McGregor Public Library marks 100 years

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The McGregor Public Library will celebrate its 100th anniversary on Dec. 4. For much of the past century, it's been located at 334 Main St., in a building that opened on Aug. 17, 1963.

The first McGregor Public Library was located in the community rooms of the Masonic Building. In 1938, it moved to the former Cooper Shop/Town Laundry building (pictured here) on Second Street, which was remodeled by the WPA.

The current McGregor Public Library staff includes director Michelle Pettit (left), assistant Pam Smalley and children’s librarian Luana Stiemke.

According to Michelle Pettit, who’s been director since November 1999, McGregor has only had 14 librarians in the last 80 years. “Four of us were here 20 years or more, and there were others at 15 years,” she said. “We’re not great in number, but I think everybody cared about the library who’s worked here.” Librarians, such as Charlotte Franz pictured here, can leave a lasting impact. “I remember she loved kids. You just felt special, like she noticed you and took the time to talk with you," said Pettit, who grew up with Franz as her childhood librarian. "It’s like a legacy, and we hope we can keep living up to it.”

The current library building opened in 1963. The cost of the building and equipment was $85,000—made possible by a sizable bequest from former McGregor resident Elizabeth Updegraff, whose photo is on display.

Although the McGregor Public Library has undergone some cosmetic changes in the following decades, most notably new carpeting, sheet rock walls and a circulation desk remodel in 2003 and the addition of an historical timeline mural in 2006, director Michelle Pettit said the furniture and shelving is largely original to the building.

Since its inception, the McGregor Public Library has been a community gathering spot, especially through its children's and adult programming. In this older photo, Angel Bahnsen of McGregor and Brianna Kinley of Marquette enjoy "Marie's rocking chair," which was purchased around 20 years ago through memorials given in honor of Marie Collins.

“There are not many other things you can think of that serve people from toddler through the rest of their lives,” reflected McGregor Public Library Director Michelle Pettit. “Once you come to the library, it never really leaves you—there will always be fond memories.” The library's summer reading carnival (shown here) is always a memorable time for local kids.

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

 

“There are not many other things you can think of that serve people from toddler through the rest of their lives,” reflected McGregor Public Library Director Michelle Pettit. “Once you come to the library, it never really leaves you—there will always be fond memories.”

 

Those memories stretch back a century for the McGregor Public Library, which began 100 years ago with an organizational meeting and formation of the first board on Dec. 4, 1921.

 

That board included chairman C.A. Luce, secretary W.H.C. Elwell, Mrs. Myers, Mrs. Esmay, Dr. May Clark, Miss Townsend, F.G. Bell, Rev. H.A. Crumb and Rev. Arthur Stook.

 

“Those were very civic minded people,” said Pettit, “and a lot of the people who were behind getting a library started were involved in a lot of things like the National Wildlife School on the McGregor Heights. They were promoting our area and also promoting that a library can make a difference in people’s lives and be a lasting influence.”

 

Although McGregor had a subscription library as early as 1867 in the law office of A.J. Jordan, and another subscription library for a short time later, it wasn’t until 1920-1921 that the community pushed for something more official. The first location was in the community rooms of the Masonic Building. It was open 3 to 5 p.m. every Wednesday and Saturday.

 

In 1938, the WPA remodeled the former Cooper Shop/Town Laundry building on Second Street. The two-story structure is no longer standing, but was located next to the current post office, and housed both the library and museum until the current library building opened in 1963.

 

“It was a big project and lot of effort went into planning it and getting the library built. There was a grand opening on Aug. 17, 1963, with a lot of fanfare,” Pettit said. “It has served us well all these years.”

 

The cost of the building and equipment was $85,000—made possible by a sizeable bequest from former McGregor resident Elizabeth Updegraff. “I wanted to give back to McGregor something of what it gave to me,” said Updegraff in her will. “When I learned that a public library had been started in McGregor, it seemed to me that to help that grow and develop was the best thing I could do. I am making this bequest in the firm belief that the availability of fine books can exert a fine and lasting influence on the community.”

 

“She made it easier for the town of McGregor to have this beautiful library,” said Terri Strutt, who’s served on the library board since 1991. “I’m sure it would have gotten done, but she got it going.”

 

“And her contribution has made a lasting impact,” added board president Tom Sinclair. “It’s going to go on for years and years.”

 

Although the library has undergone some cosmetic changes in the following decades, most notably new carpeting, sheet rock walls and a circulation desk remodel in 2003 and the addition of an historical timeline mural in 2006, Pettit said the furniture and shelving is original to the building.

 

“It’s mid-century and very classic,” she quipped.

 

A key to the library’s success, however, is that it’s adapted in other ways to changing times.

