Long Beach Public Library Foundation

Champion of Literacy, Nancy Merrill

Nancy and Charles Merrill at the 2017 Grape Expectations gala.

For nearly a decade, Nancy Merrill has supported the Long Beach Public Library Foundation’s mission at all 12 of the city’s public libraries as a Board member.

Nancy has served on the Board during a time of great evolution for the Library. On October 25, 2014, Nancy attended and helped break ground on a much needed new library in North Long Beach. The Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library opened on that site on September 10, 2016 and is the largest and most visited neighborhood library in Long Beach. Nancy joined the Library Foundation Board of Directors in raising $1 million for technology, programs, and resources that continue to create learning opportunities at the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library.

Nancy Merrill (far left) with Library Foundation Board members and staff and Mayor Robert Garcia (center) at the ground breaking ceremony for what would become the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library.

Nancy also served on the Board as the plans for what became the Billie Jean King Main Library first materialized. The new central hub of the Long Beach Public Library system opened on September 21, 2019 at a ceremony in which the Library Foundation presented a check for over $2 million to support enhancements at the new library.

Together with her husband, Charles, Nancy has been a great supporter of the Grape Expectations gala, the Library Foundation’s largest annual fundraiser. Nancy and Charles Merrill have served as gala sponsors multiple times and donated generously to the gala auction.

During her tenure, Nancy took on several roles including Secretary and positions in the Executive, Endowment, Programs, Librarian Outreach, and Advocacy Committees. The Library Foundation is forever grateful for her support.

Champion of Literacy, Renee Simon

Renee Simon with Mayor Robert Garcia at the last City Council meeting at the previous City Hall on July 23, 2019.

National Friends of Libraries week gives us the opportunity to celebrate some of the most dedicated volunteers and supporters of our country’s public libraries. As the 14th annual celebration begins on October 20, we would like to take the opportunity to recognize a founder of the Friends of the Long Beach Public Library and member of our Library Foundation Board of Directors, Renee Simon, for her incredible service to the City of Long Beach and devotion to the Library.

Renee’s work in Long Beach is one that has made a difference for so many who rely on city services. Renee and her husband Harry first moved to Long Beach in 1950 after Renee earned her master’s degree in science from Stanford University. Although she worked as a chemist, Renee has always had a deep love of literature and writing that guided her and her family to the Long Beach Public Library. She would go on to become one of the founders of the Friends of the Long Beach Public Library during a trying fight against censorship.

In 1962, The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis was challenged at the Long Beach Public Library. The Director of Library Services at the time, Blanche Collins, spoke before the City Council of the importance of not censoring the Library’s collection. Literacy supporters, including Renee, joined Blanche at this meeting and the book was not removed from shelves. These library supporters mobilized and on December 8, 1963, the Friends of the Long Beach Public Library held their first formal meeting. The Friends have grown exponentially since then and continue to advocate and fundraise for important Library programs to this day.

Renee earned her master’s degree in library science at UCLA in 1966 while continuing to support the Library. She also chaired the El Dorado Park Development Committee and played a big role in the creation of the park as it exists today. The committee worked with several organizations to place a tax on the ballot to develop the park. Voters approved a small increase in their property tax for ten years to fund the development of the park, golf course, and the Nature Center.

Renee’s next move in service to the City of Long Beach would be her election to the City Council in 1972 representing the 3rd District. Renee was only the second woman elected to the Council and the only woman on the Council during her terms. As a Councilmember, Renee’s work in land use helped shape how our city developed in many different areas.

At the last City Council meeting in the previous City Hall on July 23, 2019, Mayor Robert Garcia recognized Renee saying, “(She) is an incredible advocate to this day of education and our libraries. And (she) is always, not just here, but behind the dais speaking to those of us who have built friendships and mentorships with Renee.”

After her City Council service, Renee accepted a teaching post in Public Policy and Administration at California State University, Long Beach and then served as Deputy Director for Transportation Planning for the Southern California Association of Governments. She has been involved with several nonprofit organizations besides the Library Foundation and the Friends of the Library, including the Long Beach Arts Council, the Long Beach Symphony and International City Theater. One her most dedicated roles as a volunteer is her services since 1991 on the Archstone Foundation Board of Directors. Renee was instrumental in the process of that Foundation changing its focus to meeting the needs of the aging population and helping elders live safe, independent lives.

