Kothe Memorial Library

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Library History

Read how this library was established and how it has evolved to become such an important part of our community.

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On November 1st of 1905, a band of interested citizens pooled their efforts in starting the first public library for Parkersburg in the First Methodist-Episcopal Church. The Parkersburg Free Library Association was organized.
Picture if you will, a group of local gentry at the Victorian designed church which Mr. Charles Wolf financed heavily. You would find the semi-cultured of the day at the meeting. Coming on horseback and by walking, the group discussed the possibilities for a much needed library. “Where will it be?”  “How much will it cost?”  “Who will run the Association?”  “Who will be the librarian?” Questions like these filled the air it is sure. Each question had an answer. Enthusiasm mounted and momentum was high.
    According to Parkersburg library lore that opening meeting was held with a Prof. Wood making the motion that a library association be formed. Members of the committee promoting the idea included Prof. Wood, Mr. Charles Wolf, Mr. John Scherling, Mr. Evans, and Rev. Pfieffer.
    The first Parkersburg library was located in the reading room of the Methodist-Episcopal Church. The first trustees of the Association elected on November 13 included seven women: Mrs. Wolf, Mrs. Schrack, Mrs.Will Mead, Mrs. Shuler, Mrs. Merlien, Mrs. J.A. Foote, Mrs. J. Scherling, and two men, Mr. Edwards, and Mr. Evans. Besides trustees, there were officers elected- Mrs. Wolf, treasurer; Mrs. Edwards, president; Mrs. Mead and Mrs. Schrack, both secretaries. It was the efforts of these people who wished to impress the use of books upon Parkersburg people in both secular and religious education. A constitution was ratified and established for the Association. By Christmas time, when snow usually accents the holiday spirit in town, the library was making a good start and had 103 names on the membership.
    According to record, the first librarian in Parkersburg was Miss Werner, who held the post until she was married and turned in her resignation on February 1, 1907. During the early years she was re-hired every three months pending approval by the committee; her pay was $1.00 a day. The library was open Thursday and Saturday. Children under age 16 had to have the signature of their parents to become members which was for a one year period. Mrs. Louis Jones was the second librarian appointed.
    Nine months later on August 7, 1906, the library boasted of 1,320 books on file, 15 coming in July which cost $6.50 and included all fiction except four works which were juvenile. The first book recorded was  “History of the People of the United States” edited by J. B. McMaster which cost $1.63 published in 1883 and was 605 pages.
    Operation expenses, salaries, and change of board members highlighted journal proceedings the first year, ending in November of 1906 with a balance of $29.35. Expenditures were $212.34, the income $241.69. In an effort to boost the treasury, a winter lecture series was sponsored with board members canvassing the town selling tickets. Shows by the Skovgaard Musical Co., Dr. Herbert Elliot and The Lion and The Mouse, and the Aunsbury Concert were successful.
    Other highlights of history include Miss Besse Reints being named librarian on January 2, 1912, and the Miss Luella Muliem being named temporary librarian on October 18, 1913. In January of 1916 the Association discussed plans for the first tax levy with local assessments that year. To this day the library is still included in the town budget.
    Library history is vague until 1929 when the library moved from the church to the house that Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wolf had lived in on Fifth Street, today the Parkersburg Historical Home. Other librarians serving were Mrs. Etta Taylor, Mrs. E. A. Betz, Mrs. Florence Chamberlin, and Mrs. Roy Christiansen.
    Mrs. Chamberlin, probably the most notable of any librarian in town, served 35 years, starting her service in 1926. She was a grade school teacher, her husband a dentist. Their only daughter passed away on Christmas day in 1924. This later prompted her to become librarian.
    Mrs. Grace Christiansen was married in 1934, coming to Parkersburg to visit a sister from southern Iowa near Albia. “I have always liked to read,” she reflected upon her days at the library. “I used to be around the library all the time. Mrs. Chamberlin thought I should learn how to be a librarian. There were lots of things I couldn’t do and I hated to quit. There is more to the library now.” Her husband Roy was a mail carrier and delivered milk for 11 years in Parkersburg. The Christiansen’s live at 505 5th Street. Mrs. Christiansen was librarian from 1962 – 1971.
    At the Wolf home the library was open three days a week and was located there until 1969 when the Kothe Memorial Library was constructed on Third Street.
    Mr. and Mrs. Ed Kothe were civic minded people of the town. Mrs. Kothe held a prominent state position in the Women’s Relief Corps. Mr. Kothe was a businessman, farmer, and former Mayor of the town. When each had passed away, allowance was left in their estate to construct the present library named after them. On Sunday, November 23, 1969, the library held its Open House at the building which cost $130,000.
    One person who observed much of the local happenings for the 50 years prior to the newly constructed library was Dale Van Eman, a Parkersburg lawyer who served on the library board for 45 years. “I have always been interested in education and libraries. I feel serving on this board has been some service I can render to the people of Parkersburg. Watching the library grow has been an education in itself,” said Mr. Van Eman.
    Mrs. Dorothy Stout served as librarian from 1971-1973 when Mrs. Margaret Kneppe was appointed librarian. In her newspaper article to The Eclipse, Mrs. Kneppe stated that the library could almost be called a “little university” in itself as well as a recreation center with ping pong tables, games, records, books, newspapers, and magazines. The Kothe Memorial Library has something for everyone. Mrs. Gertrude Thorne was assistant librarian.
In 1974, Parkersburg Mayor O.V. Hasty declared April 21-27 as National Library Week.     
    On December 31, 1974 rural patrons were no longer charged 25 cents a month for using the library because they lived outside the city limits. This act was decided upon by the library trustees.
    Gertrude Thorne became director in 1985, retiring in 1996. For a brief time Carol Johnson was the director, but due to health problems Gertrude became acting librarian until Virginia Stukenberg took over in March of 1997.
    In the summer of 2002 Marty Stahl became director. Serving with her are assistants Phyllis Arends and Jody Nielsen.
        June, 2015, Deb Decker filled the director position, with Jody Nielsen and Elena Schwerdtfeger as library assistants.


This resource is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by State Library of Iowa.