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Kingsley Friends of the Library Galvanize the Community

By Renee Rosencrantz Wheaton



The whole community sat up and took notice when a $50,000 gift was made to the library. The gift was divided up—in order to receive the next donation, the ‘Friends’ had to reach certain fundraising goals.

When it comes to square-footage, 800 square-feet can make for a decent- sized apartment, but when it comes to a public library it makes for a very cramped space. An 800- square-foot library was exactly what the community of Kingsley was facing.

The library was housed in what once was a bank building. When it first opened up shop there, back in the 1930s, the facility served the community well, but by the 1990s the space had grown inadequate at meeting the community’s needs. “We have at least three if not four generations in our area that have used the old library and realized its shortcomings because of its lack of space,” said Kingsley Friends of the Library President Gay Travis.

While libraries will always be associated with the lending of books, they have long played other roles like providing educational programming, community meeting places, and access to computer technology, but Kingsley’s old facility limited its ability to play that expanded role.

We Have Community Support, Now We Need Money

It’s a spot many communities have faced before—an overwhelming need. Was it time to ask for a millage? That was something the community didn’t want. “The village of Kingsley is a low to moderate income community, with 57 percent of our residents falling in the low to moderate income range,” said Village Manager Adam J. Umbrasas.

Building community support for a new library wasn’t the issue, but raising the money for the project was going to take some doing.

“Not one person that I’m aware of said, ‘We don’t need a larger or new library.’ It was a wish that was already in everybody’s mind,” Travis said. “What we needed planning, hard work, and leadership to find the way to make it happen. Kingsley Friends of the Library (KFOL) said, ‘If we don’t provide the leadership, who else will? We made a new library our goal and our purpose.’”

‘Fund’ not ‘Fun’ Raising

With a population of only 1,500 people, raising enough funds for a brand new $1.3 million library and village hall seemed a little impossible. “At the very beginning it was a daunting task and the Friends did muddle around a bit looking for a pathway to our goal,” Travis said.

The Kingsley Library is part of the Traverse Area District Library (TADL) and so the KFOL received help from the library system by meeting with members of the TADL Board Facilities Committee. The TADL also hired an architect to make a prototype plan for the new library and hired a consultant firm to do a study of the fundraising potential in the
community. “Among the results was that we could perhaps raise $100,000 locally. Maybe,” Travis said. Not the best news, but the KOFL pressed on.

While the consultant’s news wasn’t exactly what the KOFL had hoped for, the report included a detailed plan of action that the Friends were able to put into action. “Each person, from our youngest to our oldest did something to help fund the project. Each citizen feels proud to have been part of something of such significant worth.”

A New Site for the Library and Village Hall

Finding a new location was also paramount, and the village owned three sites that had potential. The village council agreed that they would donate a site, demolish the existing buildings, and prep the site for construction. The new facility would also include Kingsley Village Offices.

The village obtained a low interest loan for $612,000 from the USDA’s Rural Development program, and contributed another $338,000 through a $188,000 general obligation bond and $150,000 from the village’s general fund to help the project, said Umbrasas. That left the community a lot of money to raise, and they didn’t back down from the challenge. “I really credit the Friends of the Library,” said Jim King, a member of the village council. “I give the credit to them, without them there never would have been a new building.”

A Gift Also Creates Goals

There were some substantial gifts including a $50,000 gift from Val and Ken Bilbrey, in honor of Val’s parents, Pete and Vera Nickerson. “The whole community sat up and took
notice of that donation,” Travis said. “The money came in four increments and to receive the next donation the friends had to achieve certain goals. The goals made us work harder and we met each one.”

The Friends became skilled at writing grants, many of which required matching funds, so fundraising was never far from their minds. Just because the community didn’t want a millage didn’t mean they weren’t willing to be generous in the support of the new library goal.

‘Friends’ Galvanize the Community

“We involved our school children in penny drives, band concerts, silent art auctions, and art on the walls of local restaurants,” Travis said. The Friends also started an annual garden walk and plant sale. There were races, bazaars, and book sales.

Kingsley is a low to moderate income community, and council didn’t want to ask for a millage for the library. Consequently, the library was a result of a real community effort—there were school penny drives, band concerts, a garden walk and plant sales, bazaars, book sales, and a silent art auction. So when it was time to build, everyone in the community and all donors were invited to come to the groundbreaking with a shovel or a spoon.

All the hard work paid off, and the community was able to gather together to celebrate the facilities’ groundbreaking. “On the bare site the library was outlined with stakes and orange ribbons, showing each room labeled with a sign for what it was to be,” Travis said. “Everyone in the community and all the donors were invited to come with a shovel or a spoon and to take part. They did come, all ages from far away, in great numbers and it was a tremendously happy celebration.”

The community involvement didn’t stop there; when the facility, which also includes the village’s municipal offices, was built, local tradesmen volunteered their skills to make items, including cabinetry for it.

“Because of the individual donations of time, craftsmanship, ideas, and effort, the building has character,”Travis said. “Each person, from our youngest to our oldest did something to help fund the project. Each citizen feels proud to have been part of something of such significant worth.”

No longer short on space, the 8,330-square-foot Kingsley Library and Municipal Center provides the library with six times the space it once had and the village with double the space. The effort took 10 years of fundraising efforts, but the community was able to raise $900,000 to put toward the library. The level of civic pride raised, however, is immeasurable.

Rene Rosencrantz Wheaton is a freelance writer. You may contact her at 810-444-3827.



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