brought you to Eugene?
I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to Eugene in the summer of ’71 to attend the UO. I also went to law school in Eugene, and have practiced what I like to call “preventive law” in town since 1985. Like doctors who practice preventive medicine, I like to see clients when they’re legally healthy, and advise them how to stay out of a lawyer’s office in the future – real estate law, estate planning, areas like that.
What’s your earliest memory of a library?
I don’t know if this counts but on the day that I was born, on her way to deliver me, my mother stopped off at the library to return some books!
That’s quite a story! So the library holds a special place in your heart?
A library reminds me of all of the souls that have preceded me…as if they’re all there reaching out across time, sharing knowledge so, yes, there’s a very personal connection for me. But the library is also central to this community. You know, we live in a special city – our embrace of diversity, of the entire socio-economic spectrum – and our library is in that sweet spot serving the entire community as no other entity does. It offers so many resources to open up one’s consciousness, assist in one’s self-development. We have divisions in our society but I think the library offers a place where people can help themselves. If you are like me, you see people asking for money or food, and think “there but for the grace of God go I”. If you want to help these people, I say: Support the library! It’s a place that anyone can go to improve their lot. I really do consider it the mind of the community. And at the same time, through the kind and considerate staff, the library also offers hospitality to everyone from children to those a bit down on their luck.
The library as the heart and mind of the body politic – that’s very powerful imagery.
The library illuminates in the fullest sense; it casts an inner light sharing both warmth and knowledge.
Your view that the library plays an almost transcendent role in society is quite inspiring.
The library is central to the question of life in this town. If you use the library, think about making a gift to it when you leave this Earth. After all, it is by participating in and furthering our community, that we know we are truly alive – that’s how we all grow. I don’t buy that stuff about “taking care of #1” [ourselves]. We’re with ourselves all the time. I think its liberating to get a perspective that goes beyond self.
You’ve given generously of your time and expertise as a member (and later president) of the Eugene Public Library Foundation Board of Directors. How do you use the library?
The library is central to who I am. It is a treasure trove for a curious mind. I have wide ranging interests, and at any given time I’m reading 50 books. There are so many books out there! These days, I particularly love audio books. I frequently check out music and movies, and always look at the Lucky Day section. I’ve probably checked out thousands of books from the Eugene Public Library over the years. But our library is so much more than books. It’s almost as if it offers you a pure container of oxygen to breathe…I go in and feel almost effervescent.
Besides reading voraciously, volunteering your time on behalf of the community, and practicing law, what do you do?
My wife Sloane and I travel a lot. I’m also an inventor and have invented many things that have sold and are in wide use. This includes constellation star maps and star wheels that help us more about the stars in the sky. I’m also working on a book about the starry sky.
Where will you be for next month’s eclipse?
I’m fortunate to have a client in John Day that has offered me and my wife the use of his home. This won’t be my first eclipse, though – I’ve seen total solar eclipses many times and they’re incredible. A word of advice: don’t stay in Eugene to view this one, it’s not good enough! Go to Corvallis or Salem. If you stay in Eugene for the eclipse, it’s like having a lottery ticket that’s just one digit off the winning number and saying “Ok, that’s just as good”. No, it’s not! Seeing 99% of the eclipse isn’t nearly as fun.
This month we are honored to feature Kim Esrig, who served on the Eugene Public Library Foundation Board of Directors for six years (2008–2014). This interview was conducted by EPLF Board Member and Imagination Library Advisory Board Member Ellen Todras in March 2017.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I grew up in Fullerton, California which was my mother’s hometown. We knew just about everyone there. I met my husband, David, on a trip on the Rhine River, but it turned out that we grew up in neighboring towns. In 1997, David was teaching at Yale University School of Medicine but was interested in leaving academia. We heard about a job in Eugene and have been here ever since. Our twins, Zach and Lauren, are seniors in college now—Zach at Stanford and Lauren at USC. Gregory, our youngest, is a sophomore at Notre Dame.
How did you become involved with the Eugene Public Library Foundation?
I love talking to people and really enjoy community involvement. When our children were in elementary school (French Immersion), I jumped into fundraising and school activities. My interest in education led me to serve on the Eugene Public Library Foundation Board for six years.
What EPLF Board activities were memorable for you?
I really liked working on the Media Outreach committee and on Booked for the Evening, which I chaired for four years. I fondly remember the presentation from the August Wilson play Fences, with Sharon Posner’s playwright son, Aaron, rewriting a scene for us.
Since leaving the Foundation Board, what have you been up to?
