“Thank you” said the tag on each sparkly silver gift bag, at the 38th Annual Volunteer & Major Donor Recognition Brunch, “Volunteers are like diamonds – precious and rare.”
Yes, our Downy Library staff is still operating, and Claudia Daley, Literacy Specialist, and Ben Dickow, Director, stood in the lobby of the Rio Hondo Event Center to welcome each guest along with Fernanda Nunez, assistant from the City of Downey.
The day was overcast, but volunteer Ethyl Kendrick brightened up the morning with a silver sequin head wrap to go with her black and white figured blouse. Head of Library Volunteers Virginia Yoshiyama, who wore fragrant white plumeria blossoms in her topknot, had the same idea. “I like to dress up the occasion,” Virginia said, and she did.
“It’s quiet from 4-6 p m,” said Ethyl, a Tuesday volunteer at the Friends Used Book Store. “That’s been my time to work. But I have my regulars, and they come in then. It’s been important to keep open for them. I don’t know what we’ll all do without a library for 18 months.”
The women and men in the room represented many hours of faithful service over many years, and they echoed Ethyl’s concern.
Friend of the Downey Library (FODL) Mary Phelps sat near the string quartet as they played during brunch, which is appropriate because Mary is an industrious and long-time member of the Downey Symphonic Society Board. Friends of the Downey Library is the extremely active support group that raises money through events such as the Christmas bazaar and bake sale. FODL also underwrote the city’s appreciation brunch, so no tax dollars were used for this festive occasion.
Guiding spirit for the luncheon Claudia Daley answered the burning question, what is happening after the city had to reject the bids for the new construction work?
“We’ll have a groundbreaking ceremony just as soon as a new bid is accepted,” said Claudia. “It’s out for bid again. We’ve been coming to work in the Library building but May 1 we expect to report somewhere else.”
The Library Advjsory Board was thanked. It’s composed of one member from each city district: Betty Monroy, Kimberly Hayes, Marie Yusem, Karol Morrison and Beverly Mathis. A bright pastel arrangement of spring flowers, pink and lavender and white, centered each of the seven tables, and men represented about 20% of the attendees. More volunteers are always invited.
The program began with Ben Dickow welcoming everyone and introducing the full complement of City Council members. Mayor Rick Rodriguez was on hand to thank the volunteers and friends. Remarkably, Rick, Alex Saab, and Mayor Pro Tem Blanca Pacheko are all Kiwanians. Councilwoman Claudia Frometa is a former member of the Assistance League of Downey’s Gypsy Johnson Auxiliary, and was recently recognized by Soroptimist International of Downey as a “Woman of Distinction.”
Councilman Sean Ashton, in his red City of Downey polo shirt, led the Flag Salute and gave the invocation. Sean said that the color was a personal choice, as evinced by Alex Saab in black. “There are maroon ones too,” said Sean, who volunteers for eco projects like Keep Downey Beautiful. and at the PTA at the school where he teaches.
Claudia, spring-like in her daffodil yellow jacket over a white dress covered with a floral display, then gave the keynote address. She began with the generosity of the Downey Women’s Club 60 years ago, when they gave their collection of books to the City to start its own Library. Now that the library is to be closed for 18 months, the Los Angeles County and local libraries like Santa Fe Springs, City of Commerce and Norwalk have stepped up to open their shelves to Downeyites. The book-orphans of Downey thank them.
Claudia’s fascinating history singled out special people like Councilwoman Joyce Lawrence, Cleo Latimer and Louise Cormack who made an extra effort to get the library going during the early years. The library partnered with the Assistance League of Downey to set up Books on Wheels, bringing books to homebound patrons, adults who can no longer go out into the world.
In the 80’s, Soroptimist Club members provided Downey children a Great Books Club in a local park. Jean Brazelton used her expertise as a teacher and a writer to teach high school students how to write their college entrance exams. Now there is a program to package books to send to soldiers.
After a generous buffet of scrambled eggs and hash browns, fruit and mini muffins, and sausages and bacon, Claudia opened the awards part of the morning. Each volunteer was recognized by name and a short phrase describing their contribution was read as they came forward.
All five City Council members shook hands with the volunteers, and presented a handsome Certificate of Appreciation in a black and silver folder. The little gift bag contained a silver case for business cards, which even retired persons now find helpful in this day when everyone exchanges email addresses.
A special shout-out to Major Donors came in the form of a handsomely illuminated scroll in an ebony frame. Receiving the award were Friends of the Downey City Library; Theresa and Michael Gallagher; Peter and Patricia Meursinge; and the Rotary Club of Downey. The latter has a long-running program where each week the library sends them a new book purchased with funds that Rotary donates. The club then asks the week’s program speaker to honor them by signing the book, as a memento of their appearance.
SEEN IN CONVERSATION: Volunteers Jackie Odell and Sandra Albornoz stopped by to talk about the stories in the Patriot about the two homeless women at the Downey Post Office.
“Something in their lives has gone awry,” said Jackie. “Every woman has had that fleeting thought, ‘you never know when it could happen to you.’ They can’t be left to stand out there like this.”
Note well: The library may be closed, but the volunteers and friends plan to continue to meet. A picnic supper in Furman Park on Wednesday, July 17, will be the first reunion, to hear the Department of Parks and Recreations’ Summer Concert Series, The Wiseguys, who play big band music. Come at 5:30, because the Board of the Friends of the Library will bring salads to share, and there will be food for sale by the Downey Rose Float Association. Everyone works together.
Other get-togethers are planned for November and each three months till the library opens.
Meanwhile, are the staff at the Library keeping busy?
“We’re running around like crazy,” said Claudia. “There is so much to do before we open again.”