Renee has also authored the following books, all available at the Long Beach Public Library: Destination Long Beach: The Queen Mary Story, The Long Beach Water Department: A Historic Perspective, 1945-2000, Music Looks Forward: The Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, 1934-2009, Long Beach Transit: 50 Years Of Moving Our Community Forward, and her latest book, Our Own Big City: Long Beach And Its Decade Of The 1970s.

Forever a friend to our libraries, we thank Renee for her nine years of service to the Library Foundation Board of Directors and the difference she has made in the lives of countless Long Beach residents.

Learn more about the Friends of the Long Beach Public Library at
http://www.longbeach.gov/library/connect/friends-of-the-library.

Honoring Victor and Patricia McCarty

(Left to right) Margaret Durnin, Vic McCarty, Charley Durnin, Patty McCarty

On June 9, at the 16th annual Grape Expectations gala, we were proud to honor Victor and Patricia McCarty with the 2019 Durnin Family Award for their dedication to libraries and literacy.

Vic is one of the earliest members of the Library Foundation Board of Directors, joining in 1999 and serving in several positions where he was instrumental in many Foundation projects, most importantly the Family Learning Center program. After retiring from the Board he has continued as an active member of the Finance Committee since its founding in 2005. As a retired CPA, Vic brings decades of expertise in accountancy to advising the Foundation.

Vic and Patty share a long history in Long Beach. Vic was born at the former Seaside Hospital and Patty moved to Long Beach from Minneapolis with her family when she was in the eighth grade. Both frequently visited the Long Beach Public Library growing up and recall a small former branch on Roswell Avenue across from 4th Street. They married in 1956 and their children, Lindsay, Kelley, and Victor III, frequented the Los Altos Library in their youth. Everyone in their family graduated from Wilson High School.

Vic and Patty’s dedication to education in Long Beach has taken them into local classrooms as volunteers. As a member of Assistance League of Long Beach, Patty would bring the group’s educational puppet program to elementary schools to teach sign language and deaf awareness to children. As a Long Beach Rotarian, Vic helped organize a program known as Adopt-A-School to support reading instruction. Vic and Patty volunteered for several years reading with students at Franklin Middle School.

Vic and Patty have generously supported the Library Foundation’s many projects throughout the years and have given generously to campaigns for new libraries, including Mark Twain Library, Michelle Obama Library and the new Main Library opening this summer.

For Vic and Patty, community building and early literacy are two of the most important functions of our libraries. They are amazed at how the Library has evolved through the years and made a difference for so many families and children in Long Beach.

Advocating for Literacy and Libraries

From left to right: Margaret Farwell Smith, Library Foundation VP of Public Affairs; Colleen Bentley, Library Foundation Public Affairs Committee member; Mayor Robert Garcia; and Sharon Weissman, Senior Advisor to Mayor Garcia and Library Foundation Board member at the 2016 Grape Expectations fundraiser.

Margaret Farwell Smith inherited her love of reading from her mother. As a physician, her mother led a busy life, but she enjoyed reading under the shade of a tree in her spare time. Growing up, Margaret loved books in school and college, but it wasn’t until she retired from her career in healthcare that she became a strong advocate for literacy and libraries.

In 2009, as Margaret Smith was looking to be more involved in her community, she attended a seminar on nonprofits in Long Beach. After the seminar, then Library Foundation Board members Tom Reep and Darrell Cannon approached her in the parking lot and asked her to join the Library Foundation Board of Directors.

It was a perfect fit. Margaret was elected Board President for 2012 and started to flesh out the advocacy function of the Library Foundation. Although her career was in healthcare administration, she could see there was a need to organize and advocate for the Library to prevent further budget cuts and less access to library services.

Proper advocacy requires strategy and guidelines. It’s important for the Library Foundation’s Board of Directors and staff to stick to a singular message that resonates with city officials and the public. The Library Foundation’s main advocacy message emphasizes the value of the library system to the City. The educational and technological resources provided are available to all residents with a library card. For many residents who cannot afford services like preschool or a home internet connection, the Library’s resources are crucial and provide paths out of poverty.

Much of Margaret’s work as a Board member has focused on the new Civic Center. When the City was planning the new development, an idea was proposed to eliminate Main Library from the new Civic Center. Margaret and the Board rallied the community’s support and attended several City Council meetings to advocate against this. Their efforts were successful and a beautifully designed and modern new Main Library will open in 2019.

