Whitehouse Library Plans 20th Anniversary Celebration

The Whitehouse Library is planning to celebrate its 20th anniversary on Saturday, June 22 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. with music, food, children’s activities and a program. MIRROR PHOTOS BY KAREN GERHARDINGER
Among the volunteers supporting the library over the years are (from left) manager Linda Baker, founder Angie Kuhn, board members Louann Artiaga and Jim Gasser, head librarian Ann Gasser and founder Barb Smigelski.

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — The Whitehouse Library is marking its 20th anniversary this month, but the grassroots effort to bring a library to the village started much earlier than 20 years ago.

Louann Artiaga, a library board member, is busy sending out invitations to the Saturday, June 22 celebration, including to classmates of her daughter, Stephanie Vasko. It was Stephanie and her fellow third-graders – the Anthony Wayne High School Class of 2000 – who first proposed the idea to their teacher, Barb Smigelski, in 1991.

As she was leading her students through a social studies lesson, Smigelski spoke about the necessities of a village, such as police and fire departments, water and parks.

“I said it seems strange that we were 140 years old at the time, and we still didn’t have a library, just the bookmobile. And wouldn’t it be something if we did have our own library,” Smigelski recalled.

Later that year, students throughout the K-4 school signed a petition to present to village council. 

Josh Hartbarger, who is now the village’s chief operating officer, was in Smigelski’s class at the time and recalls how students told council that it was unsafe for a kid to ride a bike down S.R. 64 to the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library’s Waterville Branch.

“We told them that our small school library could only hold so many books,” he said. While Hartbarger preferred to be outside playing instead of inside reading, that changed when he had Smigelski for a teacher.

“It was in third grade when I started to have an appreciation and love for reading because of her. Through her, I also learned that you can be passionate about a project while still being respectful,” said Hartbarger, who later served on the library board.

At the end of that first council meeting, Angie Kuhn – a council member who later served as mayor – told Smigelski she’d be willing to help. Soon after, DeAnna Bradley, an experienced school librarian, joined. 

The first step was to approach the taxpayer-funded county library system and the Board of Lucas County Commissioners with a proposal to open a branch. That offer was turned down, with the county library board members saying Whitehouse was too close to the Waterville branch to justify opening a new location.

“We realized that if we wanted a library, we were going to have to make our own … and hope that someday the county system would see that it was beneficial and take it over,” Bradley said.

Those three founders led the charge in what turned out to be a yearslong process, involving applying for a 501(c)(3) and securing land and a building.

Finally, 5 acres of land were set aside by the county commissioners to lease to the library, and the Lucas County Educational Service Center donated portable buildings that had once been used as classrooms for Monclova Primary School. 

“Angie rounded up how to move them, and we had aluminum siding donated. We all pitched in and did the siding,” Bradley said.

Along the way, dozens of individuals and organizations pitched in. Carol Butler and Kitty Stone were the first volunteers. The Dotson Company helped get shelving. Tom Allen helped build the parking lot. A local union poured the sidewalk. The FFA and Eagle Scouts did landscaping and made other improvements. Hundreds of residents donated books.

Thirteen years after that first idea germinated in the minds of third-graders, the Whitehouse Library was dedicated on June 27, 2004.

“Our biggest achievement is that we’re still here and thriving,” said Kuhn, explaining that the library receives no taxpayer funding and relies on volunteers to staff the facility 15 hours a week.

The library is funded through individual donations and partnerships with groups like the Whitehouse American Legion and the Legion Riders, the Pythian Sisters and the village. 

Early on, local artist Leo Price teamed up with the late Mark Knerr to create two children’s books – Barn Music and Pig in a Wig – to raise funds. The library has hosted home tours, concerts and other events to raise money. More recently, the library received two $5,000 grants from the Dorothy Kyler Fund to purchase new materials for children and young adults.

“The community has always supported us. Many local businesses donated supplies or provided discounts and people step up to do the work,” said Jim Gasser, who joined the board about five years ago and now leads Metroparks astronomy programs at the library.

Long gone are the used books donated by the community, replaced by 20,000 all new items, selected by head librarian Ann Gasser, who joined as a volunteer in late 2004. With 52 years of experience working for the county library, Ann has the resources and knowledge of what is popular among patrons: graphic novels for kids, thrillers by James Patterson and John Grisham, mysteries and even romance.

During the pandemic, volunteers came in to barcode every one of the 20,000 books, magazines, DVDs and other items to fully automate the checkout system. 

“We’ve had lots of volunteers over the years. I’m amazed at what they’ve done,” Jim said.

The library is now financially stable, but its biggest need is more volunteers to extend the hours it’s open.

Library manager Linda Baker noted that patrons come from all over – Whitehouse, Waterville, Grand Rapids, Swanton, Providence Township and even Toledo – for the excellent selection and the ambience of the library. The community room is often used for meetings, the Wednes-day afternoon crafters, a book club and for children’s programs.

This summer, the library partnered with the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry to offer three programs with the theme of Smokey the Bear’s 80th birthday. Topics include weather awareness, preventing wildfires and camping. 

The 20th Anniversary Celebration will take place from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 22 at the library, 10651 Waterville St. EZ Pickens will perform from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., and children’s activities, including face painting and a dinosaur hunt, will be held throughout the afternoon. Refreshments will be served. A program begins at 2:00 p.m.

Regular library hours are 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Saturday. Anyone can obtain a library card at no cost. Village residency is not required.

For information, visit www.whitehouseohlibrary.org or look for Whitehouse Library on Facebook.

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