For any bibliophile, the library is the best place to stock up on all your reading favorites. In any community, the library can also be a hub of activity — with programs dedicated to learning and literacy for kids, teens and adults alike. In 1878, a group of Waukee citizens started a library in town, and in 1929, the current library was established in the then-Leonard Building. Though it has grown and changed into something nearly unrecognizable from those early days, one thing remains constant: The library is an important fixture in the community.
In 1878, a group of citizens started the Library Association in Waukee with only $30 worth of books. In spite of an 1879 newspaper account that the Library Association was increasing and doing fine, it soon faded from existence.
In July 1885, a new library with I.G. Wallace as librarian opened. However, like the Library Association, this library also eventually closed.
Waukee’s current public library was established in 1929 and opened with 500 books provided by the traveling library of the State of Iowa. The books were exchanged every 90 days. In addition to the 500 books provided by the traveling library, the Waukee Library contained 190 permanent volumes. Unfortunately in 1941, all the books were lost in a fire when the building burned.
The library opened again in 1942 with 150 new books. Sometime between 1942 and 1969, the library moved into the back room of City Hall at 410 Sixth St. Amy Hofstot served as librarian from 1944 to 1975. In 1969, it was reported that the library received 200 books quarterly from the traveling library and owned 3,866 volumes. Nearly 300 books were checked out during the month of February, 1969.
After Hofstot retired, Hannah Weil and Ann Ford served as librarians in addition to their jobs as city hall employees. Jane Brown became director in 1979 and served until 1986 when Diane Findlay took over the duties.
Friends of the Waukee Public Library was formed in 1987 to support the library with volunteers and gifts. The Friends, Library Board, Director Findlay completed a successful fundraising drive, and coupled with the passage of a small bond issue, the library purchased the old Christian Church building at 500 Sixth St. After remodeling, the library moved in October 1990.
A modern library
Linda Mack was hired as director in 1992. The Waukee Public Library Foundation was formed in 1993 to help meet the long-term financial needs of the library. In 1994, the library had two full-time and two part-time employees and a collection of approximately 10,000 items. The library automated its circulation in 1996 by selling quilt squares embroidered by Joy Tofteland. The quilt hangs in the library’s conference room today.
A bond issue for a new library building was placed before the voters in May 2000 and passed by 89 percent. Public meetings were held to determine what the citizens wanted in the new library building. Ground was broken in September, 2001, and construction began in the spring of 2002. The $2 million building’s cost was covered by the bond issue. Through gifts and grants, the Waukee Public Library Foundation raised another $200,000 for furnishings, fixtures and equipment.
The building, located on Warrior Lane, officially opened on March 3, 2003. The new Waukee Public Library is nearly 14,000 square feet. It was designed to have a 12,000 square-foot addition on the north side for shelving, meeting rooms and a story time room as the city grows.
Mack retired in February 2009.
“She was the long-time director, and she really was instrumental in guiding the library to what it is today,” says assistant director and friend Devon Murphy-Petersen.
Two additions have been built to the structure since its original opening. In 2009, the Hal Manders’ Museum was opened as an addition to the library. This museum houses a collection of memorabilia related to Manders, a Waukee native who played professional baseball for the Detroit Tigers during the 1940s.
Harold C. “Hal” Manders was born in Waukee on June 14, 1917. He attended Waukee schools, was active in school sports and graduated from Waukee High School in 1935. Following high school, Manders studied medicine and played baseball at the University of Iowa for three years. In 1939, he was drafted as a pitcher by the Detroit Tigers. During World War II, Manders returned home to farm with his father. Upon his return to the Tigers in 1946, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs. Due to a salary disagreement and his father’s ill health, he left the Cubs shortly thereafter to farm. He farmed near Dallas Center where he raised corn, soybeans, hogs and cattle.
The Manders addition to the Waukee Public Library opened on Feb. 22, 2009. Some of the items on display include baseballs, baseball gloves, souvenir bats, Waukee High School letters, a University of Iowa letter sweater, a baseball uniform, watches, ribbons, numerous photographs and a video on Manders. Manders passed away on Jan. 21, 2010.
In 2011, the Waukee Public Library received a generous bequest from former resident Hiram Ori in the amount of $700,000 — the largest single donation in the long history of the library.
Ori believed deeply in the role of public libraries to educate and inspire people, particularly young people. He made this extraordinary gift from his steadfast conviction that Waukee Public Library and all libraries provide a vital connection to millions of individuals worldwide. He wanted the library to continue providing excellent service to meet the needs of the public.
The Waukee Ori Library Addition is dedicated to the memories of the early pioneers from the Shuler mining community and a meeting place for Waukee residents. The intent of the museum is to preserve this history and respect an accurate record of the coal miners, their families, community and businesses that contributed to this unique time in the history of Waukee.
The library today
Currently, the library has more than 40,000 items in its collection and has nine full- and part-time employees. Kristine Larson is the new library director. She came to Waukee after working at the Iowa State University library system and Des Moines Public Library.
“The community and the library attracted me here, and my goal was to be a director, so I jumped at this job,” she says.”
Both Larson and Murphy-Petersen say Waukee has shown its commitment to early childhood education and literacy, and the library hopes to help by offering children’s programs, including many story times, Lego club and more. The teen program offerings have also been increased.
Adults can take advantage of the book discussion group the third Tuesday of the month at 1 p.m. Murphy-Petersen says many people also don’t realize the vast number of materials the library has.
“Our databases, in particular, we have language learning materials, ESL materials, information for people doing research,” she says. “We also have audio books. I listen to as many books as I read. We also added Tumble Books, which are animated talking picture books. A lot of people don’t know we have Freegal, which allows you to download free music that doesn’t expire and you can keep.”
Ultimately, Larson says she hopes that she and her team can continue to improve the services and offerings while remaining a hub of activity for Waukee residents.
“We want the library to be seen as the community center,” she says. “We have so many fun programs for both kids and adults, and early literacy is something we really want to push. That’s something that’s important to the Waukee community, and it’s something we are really focused on, too.”