Margaret was elected as the Library Foundation’s first Vice President of Public Affairs for 2014 and has led advocacy and public relations projects ever since.

One of Margaret’s favorite memories from her time on the Library Foundation Board was getting to sign the first steel beam of the new Main Library at a special ceremony on September 19, 2017. She knew then that had it not been for vocal supporters of libraries, this moment would not have happened.

Margaret’s focus as a Board member has also been on philanthropy. As a member of the Board of Trustees for the Earl B. and Loraine H. Miller Foundation, she has helped maintain a partnership between the Library Foundation and the Miller Foundation to host the city’s annual Dictionary Days program. Since the program’s inception in 2003, more than 120,000 new dictionary/thesaurus have been gifted to Long Beach 3rd graders. For many of these students, this is the first book they are given. The program includes annual events at several libraries to teach children how to use their new dictionaries through fun games and activities. This is all possible thanks to the shared focus of supporting youth literacy of the two organizations that Margaret helps lead.

During her time with the Library Foundation, Margaret has realized the importance of nonprofit organizations. So much is accomplished thanks to those who donate their resources and time to causes that matter.

Margaret Farwell Smith passing out beaded necklaces at a 2018 Dictionary Days celebration at Los Altos Library.

Supporting Education to Transform a Community

Over 5,000 people attended the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library grand opening ceremony on September 10, 2016. It was an exciting day for the community of North Long Beach which went from having a small neighborhood library to having the largest library branch in the city with more resources and newer technology than any other Long Beach library branch.

This was an especially proud day for Rick Alsagoff who co-chaired the Library Foundation’s fundraising campaign which raised over $1 million for programs at the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library. Together with his co-chair, friend and neighbor, Mary Hancock-Hinds, Rick raised awareness and funds for the new library and helped rally community support for this much-needed resource.

It was Mary who first invited Rick to join the Library Foundation Board of Directors in 2009. Rick first became involved by donating books to the Library. Learning about the Family Learning Center program was what ultimately inspired him to join the Board. The Library Foundation funds staffing and resources for the Family Learning Center program. The program serves children, job seekers, older people, and families with one-on-one support for homework, research projects and computer use.

“I feel education is a way out of poverty and a way to change your whole life,” said Rick while discussing what inspired him to join the Library Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Rick was born in Singapore and graduated from the National University of Singapore with a degree in Business Administration. Rick spent his early years in merchant banking in Singapore, and lived in Taipei, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Jakarta. He began travelling to Long Beach in the 1970s because his nephews and mother lived here. While it was not his original plan to become an American citizen, he finally moved to Long Beach in 1990 to take care of his mother.

Getting a Long Beach Public Library card was one of his first acts when he moved here. He had one of the older yellow library cards before the system was digitized.

As a financial services professional for New York Life, he has helped arrange for significant contributions from the New York Life Foundation and the Lloyd & Lauretta Dyer Family Foundation to support the Library Foundation and Family Learning Center program.

Rick considers fundraising the life blood of the Library Foundation and is proud to have made a difference and supported programs that have helped transform the Long Beach community.

Rick Alsagoff with Library Foundation Executive Director Kate Azar at the grand opening of the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library.

From Visiting the Library to Supporting Family Learning Centers

Lance Adams was born and raised in Long Beach. Los Altos Neighborhood Library and El Dorado Neighborhood Library were his closest libraries where he would seek out books about sports history and Family Circus comics as a child. Today, Lance helps create educational opportunities for children attending the Long Beach Public Library.

When Lance joined the Long Beach Public Library Foundation Board of Directors in 2008, he immediately took up the role of treasurer previously occupied by one of his partners at Windes, an accounting firm which has been serving Southern California since 1926.

During that year, the Library Foundation’s fundraising campaign for the Mark Twain Neighborhood Library was just ending and Lance was impressed with the new library’s modernity and popularity. The Library Foundation raised close to $1 million in donations for programs at the Mark Twain Library. Those funds are still making an impact at the Library’s Family Learning Center.

As a CPA he has helped the Library Foundation manage endowments, prepare for audits and establish governance policies. Setting up important procedures has allowed the Library Foundation to grow through the years and fund learning opportunities for hundreds of thousands of patrons every year.

