Giving that Inspires introduces one of our Eugene Public Library Foundation supporters. 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 Lisa Rubenstein Calevi on December 7, 2016. The Eugene Public Library Foundation Board of Directors, Emeritus Board, and Staff humbly thank and honor Kathie & Tom Wiper for their continued service and support of the Eugene Public Library and the programs that are funded through the Eugene Public Library Foundation. 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.