It was January 1, 1998. The late Doris Wenig, President of the Patagonia Friends of the Library was standing outside the Post Office with a sign that read ‘Chocolate Chip Cookies Save the Library.’ Wenig was handing out cookies in exchange for ideas to fund the librarian’s salary, since she had been told just a week prior that the Town of Patagonia would be significantly cutting the Patagonia Library’s budget starting in February. Basic operations would still be funded, at a reduced level, but not the staff.
Recently this writer was given a packet of notes written and gathered by Wenig during the Town of Patagonia financial crisis in 1997-8. The notes tell the inside story of a wonderful joining together of local people to save something important to their community, almost exactly 25 years ago.
The story begins with a crisis, which was a critical shortfall of funds. As described in the Nov. 1997 issue of the Patagonia Press, “Patagonia was dealt a severe blow when it was discovered that the current financial advisor was giving bad advice. In short, no one was aware there were insufficient funds in the Town’s account and Town paychecks started bouncing… [I]t was learned that the former Town financial advisor had not balanced the books for two years. The council had relied on him to keep track of the Town’s finances and were stunned to find that he had not.”
This followed a loss of funds due to embezzlement in the early 1990s and was during a period before there was a town manager.
Now, along with deep cuts in all departments but Police, Mayor Shirley Treat suggested closing the library altogether, calling it a “Cadillac we can no longer afford to pay the gas for.” The Patagonia Friends of the Library, a support organization that already provided important funding, such as books and programs, was not going to take that lying down.
So, back to the cookies. Wenig wrote, “The idea came to me from a tiny book written by Bill Holm, a visiting author, called “Chocolate Chip Cookies for Your Enemies.” Bernice Pomeroy said, ‘I’ll provide the cookies.’ I was looking for ideas from people of how to save the library. A friend from Elgin, Susan Shields, went to her pickup, grabbed her horse feeding bucket and said, ‘Sure you need ideas, but it takes money too.’ People began to drop coins and bills into the bucket and at the end of the two hours, I had $90.”
Over two days of cookie giving, Wenig received 20 ideas and $189 and, she wrote, “The best thing of all was that people expressed how important the Library was. This all gave me the hope I needed.”
The Friends held emergency meetings and sent out an appeal letter to almost 2,000 locals, as well as far-flung friends and acquaintances.
“Many people have worked hard and given in many ways to develop this library, which is a true area resource known statewide for its excellence,” the letter read. “But without a librarian, we risk losing what we have achieved. We must have someone in charge who understands the library operation. Perhaps you have an idea that can ensure the library’s financial security so that we can get back to reading and to nurturing the readers of tomorrow.”
Ideas came. Folks with fundraising experience helped the Friends draw up a list of possible grants, and applications were begun. Two people, previously unknown to the group, suggested a golf tournament at Kino Springs, which ultimately earned over $10,000, and was repeated in 1999. Many people contributed in small but important ways. A few examples from Wenig’s notes:
*Mary Lou Harris donated the garlic she raised = $13
*Valentine’s Day Dance held by the Patagonia Community Association = $278
*Mary Norman of The Shop Out Back donated money from sales of iris and violets from her garden = $139
*Odell Borg gave a Native American Flute workshop and concert = $45
*Author Bill Holm donated 40 copies of his book for sale and held a poetry reading.
By the time they got through the initial crisis, volunteers had spent hours in meetings, working on grants, on the phone and around the community raising awareness and money. Carolyn McIntosh, Board member at the time, said, “Doris would talk to anybody and everybody about the need to keep the library going. She had been a teacher and a librarian for 40 years and was so passionate.”
With enough to cover the first year of the librarian’s salary, the Friends (and their friends) turned their attention to more sustainable sources of income. The idea of an endowment fund came up: an investment fund set aside to earn regular revenue to support future needs and avoid crises like they had experienced. Over the next several years, they established an endowment fund through the Arizona Community Foundation’s (ACF) Patagonia Regional Community Fund. This fund has helped the Friends continue their contribution to the library’s operations. The fund still welcomes donations.
And the Town budget? It took some time to set the finances back on solid footing. The Friends covered Librarian Abbie Zeltzer’s salary from March of 1998 until June of 2000, while the Town got back on its feet. A glance through the Town Council minutes at the time show that to have been a community effort as well.
The library is currently funded jointly by the Friends, the Town of Patagonia and Santa Cruz County, as well as through grants. Julie Holding is a part-time Patagonian who has both worked for the Patagonia Regional Community Fund and ACF, though not during those years. She shared her perspective that a town the size of Patagonia will always have to do some careful management to preserve the services that are important to its residents.
“There are many services here that are essential – water, streets, the playground, the Library, the Senior Center, the pool,” she said. “The Town Hall and the Library are both historic buildings that require upkeep. We place value on these services and that is one of the reasons the community rallied, whatever the initial cause for the need.”
It would be impossible to list all the people who organized and raised the initial funds needed and worked to develop the endowment fund. (This writer’s main source of information for who contributed was the packet of notes passed to Carolyn McIntosh by Doris Wenig, and the PRT is grateful that McIntosh kept them all these years. Apologies to anyone whose major role was not recognized.) Many of these people are no longer with us. Certainly much credit goes to the Friends Board at the time: Doris Wenig, Molly Webster, Jude Weierman, Betty Myers, Carolyn McIntosh, Maria Hoopes, Merelene Lopez, Roger Phillips, Joan Stringer, and Arlene McCaffrey. Sally Greenleaf was instrumental in the effort, including writing the appeal letter. Doris’s late husband, Don, an active member of the community in many areas, set up the endowment fund with Doris, Jack Holder and Mitchell Zucker. Matt Yelle and Roger Phillips organized the golf tournaments, and many volunteers wore out shoe leather securing sponsorships and raffle prizes.
McIntosh recalls being surprised by the number of people who came and all the logistics that were carried out. “For a town this size, you just can’t imagine it,” she said.
Fast-forward 25 years and the Patagonia Library is thriving. Community members proudly point out the award the library won as 2nd Best Small Library in America from Library Journal in 2018.
Steve Finch, Friends Treasurer and member of the Town Council, believes a large part of the library’s worth is its place as a pillar of the community. “When a town loses the bank and the gas station, as we have, the library is an anchor, a focal point in the town that is available to everyone,” he said.
Among Doris Wenig’s handwritten notes is a rough draft of what appears to be a 2004 letter thanking donors to the endowment fund. She wrote, “This is sort of a love letter to you [for your] caring for our community, for the interest you have in our library. I still smile when I recall us sitting around the table in Phoenix with the [ACF], trying to get a hold on the idea of ‘endowment.’ That was something I heard about with universities and hospitals. They raised money, big money, and had their pictures on the society page during charity drives. How can I, can we, do something like ENDOWMENT in Patagonia?”
Well, they accomplished that in the same way they paid the librarian’s salary in 1998 – with the power of community.