Woman’s Club donates $300K to library

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” Walter Cronkite once said these words and the Maplewood Woman’s Club has clearly taken them to heart, handing over a check for $300,000 to the Maplewood Memorial Library Foundation on Feb. 22.

This check is the first large contribution to the library’s capital campaign, which will help fund improvements to the library to allow it to meet 21st-century community needs.

Upon unveiling the donation, Woman’s Club President JoAnn Aponte said: “Use it well.”

“It is a pleasure to be here and to work with you,” Aponte said. “It will be my pleasure right now to give something away.”

The Woman’s Club has been active in the community, through social action projects and fundraising efforts, for more than a century.

The Woman’s Club membership has shown a strong commitment to lifelong learning and has supported the mission of the Maplewood Memorial Library to provide free and equal access to information,” library Director Sarah Lester said. “Past members of The Woman’s Club include Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, who wrote many books in the ‘Nancy Drew’ series, under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. Adams was a member in the 1920s and even started a literary magazine for the club.

“For many years the Woman’s Club has supported children’s programs and collections and for the past four years the Woman’s Club has served as one of the sponsors of the Maplewood Ideas Festival,” Lester continued.

Former Mayor Ellen Davenport also lauded the Woman’s Club for its continued involvement with the community.

“You’ve always been there for Maplewood,” Davenport told the Woman’s Club members. “Your history and Maplewood’s history have coincided. A lot of what has happened has been possible because of you.”

MML Foundation President Ben Cohen told the members of the Woman’s Club that words cannot adequately capture the gratitude he and all community members feel for all that the Woman’s Club does. He stressed that the improvements this money will help fund are vital to Maplewood.

“The two buildings that make up our one library system were built over 60 years ago in the 1950s,” Cohen said. “Over those 60 years, times have changed and so have libraries. Maplewood has outgrown those facilities. Now the people of Maplewood need a library for the 21st century — and they deserve one. Inspired by your generous gift today, that is what we plan to build for the people of Maplewood.”

Plans for the library renovation include: a large multipurpose community room with a separate entrance and bathrooms available after library hours for special events and community use; enhanced areas for children, teens and adults; more and larger meeting rooms; improved and more efficient heating and electrical systems to meet modern environmental standards; better access and enhanced viewing of Maplewood Memorial Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, with an outdoor patron space; and entryways designed for easy access for all residents.

According to Cohen, the library now has a “unique opportunity” to implement such changes thanks to several factors, including: a “dynamic” library director; municipal officials who care and work for the future; and the N.J. Library Construction Bond Act, which was recently enacted and can provide matching state funds to municipalities, like Maplewood, that have plans in place to construct or renovate libraries. The Library Foundation hopes to raise $3 million for the project.

“The strength of Maplewood has always been its people — people like you members of the Woman’s Club,” Cohen said. “That is why I love this town so much. It’s the people. I said before that we intend to build this 21st-century library for all the people of Maplewood. But it’s actually more than that. We are also building it for our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren. Your generosity will help us create a space that will enhance our community for generations.”

While the recent donation is the first large one for this project, Mayor Vic DeLuca assured everyone that the project is moving forward, and the town has has already met with architects, the public and legislators.

“We are on track to move this forward,” DeLuca said, adding that the Maplewood Township Committee recently put aside money to draft a proposal to receive the state funding from its newly approved library bonds law. “Everyone’s rowing with the same oars, going in the same direction, which doesn’t always happen in Maplewood.”

DeLuca also promised that, although the library will be closed during its renovation, it will reopen sooner than the library in Oakland, N.J., did. With a grin on his face, DeLuca showed those gathered a newspaper article touting the Oakland Library’s reopening after being closed for 19 years.

“We’ll do better than the 19-year Oakland Library record,” DeLuca joked, suggesting that the article be put in a place of prominence in the Maplewood Library for the meantime.

All jokes aside, Maplewood and library officials are thrilled with the Woman’s Club donation.

“It means so much to us that the Woman’s Club is now investing in the future of our community with a 21st-century library in Maplewood,” Lester said. “With their support and the support of many others in this fantastic community, we will ensure that our library is accessible, inspiring and technologically advanced for years to come.”

And Cohen reminded the Woman’s Club members that, although they sold their building to the township in 2013, Maplewood will always be the club’s home.

“You used to have a home in Maplewood,” Cohen said. “Now you have a new home: our library.”

Photos by Yael Katzwer