HOWE — What do you do when you have 11,000 books you need to rehome? You donate them for a library, of course! That’s exactly what James Ferguson, a former Howe resident, did in the fall of 1980.
On Saturday, that donation and the resulting library, now a thriving part of the Howe community, will be celebrated at the library’s 35-year anniversary reception. The event, hosted by the Friends of the Howe Community Library, will run from 2 to 4 p.m. at the library, located at 315 W. Collins Freeway, and attached to the Howe Middle School campus. Also being celebrated will be the continuing efforts of the library’s founder, Jean Norman.
Ferguson was told he should contact Norman about the books and he did. Norman, an educator and community supporter, wasn’t about to let the books go to waste, so she immediately pulled some of her friends together for a planning meeting. They envisioned a town library and formed the Friends of the Library group of which Norman is still taking an active leadership role in.
“I just felt the need,” Norman said. “The books were there and I thought it would be something Howe could use. We didn’t really have a library to serve the community and I thought it needed to be done. I called a meeting that afternoon (after meeting with Ferguson) and we started making plans. We really went to work having all kinds of fundraisers. Everybody was willing to work and it was really a group effort.”
Between fundraisers and donations, enough money was raised to make a down payment for a small house on the corner of Tutt and North Denney. The property and needed renovations totaled $20,000. The Howe City Council provided $6,000 and the Friends group put in $4,000 then financed the balance. The house was remodeled and equipped as a library. Ferguson helped organize the book collection, often spending the night handwriting cards for the card catalog. Norman recruited Pee Wee cheerleaders to sort the books on the shelves.
The new Howe Public Library was dedicated on Sept. 7, 1981, just a year after it was envisioned. At the dedication, Ferguson, the son of a man who’d owned Ferguson Seed Farms, said, “Just as my father was responsible for much of the seed planted in this county, 75 years later, I want to plant seed in Howe — the seed of knowledge.”
“We started in a really little house that made a really cute library, but it wasn’t going to serve our purposes,” Norman said.
The group continued fundraising and then in the summer of 1985, Norman met with Howe Independent School District Superintendent Pete Simmons. The two discussed merging the library with the school district. A board was formed to govern the new combination library and it was opened in September of 1986, providing services for the Howe students, as well as the public. After the new high school building was constructed, the library was moved into a renovated location on the west side of the Howe Middle School in January of 2002. It remains there today and continues to grow its services to all who use it, providing not just books, but access to computers and free Wi-Fi, movies, e-books and special programming throughout the year.
“The school and the city have been so wonderful supporting us,” Norman said.
While many have come and gone in their service to the library, Norman remains, as dedicated to the busy library as she was from the start.
“I’ve just never left. I’ve always enjoyed being a part of it and wanted to make sure it never failed,” Norman said. “We’ve had some excellent librarians. It’s helped us more than anything to be able to hire master degreed librarians. It’s kept us on top of the game in the latest things at the library and we’re always looking for ways to improve it. … We would love to expand some day and we’re really staying up on technology. So many things are changing. We’re keeping it updated and making it a nice place the public enjoys going. This library has to answer a lot of different needs. … What was so wonderful is what we have available not only to the children but the adults. It’s really fit a great need. It was hard work (organizing and operating the library) but we’ve had a lot of fun doing it.”
Becky Hogenson retired as the librarian earlier this year after 10 years of service. She was formerly the librarian at Terrell Elementary School in Denison. She said the library is constantly busy with students and community patrons.
“This library was such a unique situation, getting the opportunity to work with the elementary and middle school students and the city patrons,” Hogenson said of her time at the Howe library. “There’s never a dull moment and it’s such an opportunity to be a part of the community of Howe and getting to know so many different people.”
Norman has been an inspiration to Hogenson.
“I’ve worked with Jean and she is just a firecracker. She’s one of these people who is involved in so many things. She is a source of information, a pillar of the community. Many people go to her for advice and also to ask how to do things, as well as to get things done. … This town would not have a library if it wasn’t for Jean Norman,” Hogenson said.
For more information, contact the library at 903-532-5519.