National Library Week is April 3-9 and the Chester Public Library will be celebrating with special activities and events for the entire month. April also marks the 94th year since the library opened thanks to the generosity of one man, Charles Briggs Cole.
The H.C. Cole Milling Company, today owned and operated by Ardent Mills, was started by Cole's father in 1855. It is the last business still in operation on Water Street in Chester. Charles Briggs Cole took the company into the 20th century with modern innovation and production, but he brought more than enterprise to Chester. It was through his foresight, concern, and generosity that the Chester Public Library stands today and is recognized as one of the finest small city libraries in Illinois.
The library began in 1891 with 1,475 volumes as a private institution called the Tecumseh Public Library. It was open to the public, and its backers sold stock at $1 a share. Cole's wife was the president and Mary St. Vrain was the librarian.
The library moved as it grew, starting first in the Gordon building and then moving to the First State Bank building. In 1927, Cole presented his plans for building the current library for the City of Chester. One year later, at a cost estimated between $40,000 and $50,000 it was completed.
Unfortunately, Cole died before he could see its dedication, and the first public use of the building was for his funeral in March 1928. The library was dedicated and opened to the public a month later on April 22.
The first librarian was Minnie Adams, who served for 28 years. The library has only had five librarians in the last 94 years: Adams, then Mabel Nagel until 1971, Frances McDonald until 1990, Mary Frances Eggemeyer until 1996, and current librarian Tammy Grah.
The library was expanded in 1988, doubling its size while maintaining the architectural beauty and integrity of the existing library. The expanded space was presented and dedicated to the city on May 6, 1990.
Grah is excited as the library begins to resume in-person programs after two years of COVID restrictions. Grah says some programs will continue to be hybrid presentations, available online and in-person. The programs she is hoping to include are: book discussions, story times, crafts, local history, informational programs, movies and more.
The library is open for in-person visitors, who will be greeted by Grah or one of the part-time staff assistants: Lisa Wittenborn, Toni Dierks, Linda Stern, Lily Koch or Marla Rockwell. Patrons may also check chesterpubliclibrary.com or look on Facebook for updated programming information and online resources.
Grah is always looking for ways to keep the library a place where visitors will come, learn, and enjoy the rich information available to them. The library is a member of the Illinois Heartland Library System, the Cloud Library (www.yourcloudlibrary.com), Hoopla (www.hoopladigital.com/my/hoopla) and the new "Dial-A-Story," which encourages all ages to call (888) 333-1816, answer riddles and trivia, and be entered in monthly drawings.
The library also recently joined Illinois Libraries Presents, a group of libraries throughout Illinois partnering to offer monthly virtual author visits that may be watched at home or at the library.
In addition to Grah and her dedicated staff, lots of people work hard to make sure the library remains a vibrant place in the community. The volunteer Friends of the Library, headed by Collette Powley, raises funds to support library programs and initiatives. And the library's board is appointed by the mayor. Its members are President Betty A. Welge, Vice President Dr. Stephen Miller, Treasurer Mary Ann Stumpe, Secretary Melissa Gross, as well as trustees Carolyn Schwent, Richard Pautler, Evelyn Schuwerk, Tammy Liefer and Don Berry.
The Chester Public Library is truly a jewel to be enjoyed by everyone. Grah and her staff are hoping everyone will stop in during National Library Week and also make the library a regular place to visit.