By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
On Sunday afternoon, patrons and supporters of the Margaret Reed Crosby Memorial Library celebrated the 50th birthday of the Picayune library facility at its Kirkwood Street and Goodyear Boulevard location, as an overflow crowd squeezed into the library’s Holland Hall.
The celebration was in remembrance and honor of the occupancy of the Margaret Reed Crosby Memorial Library facility and the establishment of The Friends of the Crosby Library, which was formed when the new 11,000 sq. ft. structure was occupied in 1963.
Although the Picayune library system, which was later merged with Poplarville’s in 1974, has remained afloat and viable for decades, featured speakers at the event reminded guests that an economic crisis last year, almost did what two natural disasters, Camille and Katrina, could not do.
Speakers praised the resiliency of the system, which is bouncing back through volunteers and their projects, who labor unselfishly to keep the system open and viable and the dedicated personnel who have continued to labor unselfishly in the face of tough economic times.
On-hand was the granddaughter of Margaret Reed Crosby, Lynn Crosby Gammill, and her husband Stewart Gammill III, who currently reside in Hattiesburg, and former librarian Josephine Megehee.
Said Master of Ceremonies and Friends of the Library program chairman C. Randy Holland, “We celebrate today not what some people think of as a building full of old, dusty books, but a state-of-the-art information center, a cultural center, that provides our people with information and services they need to fulfill their lives in our modern, digital age.”
Current Picayune librarian and director of the Pearl River County library system, Linda A. Tufaro, surveyed the history of the Picayune library, which was later merged with the Poplarville system, to form an overall Pearl River County library system.
Picayune entered its modern era when the Crosby family gave to the City of Picayune the current building at 900 Goodyear Blvd., which has survived not only two natural disasters, Camille and Katrina, but also has weathered financial storms, too, the latest a budget squeeze last year that, some say, threatened closing of the system’s doors.
During Camille in 1969, three-quarters of the library’s book collection was destroyed and the Picayune facility heavily damaged. It was damaged again in 2005 by Katrina but not as bad. During Camille, large holes were torn in the roof, and the building was flooded inside.
During last year’s budget crunch, the system laid off five employees, cut back drastically on hours, and had to cut its book budget eventually to zero. But volunteers stepped forward, donating new book selections to the library system out of their personal budgets, said Tufaro. Eventually, conditions gradually began to improve. In addition, a book sale was begun, which generated $200 its first time but has grown to generating up to $7,000 annually. A successful cookbook promotion has just been completed. “If you want to know anything about cookbooks, just ask me,” said Tufaro to laughter from the audience.
Picayune officials occupied the Goodyear location in February 1963. Before then, the city library was located in the old City Hall near First Baptist Church.
Said Holland, “It has not always been smooth sailing with the economic downturn last year. We came close to closing with the cuts in our budget; it became more and more difficult, and we still are not back into full operation, but we will keep it together with your help.”
Tufaro said that the Friends of the Library and other patrons who love the facility and the services it provides, rose up and again came to the rescue.
Sunday’s program lasted about an hour-and-a-half and then broke for a luncheon and cake-cutting ceremonies.
Tufaro took the attendees on a historical tour of the Picayune library story. She said that actual library service began in Picayune about 1926, and after construction of what was then the new City Hall in 1938 on Goodyear Boulevard, the library was located in City Hall, up the large steps, just inside the front doors in what would later become the City Council Chambers.
Margaret Reed was the wife of Mississippi industrialist L.O. Crosby, Sr., and the Picayune library was named after her.
Tufaro showed a picture of a logging crew in the early years of the 20th Century in logging operations on land that would later become the site of the Crosby library. Later there was a strawberry farm on the site and a high school baseball field located at the same location. Picayune was founded in 1904.
The program also contained testimonials from patrons whose lives have been impacted by the library. Dr. Stephen M. Sheppard, a world renowned legal scholar who teaches at the University of Arkansas and is the son of Bill and Martha Sheppard, said he traces his literary and professional career back to his days in the Picayune library. Some of Dr. Sheppard’s books are used as texts in law-school classes.
Other testimonials came from Çhris Fornea in a letter read by his mother, Sherry Elliot; Beverly Ann Stockstill Creel, who was introduced to a lifetime of reading when she became a member in the mid-1940s when the library was in City Hall, and Ula Underwood was librarian; Aaron and Sarah Hirstius, brother and sister; and Donnie Pollitz, a computer engineer, currently working in Huntsville, Ala. Both Pollitz and Sheppard, addressed the gathering through the Internet connection Skype.
Some interesting information provided by the library includes:
— The current board of trustees is chairman Dr. James L. Schrock and board members Shirley Stough, Ola Robinson, Martha Sheppard, Sandra Barker, Kathleen Holland, Todd Smith, Walter Lowe and Carol McIntosh. The board is credited with guiding the system through its worst financial crisis ever last year.
— Former director and librarian from 1981 to 1997, Josephine Z. Megehee, was present on Sunday.
— When it was first occupied in 1963, the Margaret Reed Crosby Memorial Library occupied 11,000 sq. ft. and contained 18,000 volumes. Currently, the structure contains 13,000 sq. ft. and contains 80,000 volumes.
— An incomplete list of librarians includes Mary O’Bryant 1952-1964, William F. Morse 1964-1969, Mrs. C.G. Gates 1969-1973.
— In 1974 the Crosby Library became the headquarters of the Pearl River County Library System.
— Under the new system, the county directors and chief librarians were Jennifer L. Michaels 1974-1977, Vivian J. Williams 1977-1980, Josephine Megehee 1980-1997, and Linda A. Tufaro 1998-Present.
— A thumbnail sketch of Margaret Reed Crosby: Margaret Henrietta Reed was born at Wesson in Copiah County, Miss., on June 22, 1879. She grew up on a farm in Lincoln Co. adjacent to the Crosby Family’s farm. On Oct. 6, 1896, she married Lucius Olen Crosby, Sr. They farmed a 160-acre farm while Crosby worked in a sawmill to get the lumber for their first home, which she furnished with packing crates and dry goods. They moved to Brookhaven in 1908 where they lived until they moved to Picayune with their three sons
— L.O. Jr., Hollis and Robert Howell
— in 1917. She was known for having a passion for young people, house guests, the Presbyterian Church, Ole Miss and Ole Miss football teams, education, culture, and friendship for a vast number of people. She survived her husband by about ten years and passed away on Aug. 1, 1958, at 77 years of age. When L.O. Crosby, Sr., died in 1948, the Crosby family was one of the richest families in America.