I love to cook and I am a founder of Positive Community Kitchen. I also just restarted my medical recruitment business, Carver Select, after a long hiatus.
What are your early memories of books and libraries?
Our family made weekly trips to the local library. I remember coming home with my arms loaded with books. My grandfather further stimulated our love of reading by paying his grandchildren a nickel for each book they read. It worked!
Please share with us why you feel passionately about public libraries, and Eugene Public Library in particular.
Public libraries connect my passions for community building and education. Our library stands firmly and dramatically in the center of Eugene, a physical touchstone for our city, and for its youth and all to enjoy.
Kathie Tippens Wiper
Our first profile features Kathie Wiper, former EPLF Board President and wife of the late Tom Wiper, visionary and co-chair of the Eugene Library Capital Campaign. This interview was conducted by EPLF Board Member Lisa Rubenstein Calevi on December 7, 2016. We are inspired by and grateful for Kathie, and all who give in the spirit of improving our community through library service.
Do you remember your earliest experience of a library?
I remember the Hyde County Library in Highmore, South Dakota, close to where I was born and grew up. I come from a family of ranchers and as a little girl – I must have been four or so – I remember how special it was when I had a book between my hands.
What brought you to Oregon?
I grew up in South Dakota, and became a teacher there. But I got tired of bitter winters with their blizzards and freezing temperatures, and also the hot summers. I kind of liked the Northwest and decided to journey out here. I wanted a place that had seasons, not just the extreme seasons of South Dakota.
Do you have any memories of teaching that would like to share?
I never met a student I didn’t like. I taught for 30 years and the thing I loved most was seeing the kids grow so much. I taught public speaking and radio/tv production at Sheldon High School from 1970-1996. The radio/tv production class came about because District 4J owned a radio station at the time (KRVM) and it seemed like a good way to teach students public speaking without them having to learn it the traditional way. The students wrote and read the news, played the music, produced PSAs, maintained the logs – everything was tied to the curriculum. It was so great to see them grow and assume these responsibilities.
How did that experience evolve into your work with the Foundation?
My husband Tom, who was an elementary school teacher, was with the Foundation early on, and he agreed to chair the capital campaign for a new library with the honorary chairs Ted and Marie Baker. I supported him fully in that. There are so many memories from that time. I remember when we dug into the dirt that would become the foundation of our new library – that was an amazing part. There were also times when the city worried that it couldn’t put in the dollars needed and thinking we couldn’t possibly find the funds, and Tom would say “Of course we can, we’ll raise it!” and that happened….and the black tie Grand Opening in January 2003—well, that was unforgettable, too. When Tom died suddenly in October 2004, I continued his work on the board and eventually served as chair.
What initiative were you most proud of during your tenure as the EPLF chair?
A real big step for us was the creation of the Homework Hotline. This was a time when librarians were no longer being staffed in schools and we saw that kids didn’t have certain tools that would be conducive to learning. Some of these kids didn’t even have homes, let alone computers. So [Library Director] Connie Bennett really helped us move on that. It was a big step in getting kids the help and services they needed to succeed.
That speaks to the role that a library plays in its community. In your opinion, why else are libraries important?
Contrary to what some say, I believe that libraries are actually becoming more important than ever before. Libraries are the great equalizer. They really do serve all people, regardless of station in life. And we are fortunate, because our library has adapted really well to the technological changes we’ve seen. It’s still a place you can go to hold a book in your hand, but now you can come use the computers to look for a job, or do other forms of research…or even make something at the Maker’s Hub. Our library truly provides something for everyone. …you can always to come read, and reading is so important. You can check out a book. But there are also so many great programs for kids that the Foundation supports that get them interested in literature. One of these is the Imagination Library – giving a child a book each month for them to hold in their hand, helping them build a library of their own! It’s so important.
It sounds like the Eugene Public Library holds a special place in your heart.
I love teaching and learning so much and a library really goes hand in hand with that. But our Library has been successful on so many other levels. It’s such an important part of Eugene, and has really played an important role in the development of downtown. I think it was really the impetus for so many things – it really moved downtown Eugene onto a very important path and continues to be a real anchor for downtown and everyone in the community. It truly provides something for whoever you are — one of the many reasons why I choose to support it.
Do you have a favorite book?
I don’t have a favorite book but I have a favorite genre – historical fiction. I love Frances Parkinson Keys’ novels and I also like Ken Follett’s work quite a lot. I particularly like historical fiction that is pretty accurate – that doesn’t wander off too far away from history.