GRATIS — Two librarians will retire on Saturday after a combined total of 91 years of service to Marion Lawrence Memorial Library. Library trustees and others honored the pair with a retirement party on Sunday, July 25.
JoAnn Harris came to work for the library as treasurer in July 1968. Six years later, she was promoted to Assistant Librarian.
“They were in need of a librarian, and I applied for the job, and they hired me,” Harris said.
Harris enjoyed being librarian much more than her previous job, which involved managing the library’s finances.
“I love books, and I enjoy talking to the people who come in from Gratis and getting to know them,” Harris said.
Library Director Penny Johnston has served in that capacity for 44 years. Her fondest memories involve planning and putting together the library’s various children’s programs.
“We read books, we have a project for them to make, and then we play a game,” Johnston said.
One project involved having the kids draw pictures illustrating the story of a book, ‘Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!’ by Candace Fleming.
“Then we put it all together like a quilt and hung it on the wall,” Johnston said. “That was a fun project, and the kids enjoyed it.”
Johnston echoed Harris’ statements about interacting with the people of Gratis, and especially the young people.
“You love getting to know people and their families,” Johnston said. “A lot of kids will come in without their parents and hang out, and you kind of get to know them.”
The business of running a library has changed a lot in 44 years, according to Johnston.
“When I first started, we didn’t have computers,” Johnston said. “We had one room. Now the kids can come in and do school work, and play video games, and people can get the information they need.”
They’re also able to share books with libraries all over Ohio, according to Johnston, another big change from the early days.
“We can get pretty much anything that anybody would like,” Johnston said.
Johnston’s grandson, James Taylor, talked about his love for the library, and especially the children’s programs.
“I like that I know the people who are running them, that they have games, and there are snacks!” Taylor said. “I wish they weren’t retiring.”
Taylor enjoyed playing games like bowling, ring toss and bingo at the library, but said it was impossible for him to pick a favorite.
“They were all fun – it’s hard to name just one out of all of them,” Taylor said.
Preble Shawnee seventh-grader Mariah Lohrey lamented the fact that the library’s new director might be more strict.
“How am I supposed to go behind the desk and check out my own books?” Lohrey asked.
Harris and Johnston insisted that incoming director Shannon Roles would be a worthy successor, however.
“She likes kids, and she’ll do a good job,” Johnston said.
Library Board of Trustees president Roberta Raps had words of praise for Harris and Johnston.
“We are going to miss them,” Raps said. “It’s amazing that they’ve been that dedicated to stay all those years. They’ve been here for so long – they know everybody who comes in, and everybody knows them.”
Raps doesn’t feel that library patrons have seen the last of Harris and Johnston, however.
“I have a feeling they’ll be in here quite often, if only to sit and talk,” Raps said. “And they’ll be called upon for advice for many years to come.”
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @mproperenglish