DELIGHT — After making the Delight Library a model for small libraries across the state, Ginny Evans called it a career officially last Friday.
Evans ended up in Delight fifteen years ago to be closer to her son and daughter-in law, who wanted her to move to the area to be closer to her grandchildren. She had just spent eight years in California nursing here daughter who was battling cancer, and was a three decade resident of Oklahoma previous to that.
“They wanted me to be closer — I was visiting my grandkids twice a year. I loved it here while I was visiting, it’s just such a wholesome, wonderful little town. I’ve always been in big cities, said the former upstate New York resident who went to high school in Tampa Bay, Florida. “This is just a sweet place. I look out the window and think ‘God has really blessed me to let me land in a place like this,’ and I’m proud that I got to work here. I still can’t believe that this town has embraced a northern yankee Republican as they have.”
Nine years ago, she began as a consistent volunteer in the Delight Library under Shirley Forbes when it was located in the butane office, across the street from where the library is now located.
“I was working for First Step in Hot Springs, and on the days I wasn’t working, I volunteered at the library. Of course, I loved it and did most of the paperwork,” Evans said, noting Forbes worked dual positions as librarian and manning the butane office.
Evans, who at the time was garnering her preschool teaching certificate from then Hope Community College, eventually went to work for Kiddieland where she spent three years while continually volunteering at the library.
“I finished my practice teaching, and decided I didn’t want to be a teacher … I really wanted to work at the library with the kids. I didn’t want to teach 70 kids a day, but I sure enjoy teaching that many at the summer reading program. You can use your own creativity and it is so much fun.”
After Forbes had to leave the position due to illness, it was Evans’ time to step up.
“I was working in her place, volunteering, and one of the board members said ‘Ginny, you should be getting paid for this.’”
She confesses that after she was officially hired, the library board paid her back pay.
“I was working fours days a week, but I only put in for two — thats all I felt entitled to.”
After applying for the position — officially titled a “library manager” because it requires no library related degree — Evans told the board she wanted to increase the programming, get a smartboard and to install and electronic checking in/out system.
“I’ve completed all those things — I satisfied all the things I said I would do and then some [including a new children’s reading room in the former water office]. The children’s programming was the thing I was mostly aiming at, because kids don’t have much to do in the summer, and we now have a really solid and active summer reading program.”
But it hasn’t been all wine and roses. After the collapse of the library region, Evans said the community helped keep the library afloat for her, despite the possibility of closure, as well as admitting that when she began, there were four people who attended each of her programs for the course of a full year.
“We have had people donate books for years — we had no library funding for three years that we could access, for a long time it was a big mess. But people are still donating books. After reading about us online, a woman donated a U-Haul full of books, movies and games earlier this year.”
Evans is modest to a fault, and refuses to accept any credit for any gains in participation the library has seen under her tenure — numbers that have received accolades by the Arkansas and National Library systems.
“I don’t know how to explain the success, other than to say they tell me we have a lot more success and participation than many other larger libraries. Part of it, I believe, is the entertainment value, because we don’t have an arts council, so I have tried to bring those things to bear. Instead of just having a book signing with the author by the door, we make it a party, we feed the people and decorate. People come out of curiosity just to see what we are doing this time. I have authors from Texas, Louisiana and from all over that come here, and they all say they have much more success from sales here in this little town than they have in big towns with big events. People have the money to buy books — they can order them from Amazon — but its so much fun to come see what in the world we are doing. If anyone is interested in something, some kind of program, I tried to do something with that. I do it because I love the town. It’s about the library, it’s not about me.”
She always tried to make her efforts reflect the community.
“I always feature the businesses in town in everything I do, because people drive by the businesses, but people don’t always know anything about them. I love everything so much, and maybe it is contagious. People don’t realize what they have in the own town. Other places may be more sophisticated, but we have [in Delight] everything anybody else has, and it’s in a better atmosphere — we may not have a store open all night long to buy furniture, but if we want something, someone will open up and give it to us if we really need it. It’s just a wonderful place to live. I just try to introduce them to things they hear about in the background and don’t actually get a chance to see. There are a lot of wonderful, talented people living in this town that nobody may know about if I didn’t make sure they did.”
Evans, who has recently battled health issues that culminated in her decision to retire, is grateful to the community.
“I had a stroke, was off three weeks, and people would come in and put books up for me. When I broke my shoulder, women would take turns picking me up for work and rehab, twelve weeks before and after surgery — because I couldn’t drive. Why would you not want to live in a place like this?”