Lance was elected president of the Board of Directors for 2015. During this time, he brought on Kate Azar as executive director who currently leads the Library Foundation. For Lance, it has been exciting to see the Foundation evolve and accomplish so much in the last couple of years with his guidance.

As a father living with his family in Long Beach, Lance takes his kids to the Bay Shore Library just like he attended the library in his youth. There they participated in the Library Foundation supported Summer Reading program.

“It’s exciting to see the City building a new library and to think about the impact it will have on future generations.  Libraries are great public spaces which engage and educate our community,” said Lance.

A Library and a Family

For many, a library is a home away from home where they can find a quiet and friendly place to study, research and read. For Lorrie Hutton, this goes one step further. When talking about how she joined the Long Beach Public Library Foundation Board of Directors, she talks about how much it was like joining a family.

“I had never seen that type of camaraderie before. That’s not to say we didn’t have our problems but it was truly like family.”

Family is very important to Lorrie. She grew up Oklahoma and Texas and her mother placed great importance on libraries, researching and looking up words in dictionaries. Lorrie remembers when the bookmobile would come around her neighborhood in Oklahoma and how fun it was to pick out her next read.

A job with American Honda Motor Company prompted a move from Texas to California about 30 years ago. Her first home was near the ocean in Redondo Beach which convinced her to stay and live close to the beach.

After moving to Long Beach, she became friends with one of the founders of the Library Foundation, Margaret Durnin.  Lorrie was originally asked to join the Board of Directors in 1996 when the Library Foundation was first formed, but turned down the offer due to her busy work schedule.

In 2005, Margaret asked her again to join the Library Foundation Board. This time Lorrie was looking for a way to branch out and meet other people in the community and she agreed.

Some of Lorrie’s favorite memories from serving on the Library Foundation Board are of the Booked event series. One of her favorite guests was Jeffrey Weaver, Curator of Sculpture & Decorative Arts at the Getty, who spoke about the book, Gods of Angkor: Bronzes from the National Museum of Cambodia by Louise Allison Cort and Paul Jett. Jeffrey was co-curator of the exhibition that was organized by the Getty, the Smithsonian and the National Museum of Cambodia.

In her 13 years on the Board, Lorrie was elected to the roles of President, Vice President, Secretary, and Vice President of Finance. She has helped guide the Library Foundation through exciting times like the fundraising campaigns for the Mark Twain Neighborhood Library and Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library, as well as challenging times like the campaign to keep Main Library open when the city considered shutting it down.

She looks forward to the opening of the new Main Library and treasures the memories that brought the Library Foundation to the success it is today.

From left to right: Susan Redfield, Lorrie Hutton, and Margaret Durnin at the opening of the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library in September 2016.

A Love of Literacy from Coast to Coast

When Susan Redfield was in high school she would use money she saved from baby-sitting to take the train to New York City. She would usually go to the theatre when she arrived, but would also visit the New York Public Library. It was there that she began discovering the treasures that could be found at public libraries and developed a love of literacy.

As a teen, Susan was a fan of Albert Hirschfeld, a cartoonist whose work was featured in Playbill, The New Yorker Magazine, New York Magazine, and other popular publications. While looking for Hirschfeld’s works in these publications at the New York Public Library, Susan discovered short stories by John Updike and J.D. Salinger. The Librarian invited her to the archives section of Library to find more stories and books she would like. Susan remembers feeling like she was meeting The Beatles as the Librarian guided her around.

In 1997, when she moved to Long Beach after working as a social worker and attorney in Chicago, Susan was looking to get involved in her new community. In Chicago, Susan had been involved in raising funds for children’s playgrounds, the zoo and her church, and was hoping to apply her experience in philanthropy to causes that were important to her in Long Beach.

One of the first friends she made when she arrived was Diane Jacobus who is one of the founders of the Long Beach Public Library Foundation and at that time was a Senior Advisor to Mayor Beverly O’Neill. The two of them started a book club together and Diane would tell Susan about the great work that the Library Foundation accomplished.

In 1999, Diane introduced Susan to Gene Richey, the Executive Director of the Library Foundation, who invited her to join the Endowment Committee, Chaired by Margaret Durnin. And in 2001, she began serving on the Long Beach Reads One Book committee where she met her friend Mary Barton. Long Beach Reads One Book brought different authors to the city every year for a series of events to inspire reading among residents of all ages. Meeting Ray Bradbury when he was the featured author in 2005 is one Susan’s favorite memories of this program.

