This weekend the Wilton Library is holding its 120th Anniversary Gala, a celebration of all that the Library has been and continues to be in the Wilton community. “It’s for the 120 years we’ve had, and for what is the next 120 years,” says Michelle Klink, one of the co-chairs of the event.
Wilton Library actually started as a little lending collection of 150 books at Wilton’s post office 120 years ago. In 1918, it moved to its first stand-alone home in what is now the Bank of America branch, in the building next door to the Library’s current location. It stayed there until 1975 when the core of the current building was built.
The volunteers, who started planning the Gala in September, are people who have dedicated themselves for years to an organization they say has been the heart of the community for those 120 years. What inspires them, they all agree, is wanting to give back to an institution that has given so much to so many people. While they may have volunteer here or there over the years for other causes, the Wilton Library has been the one cause they’ve stuck with.
“I’ve been in Wilton almost 11 years, and through different phases of my life, the Library has remained a constant,” says Priscilla Thors, who is also co-chairing the gala. “I used the library when I was working on my Masters degree. Then going to parenting seminars, with Susan Bauerfeld. The Lego Club when the kids loved Legos. Then we needed tutoring, I’d reserve a study room for my kids. Then even for getting homework done—I’d pick the kids up from school and we’d head straight to the Library. We’ve come full circle—I’m coming to another Susan Bauerfeld talk this week. We even have artwork in our home that we’ve bought at the gallery in the Library. There’s always been a reason to come to the Library,” she says, and then adds with a big laugh, “I’ve even stopped in here just to use the restroom.”
Her gala partner, Michelle, laughs right along with her. “The only thing we haven’t done is slept here!”
“It’s a place that, throughout our time in Wilton, it’s always here,” Priscilla adds.
Wilton Library is always here for the community. It represents everything that’s GOOD in Wilton and provides countless resources—it’s a place where people can charge their electronics or stay warm when there are power outages. It’s a place where seniors can learn more about technology. It’s a place that offers countless educational experiences for people of all ages. It’s a place that partners with other Wilton organizations. It’s a place to meet up with friends, it’s a place where kids can study and have incredible learning experiences. In fact, for many people, the connection with the Library starts with their children.
That was true for Michelle.
“We moved to town about 10 years ago and I practically lived here when my kids were little, especially with my daughter who was in preschool [at the time]. It was the place to go on the rainy day, on the ‘just having a bad day we need to get out of the house’ day, for story times, for looking through books. I think my daughter thought the Children’s Library was her personal book assortment! She could pick anything she wanted and we’d go home with these ridiculous stacks of books and videos. It really was like a second home to us.”
Even now, as her kids have gotten older, they’ve come to think of it as their ‘home’ too.
“As crazy or geeky as it sounds, that it’s a Library, in the traditional sense, it is also the center of town physically and emotionally. My daughter will say, I’m going to meet my friends and walk around town. We’re going to start at the Library. The kids think of this as the center point,” Michelle says.
When she was approached to join the committee that organizes the Library’s yearly fundraising dinner, that solidified Michelle’s commitment to ‘repay’ the Library for all it had given her.
“I realized I was ready to give back to the community. I had done PTA, the sports teams, volunteering with different amounts of satisfaction, and the Library was the one place that if I give my time and energy to, I’m giving it to the whole community. The babies are here all the way up to the 90-plus year olds who come to read the newspaper, and all the wonderful stuff here that’s in between. It was where I could put my volunteer time and it could help the whole community, rather than help a little bit here, a little bit there. And have it make an impact.”
Betsy Hoffman is another dedicated volunteer working on the Gala committee.
“One of my strongest memories was during the storm, we were without power for a week. We came down here, all hunkered on the floor to recharge our phone batteries, and it had such a community feel. There were people here, all together. This is the heart of the community. It just really made sense to give back here. Not to mention I love reading and all the things you can learn and do here,” Hoffman says.
Her responsibility on the Gala committee has been a little different than the typical ‘recruit and ask people for donation.’ She chairs the Gala’s decorating committee, and is creating the fantastical centerpieces herself.
“It allows me to do something that I haven’t tried before. It’s a way to volunteer and challenge myself. It’s another way for me to learn and try and stretch and grow. And still feel like I’m setting a good example for my kids.”
Michelle agrees: “Everyone has their different ‘thing’ that they’re strong in. The collaboration that happens, that’s been very rewarding. There’s a lot of cohesion and complimenting each other,” she says. That camaraderie is evident throughout the interview, as the three women laugh, finish each others sentences, and compliment one another often.
They also all give their time to the Library year round in various ways, not just for this one event. And they’re quick to point out all the many, many other volunteers who are just as committed in other ways. “Like the book sale army of people. That’s a full-time, year-round operation that happens quietly in the Library basement, and it’s all volunteers. People help where they can help,” says Michelle.
Priscilla sums up what she feels motivates many of the volunteers. “You have a sense of ownership, like this is my Library.”
Which is why, even though this weekend’s event is sold out, these women hope people will still consider giving to the Library. Sometimes people think of the Library as the Wilton Public Library, but it’s not and the distinction is important. It’s the donations and many volunteers who make it possible for the Library to provide all the services and programs that it does.
“When I found out that only 75-percent of the funding for the Library is provided by the town, and that the rest is through donations, I had no idea,” says Michelle. “The town pays for the structure and the operational side, but there would be no books, no DVD, or the programs without donations. If everyone is always thinking, ‘Oh, the Library is always going to be there, I’ll always be able to do my favorite thing,’ it may not be if we don’t look to the future and figure out how to fund that.”
Party Planning for the 120th Anniversary Gala
The Gala honors the memory of Thomas and Virginia Adams, longtime patrons of the library. Virginia was the president of the Library when it moved to its current location. Thomas was a trustee of the Shoff Foundation, which funded the Innovation Station, the new Children’s Library entrance and so many other things at the Library. Regrettably Thomas passed away in December, and the committee decided that the Gala would now honor the memory of them both.
“Mr. Adams and his type of giving to something that you love, when you feel passionate about an organization, a cause, I hope the gala will inspire others to consider giving. People taking for granted that things are always going to be here—they’re here because of people like him who dedicate his life and himself to making sure this did stay here. That legacy, it’s not for a pat on the back or your name etched on a wall. It’s really because you believe in it,” Michelle says.
Every element of the Gala plays on a constant theme of the Past and the Future, even the decor. One element the women are most excited about are the ‘tablescapes’ that Betsy has created. Each table will have either an author or book theme—Harry Potter, Moby Dick, The Wizard of Oz, or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, for example—with books and props that tell the story. Some of the centerpieces use items that were created on the Library’s 3-D printer. Each one will also integrate a clock somehow, to reinforce the theme of Time.
“We’re chronicling the passage of time for the Library, but isn’t the Library, in a way, a way to travel through time, and place. You can look at the historical records for history, you can work at the Innovation Station for learning for the future. You can learn about all the places in the world and even the imaginary world,” explains Betsy.
Live auction items include a night at an exclusive theatrical performance, an exotic car driving experience, a VIP tour of the Bronx Zoo, a one-week stay at a Nantucket home, or a 3-night trip for two to the Jade Mountain resort in St. Lucia. Of course there will be silent auction items too, including tickets to Red Sox and NY Giants, chef tastings, photo sessions, a poker party, and many more.
But it’s the entire committee that has put the Gala together that development director Robin Axness says is the heart of the whole evening. “This is an awesome committee. The spirit of contributing, every single person has brought so much to the table. They’re amazing.”