She also expounded on the recent community held retirement party held in her honor.
“That celebration that they had for me was so heartwarming, it just fills me with joy every time I think about it. I’ve never lived anywhere like this — I’ve always liked country living, and here you are in the country while on Main Street. All those trees and the beautiful sky, it just feels good. I”ll never get over it, it just meant so much to me.”
She attempted to explain why she put so much effort into the job in an attempt to make it a success.
“This job has been my family, it’s just been my whole existence, and I have just loved it. It is a lot of work, but it is fun work. It has been really fulfilling for me. It’s just the challenge for me, I’ve been in a lot of organizations in the past, but the challenge of getting people to come in this library … I have 735 patrons, and there are 286 people in good health, or not, in this town. And they don’t have to come here.”
Donovan Mays, who heads up the technological efforts of the Arkansas Public Library system, told Evans that they tried to get other libraries to do similar things, but they always claimed they didn’t have the time.
“Ginny Evans is but one person, the only person that works in the Delight Library, and she does it, so why can’t you? They know about Delight at library board meetings across the state,” Mays told Evans. However, she comments that most of her success has been “it’s not me, it’s us — it really is us, and it’s really something to behold, and it just fills your heart. If I had any hand in it all, it’s just because of my boundless enthusiasm. Other people can just tell how much I love doing this, and it just rubs off somehow … but I don’t want to glorify Ginny Evans, I want to glorify Delight and the library. I’ve received a lot of accolades, but the library is everything to me. Delight is everything, and everyone in this town has made this library what it is. That’s the secret to my success, ultimately, I think. This is a town worth knowing about, one of the last pure places to be in.”
She said the library’s success was but a reflection of the town, all the way back to its very beginnings.
“Adell Hughes started the library [here] from years past, she started the whole thing, I believe it was in the furniture store with books from her home, before moving to the butane office and joining the state library system. She’s the one, the real deal, starting a library with her little bookcases and books from home.”
Evans, who also spearheads the annual local effort for the Mr. Rodgers Sweater Drive, stated that the community made the effort shine. She admits it is special for her to participate in the effort as Fred Rodgers was a family friend, though she was too young to remember many details.
“AETN comes, while they are on vacation, because of what the community does. I wanted this town to be famous for its goodwill, and knowing Mr. Rodgers, I took the ball and ran with it. And, of course, I have to go overboard with everything. I had 900 sweaters [donated] the first year (half as many as the whole statewide effort) — they couldn’t turn me down,” Evans said of getting AETN and the Salvation Army to participate in the annual Delight Christmas parade. “They’ve made a big fuss over me, but it’s the town, it’s the people that are willing to do this, that care that somebody is cold in the winter. It isn’t that I am just so wonderful. I want our town to be known for the wonderful place that it is — it’s not just pretty scenery, it’s pretty people, inside and out. AETN thought it would ease off and participation would get less and less each year, but it’s not, because people love to do it.”
Ever the optimist, she sees great things ahead for the library.
“I know the new librarian [Carrie Tidwell] will be much more organized than me, and I am looking forward to that. I think she can do a terrific job, and she has always been involved with real young people, and that’s what we need. We need young people, children, to grow up in the library. That’s why I focus so much on them in the summer, because you can go online and read books — you don’t have to go to the library. But I want them to grow up in the library, appreciating it, having a good time, and want to come here. And they do. I don’t want [Tidwell] to copy me, I want her to go off in her own direction. I’m passing on the torch, and I just can’t say enough good about her, and I know that she will bring youth and enthusiasm, and do the things I can no longer physically do.”
She confesses she will miss the job, but isn’t going far, and wouldn’t just up and disappear.
“I’ll miss this view,” as she points out the library window, “but I’ll have one just like it down the street [at my new residence in Delight]. There is no where else I want to be, I’ve never seen anything else like it. There is no way for me to properly thank the patrons I’ve had, and the community. I don’t know how to thank them, I’m just so full of gratitude to them for helping me make this a successful library. Being a part of this library is the most satisfying, the biggest accomplishment, the most satisfying experience I have ever had in my life. The pleasure I have derived from this job is so much more than anything I have ever had. It was not just a job, it was everything.”
She said she will still be involved in the community as an extension homemaker and will organize the Super Signing held at the local musical festival this year. She hopes to devote more time to sewing and painting, as well as to her EHC, South East Pike County Alliance and Rural Community Alliance duties.