History of the Wanatah Public Library

Wanatah School - Location of first Library

Wanatah School - Location of first Library

As the rest of the world readied itself for an international military conflict, three women in the Wanatah area were concerned with the preservation of their community, not the destruction of it. In March of 1914, Mrs. Bert Cites, Mrs. Phillip Conboy and Mrs. Arthur Goodwin formed the County Home Improvement Club. The purpose of the CHI Club, as it came to be known, was to promote social and community betterment.

The first project these women undertook was a club library. Members of the club donated books and brought them to the meetings. The ladies then carried the books door-to-door in a willow basket and loaned them to people in the community.

When the library collection outgrew the basket, L. J. Gross, who was the Cass Township trustee, offered the use of some shelves at the Wanatah School. Local families frequently donated books to the library and it grew steadily.

Wanatah Hotel - Library's second location

The library was forced to move again in 1922 to allow for the increase in size. L.J. Gross, who managed the Wanatah Hotel, supplied the library with one room. The hotel stood where the Community Hardware used to be, just north of the Post Office. The hotel was destroyed by fire in 1924. The library, however, escaped destruction as it had moved out of the hotel in 1923.

Library's third home - Royal Neighbors of America Woodmen Hall

Royal Neighbors of America Woodmen Hall - the Library's third home

The third home of the library was the Woodmen Hall, later used by the Royal Neighbors of America. The library opened its new location on Sept. 8, 1923, and heralded the occasion by presenting everyone with a souvenir bookmark.

The library stayed at Woodmen Hall for seven years. In 1930, however, it was again necessary to increase space. The library moved to the vacant old store building owned by the Boehlke's. It occupied a 25 x 25 ft. space at the front of the building. This location served the library for 24 years.

Cass Twp Fire Department - Library's fifth home

Cass Twp Fire Department -the Library's fifth location

In 1954, the library moved to a building it shared with the Cass-Clinton Volunteer Fire Department. This move tripled the available space. The new library had an adjoining workroom, a feature the previous locations had lacked.

The library opened its next facilities at the Wanatah Town Hall in 1983. The money for the building came from the Lois Price estate. In her will, Mrs. Price stipulated that her money be used to build a town community center in honor of her parents. This library was the largest yet, occupying 1465 sq. ft., over one-third of the entire building.

In 2009, the Library moved again to its present space in the Wanatah Town Annex (old REMC building) at 114 S. Main St.  With 3000 square feet, the Library now has a Children's Room, History Room, meeting room, and high-speed internet, and most important, a fast-growing and more up-to-date collection to serve our patrons.

The library itself was originally under the jurisdiction of the CHI Club, but became the property of Cass Township in 1924. The library was then supported by a two-cent township tax levy.

A board was formed, according to state law, to conduct library business. The first meeting was held on August 23, 1923 at the Wanatah Hotel with eight members present.

In 1927, the board set up guidelines for the duties to be performed by the librarian and the board. The librarian was in charge of ordering, receiving, and settling for all books and supplies. She also prepared the lending library used by schools. The board determined what books were to be ordered. Also in 1927, the board began cataloging books and completed the project in 1928. In 1929, the board took a membership in the Indiana Library Association.

Throughout the 1950s, the board debated the issue of becoming a Class I library. The library was having financial troubles; and the conversion would increase financial security. Finally in 1959, the board approved the conversion to Class I status.

When the library first began, the members of the CHI Club took turns donating their services as librarians. Anna Sheviak became the first paid librarian in 1925. There have been a total of eight librarians, including the current one, since Miss Sheviak. In chronological order, they are Anna Nehmer, Belle Cites, Pearl Egolf, Leona Kuster, Julia Boldt, Anne Marie Shaver, Mike Peek and Pat Baum.

Beginning in 1923, librarians began sending items to the Wanatah Mirror. These usually listed new books at the library, donations that had been made, and notices of upcoming events. Periodically, they included how many books had been borrowed.

From a willow basket full of books to a new library in the Town Hall, the library has seen a steady growth over the years. After only ten years, it had 1500 volumes. In 1927, 140 books were purchased from the private collection of E.T. Scott, Westville librarian, for twenty and twenty-five cents a piece. The library had its first problem with overdue books in 1924. In that same year, $50 was spent on children's books.

In 1930, the library began a card program that registered borrowers for a period of five years. By 1951, there were 412 registered borrowers and 6,031 volumes. By 1964, the number had grown to 7,891 volumes. In 1972, the number rose to 10,000 volumes and averages that many today.

In addition to the personal attention that has always existed in the library, other features have played an important part in its service to the community. The most enduring of these features began in 1923 and is still a central function of the library. This feature is the children's storyhour. Area mothers, pastors, and others have taken turns reading to the children.

In 1924, the board began a collection for subscriptions to current magazines. Some of the magazines they received were "Children" for children, "Fashionable Dress" and "Poultry Journal".

In 1928, a committee from the library met with Frank Hale and Wylda Phillips from the Cass Township South Central school to discuss developing a lending library for the school to by used by pupils and teachers. Leona Kalwitz of the Clinton Township school also requested books for her pupils. In this way, country students were able to benefit from the library.

Indian Club - Summer Reading Program 1952

Indian Club - Summer Reading Program 1952

In 1938, the library began one of its more famous features, the vacation reading club. Children who participated read books and recorded them in a small booklet. They then received a seal that represented the theme. Each year the theme was different. Some of the themes were farm, cowboy round-up, circus, travel, bookworm and enchanted forest. One of the most famous themes was the Indian club. Leona Kuster, librarian at the time, used chicken feathers from area farmers. She washed them and dyed them red, yellow, blue and green. The children in the club received one feather for their headbands for every three books they read. At the end of the summer, Mrs. Kuster's husband, the Rev. A.V. Kuster, photographed the 67 children. This photograph was published in the vacation issue of the Wilson Library Bulletin. The photograph received praise from librarians in several other states.

In April 1942, 239 books were collected for the Victory Book Campaign. This provided books for WWII soldiers who were away in camps.

In 1953, the library began binding past issues of the Wanatah Mirror. Eventually, the 1932-1969 issues had been bound. With a gift from Miss Goldie Hunt, daughter of the editor, the issues from 1899-1932 were made available in bound editions.

In 1959, the library acquired a collection of phonograph records. Otis Cites, a talented woodworker in Wanatah, made a storage cabinet for the phonograph and records.

In 1966, a section was set aside for books on Indiana and books written by Indiana authors.

Because of the foresight of three women in the early 1900s, Wanatah has benefited over the years from the library they started. As it has done so well in the past, the library will surely continue to serve and grow with the Wanatah community far into the future.

Sources:

Minutes. Board Meetings 1923 - 1966. Wanatah Library.

LaPorte Herald-Argus

Regional News

News-Dispatch

Vidette-Messenger

Wanatah Mirror