SOLDIERS GROVE - The Soldiers Grove Public Library is having a birthday party on Saturday, August 14, to celebrate being 50 years old and it more than deserves the attention.
It began with a meeting of the Yankeetown Homemakers in 1970 when one member, Ramona Walsh, mentioned to the group that she had a pile of paperbacks. Discussion ensued among the group about starting a library.
The primary goal of the ‘Homemakers’ was as their name suggested, home economics education. It was a natural extension of their goal to start a library where the public could borrow books as both a leisure and educational activity.
This important discussion spearheaded the development of the public library in Soldiers Grove. By 1971, the Homemakers had presented a proposal to the Soldiers Grove Village Board.
According to Barbara McGlynn, another founding member, the village board was delighted to support the endeavor. They even offered to provide the library with proper shelving and a space in the cloak room of the old Opera House on Main Street.
A Kickapoo Scout article from February 18, 1971 mentions that Cecil Turk, then village president, commented how it was one of the few times some of the members of the board felt a group was coming to them to offer a service to the village rather than asking the village to do something for them. He said, “It is usually the other way around.”
At about the same time, the Southwest Wisconsin Library System was formed in Fennimore, and the Soldiers Grove Library became a member. This was valuable support because the system offered help in purchasing and processing books for the libraries, as well as technical support, which is still critical to the library today.
In just a few years, the little library outgrew its space. The village acquired an old vehicle repair garage which they remodeled and moved the village office into, bringing the library along with them.
The library was doing well when the 1978 flood swept through Soldiers Grove, destroying about two-thirds of the books. It was a gloomy time. There was a blackboard on the wall that didn’t get wet. Marie Shedd, a faithful volunteer, wrote “Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining!” These words would prove to be quite prescient.
When the village decided to move again, they took the library with it. A $25,000 grant was received from the state for new books and by 1982 the library had moved into the space you all know in the Solar Town development.
Barbara McGlynn became the first library director and remained in that role for nearly 20 years. Barb, along with several other members, were stewards of the library on a volunteer basis.
“Everyone had dedicated a lot of time to caring for the library,” McGlynn recalled. “Each volunteer took a shift. Ramona Walsh even walked to town for her shift and we all took turns cleaning the bathroom.”
It wasn’t until the early 1990s when McGlynn and the Homemakers asked the village to offer additional monetary support for a modest salary ,so they could eventually hire her replacement. In 1992, Cele Wolf became the second director of the library and remained in that role until 2020. McGlynn served as the library board president for many years after stepping down as the library director.
It was under Wolf’s leadership that programming grew from having children’s story hours to offering a variety of adult programs and educational opportunities for area families. The physical space of the library also expanded with the purchase of the adjacent building in 2012, which was made possible through the generosity of a sizeable donation, fundraising efforts, and the continued support of the Soldiers Grove Village Board.
McGlynn and her husband, Joe, continue to serve as supporters of the library, often bringing in a variety of magazines that are put into circulation.
McGlynn retired as board president of the library in 2020. Other members of the original Yankeetown Homemakers included: Cornelia Peterson, Barbara Duke, Mickey Patterson, Joanne France, Andrea Sannes, and Betsy Zijeck.
“The library is a huge asset to the Village of Soldiers Grove,” village president Paul Nicholson said. “We are very fortunate to have a library of this caliber in our small community.
“Sometimes the importance of things can be taken for granted until they are not available any longer,” Nicholson noted. “This became very clear during the pandemic, when the library had to close. I was amazed by the different needs that it actually served, for not only the Village of Soldiers Grove, but surrounding communities as well. The desire for it to re-open was very strong and seeing the people take advantage of the services offered makes it all worthwhile.”The Soldiers Grove Public Library will celebrate 50 years in the community on Saturday, August 14. Everyone is welcome to this free event. To share a story or short performance at the event, contact Sarah at 608-624-5815.