By Sue Moore
Bobbi Truesdell, director for the Schoolcraft Library, has watched the facility grow from a few hand-me-down books in a storefront on Grand Street, to today’s remodeled building at 330 N. Centre Street with a budget of $175,552.
She is retiring after 12 years of being director and 14 more as a part-time librarian on September 25, the day she expects to become a grandmother for the first time. “I never wanted to be the library director, “ Truesdell made clear, “but said I would try it for a year as I can’t be sitting in an office all day.”
“Libraries are changing,” she said. “I realized I could bring it to a certain point, but I see what’s coming. and I’m not sure I am the best person to take the library there. I don’t even believe in all of it. But technology marches on and so much more needs to be done. Faye VanRavensway has the knowledge along with the rest of the staff to take the library in this direction. I have great faith in everyone on the staff.”
The faith the community put in Truesdell has paid dividends, beginning with the Battle of the Books that she instituted 20 years ago. This challenge for youngsters to read and comprehend has been her beacon of light in her dedication to literacy for all the children it has reached. For many years, she provided all of the children’s programming for the library. “It is awesome to be able to impact kids’ lives. But I had to give it up , with the exception of outreach programs and Battle of the Books, and I’ve never been able to take it back because of the need to concentrate on the expansion program for the library, grant writing and funding issues,” she said.
That expansion program started small with the idea that a little more storage space was needed. At the time, the library was housed in small space, configured to look like a family home to fit better architecturally into the neighborhood, and thus a reconfiguration of the space was also necessary. Bob Boardman, a library design expert, was called in to see what could be done. That was the beginning of the “dream team” that Truesdell formed to help build an addition.
Next on the scene was Bob Crissman, former Schoolcraft schools building and trades instructor. He came aboard when Truesdell had concluded that the expansion would never be accomplished on her watch. “There were just too many obstacles that I could recognize. It helped that Dan DeVries became village president. [He] could see the wisdom in trading property that the library owned to the east side, with the tennis courts on the north at no cost, for the envisioned expansion,” she said.
An architect was needed to draw up plans and Howard Overbeek fortuitously came into the picture. However, the initial cost estimate came in at $600,000 and that was daunting to all concerned. She had never written a grant before, and Truesdell still recalls her initial fear. The first one was a technology grant and it was successful. That emboldened her and was the first glimmer that the expansion could actually happen.
Bill Truesdell, Bobbi’s husband, did a lot of the writing initially and she did the editing, eventually trading roles, she said. This collaboration brought in $131,000 in grants with the Vicksburg Foundation a major contributor. Fundraising and contributions totaled $216,648, with Bobbi’s promotional “roof sit” overnight in October 2010 to raise funds catching a good deal of media attention.
Kim Robertson, president, and the entire board were adamant about not taking on debt to accomplish their goals. They wouldn’t allow that from the very beginning, Truesdell recalled. The total initial cost was $464,644, considerably under the $600,000 estimate. At least $75,000 to $80,000 could be chalked up to Crissman’s contribution in unpaid labor along with many of his friends in the trades, she indicated.
“The dream team didn’t have any ego,” she explained. “They just wanted to put the best product in place to serve the community. They were fabulous, especially when dealing with my spatial limitations. The last week of construction when things began to fall into place, and we were having to readjust small things, was the only time I sort of lost it. I started crying over something very small but meaningful to the end product that needed to be changed. The whole thing was a lesson in compromise. In the end I was very pleased.”
It’s been quite a journey for the accidental library director who taught first grade in Comstock for 16 years before moving to Schoolcraft. “Right now, my parents need me. I’ve loved my job, and I’ll still want to read to children like I have done for the cooperative pre-school children at the Presbyterian Church and Lunch Bunch at the Early Elementary.” For Bobbi Truesdell, retirement means there will be time to give to some happy new endeavors, “Maybe I will take piano lessons and, for sure, volunteer to take care of the new baby when it arrives.”