 

“We put in computers when they started to be a necessity,” said Sinclair, who added that wi-fi access has also become an important offering. 

 

“And, now, we’re really into e-books,” Strutt noted. “You don’t even have to come into the library to do it, but it helps our circulation.”

 

Pettit said patrons can access BRIDGES through the library website, borrowing e-books and audio books at no cost.

 

“We had more online sharing and book talks online in the past year, during the pandemic,” she added, “and we also share a lot of news online.”

 

The resources don’t end there. In addition to reading materials and computer access, the library provides copy, fax and printing services. It also has a genealogy and local history area offering microfilm newspapers as far back as 1856, as well as census records and archives with articles on families, businesses and other community information. Programs include weekly preschool storytime and activities for school age children, plus an adult game group, writers group and book club.

 

“We have a wonderful facility that opens its space to the community,” said Sinclair. “It’s more than a library where you get books.”

 

“Because we have so many services and try to cover so many angles, I feel there’s something for everybody,” Pettit shared.

 

Over the years, Pettit said it’s been important to replenish and maintain the library’s collection.

 

“I feel like we’re all stewards of this community resource. You don’t want to let it stagnate,” she said. “We are towns that really value our history, so that part of the puzzle is important—we have a strong foundation we started with. Then you also have to keep growing and changing.”

 

That attitude has helped make the McGregor Public Library a top-tier library, noted Strutt.

 

“You have to meet 42 measures, like handicap accessibility, a certain number of hours, a certain amount of weeding, which is keeping your classics but replenishing your collection. Then there is number of programs and people attending programs, subscriptions to your local newspapers, continuing ed for your director, and now they’ve added continuing ed for the board. They have all these requirements they want to make sure the library is providing and meeting,” Pettit explained.

 

To the board members and Pettit, though, it’s the people who’ve helped sustain the library over 100 years.

 

“As far as having a library for 100 years, it’s really a credit to the community, to the librarians, board members, the cities of McGregor and Marquette, the county association,” said Strutt. “We’re lucky to have all these community members who want to see it go.”

 

“We’ve been blessed with having wonderful staff. We’ve had dedicated people who believe in the library and what it stands for, and they’ve been open to just about everything,” Sinclair stated. “We also have a good board, a diverse board. We get along and all have good ideas. Everyone wants the library to thrive—that’s the main objective.”

 

According to Pettit, who’s been director since November 1999, McGregor has only had 14 librarians in the last 80 years.

 

“Four of us were here 20 years or more, and there were others at 15 years,” she said. “We’re not great in number, but I think everybody cared about the library who’s worked here.”

 

Librarians can leave a lasting impact, Pettit quipped.

 

“All these years later, I have patrons still tell me about Cecilia O’Rieley,” she said, “but the first librarian I remember is Charlotte Franz. I remember she loved kids. You just felt special, like she noticed you and took the time to talk with you. It’s like a legacy, and we hope we can keep living up to it.”

 

Pettit said the library staff enjoys interacting with the public just as much. The community aspect is perhaps the library’s most important asset.

 

“For small towns our size, the library does become a lot about community—a meeting place,” she reflected, recalling an elderly gentleman who would come in often to read the newspaper. “He would always stop at the desk and talk to us for 15 or 20 minutes. The relative or friend who drove him one day said, ‘What are you doing? You’re at a library. You’re acting like you’re at a party.’ And he’s like, ‘This is the McGregor Library. I do feel like I’m at a party. I have to visit these guys.’ It was important to him, and there have been others, who it’s a social network, a connection to people.” 

 

“I think about it the other way too. I think about people we’ve had as patrons, and some of them are gone now,” Pettit added. “Terri’s family, for example, is five generations of people supporting and using the library. There are a lot of other lifelong library users.”

 

Strutt said she loves coming into the library because the staff are always so engaged and welcoming.

 

“It just makes you feel good,” she commented.

 

Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pettit said people have realized the value of interacting with others. 

 

“We’re hungry for meeting each other and talking about the books we’re reading and learning things together,” she said. “I just think that’s important to keep that going, these sorts of things where people interact with each other.”

 

Pettit hopes the McGregor Public Library can continue to be a resource for the community in years to come.

 

“I want people to know it’s a friendly, welcoming place for whatever you need. We also have a lot of fun,” she said.

 

The McGregor Public Library will celebrate its 100th anniversary Dec. 4-11, with special treats at the circulation desk throughout the week. Visitors can also have their photo taken at the “Party Like It’s 1921” photo booth. Saturday, Dec. 11 will be the last day of the library’s Books and Baskets silent auction fundraiser. People can stop in any time from now until then to check out the gift baskets and place bids.

 

To learn more about the library programs and services, stop by the library at 334 Main St. in McGregor, call (563) 873-3318 or email mplib@mchsi.com.

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