In 2004, Gene Richey invited Susan to join the Board of Directors for the Library Foundation. She still has the letter of invitation and is amazed it has been so many years since that day.

In addition to continuing to help organize Long Beach Reads One Book for several more years, Susan was elected to the role of Vice President of Fund Development for two terms and is completing her term as President this year.

Susan’s dedication to the Library Foundation has helped the Foundation expand and support the Library in evolving to meet the changing needs of the city. Her love of literacy has been shared not only with those closest to her, but with the entire Long Beach community.

Susan Redfield speaking at the 2018 Grape Expectations fundraiser for the Library Foundation.

A Director, Friend and Educator

For several years Dee Abrahamse has helped facilitate a strong, collaborative relationship between the Long Beach Public Library’s two major supportive organizations. In addition to serving on our Library Foundation Board of Directors, she is also a member of the Friends of the Long Beach Public Library and is currently the Library Foundation liaison to the Friends.

Dee’s dedication to literacy and libraries has developed since her childhood. She lived in many different places growing up, but always attended the local library. It was there that Dee developed a love of medieval history. She went on to become a professor of medieval history and Dean at California State University, Long Beach. She joined CSULB in 1967 as one of the first female faculty members in the History Department. During her tenure as the University’s first Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, she led 23 academic departments for over 15 years. Dee retired from CSULB in 2007.

The Library Foundation piqued Dee’s interest in 2003 when she viewed a presentation on the Foundation’s work supporting the Family Learning Centers and the Raising a Reader program. Dee was already familiar with the Long Beach Public Library, having taken her two children to the El Dorado Neighborhood Library as they grew up. She joined the Board of Directors soon after the presentation.

Some of her favorite memories of working with the Library Foundation come from her time serving on the committee for the annual Long Beach Reads One Book events. The program brought well-known authors to Long Beach for community wide events centered on a single book. Isabel Allende and Steve Lopez are a couple of her favorite authors who brought their books to Long Beach.

Dee was also inspired to become a member of the Friends of the Long Beach Public Library after learning about Blanche Collins, a previous city librarian, who, with the support of volunteers, battled censorship in the 1960s. Those volunteers later formed the Friends of the Long Beach Public Library in 1963.

Dee has been involved in several joint advocacy campaigns with the Friends, from a successful effort to prevent the closing of the Main Library in 2008 to supporting the library’s needs during threatened budget reductions in staff, hours and materials.  She continues to support advocacy efforts for the Library to ensure that free educational programs and resources are valued by city officials and residents.

Dee’s extensive experience as an educator and dedication has supported the Library Foundation in helping those in the community who rely on the city’s libraries.

From left to right: Mary Lamo Putnam, Susan DeLand, Mayor Robert Garcia, Mary Hancock-Hinds, Dee Abrahamse, and Director of Library Services Glenda Williams at the construction site of the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library in 2016.

A Champion of Literacy’s Inspiration

Librarians are known for inspiring children to explore new worlds in books and helping to answer questions for homework, but they often go above and beyond in important and inspiring ways.

Kim Neipling was always involved in supporting libraries. As a high school student she could be often found in her library in El Centro, CA working part time in the children’s section. She formed a close relationship with the librarian, Romaine Magee, who was also a friend of Kim’s grandmother. When Kim left to attend California State University, Long Beach, Romaine sent her $50 every month to help support her studies. This act of kindness and generosity stayed with Kim and motivated her to look for ways to give back.

In 2007, Kim’s friend Lorrie Hutton invited her to join the Board of Directors of the Long Beach Public Library Foundation. As a Board member she co-chaired the event committee for the Library Foundation’s signature Grape Expectations fundraiser for four years in a row. She was also elected to the roles of Secretary, Nominating Chair, and Vice President of Board Development and invited several people to join the Board and watched them flourish in their dedication to libraries.

Having earned her degree in Microbiology Medical Technology, Kim continues to be inspired by how the Long Beach Public Library advances and provides new and exciting services. When the makerspace Studio opened at Main Library in 2014, Kim was amazed to see high school students and older retired patrons learning new technology and software in the same space. She witnessed a 3D model of a heart being printed in the Studio and was proud to be involved with a Library that is so ahead of its time.

From her time helping out her local library to raising funds for library programs and helping the Library Foundation grow, Kim is a true champion of literacy and education in Long Beach.