An imposing Case front-loading tractor stood in front of the Downey City Library, facing an impressive 10-ft.-long pile of earth. In the background stood the Downey Theatre which also is up for rehab this summer (including a long-needed elevator to take patrons with disabilities to the second floor balcony and the newly expanded art gallery).
Since the contract for the interior re-construction of Library has not yet been awarded, and therefore no ground really broken, my first question had to be, where did the dirt come from.
“We dug it up at the Yard,” said Lino, a 4-year veteran of the Downey Public Works Department, dressed in an orange work suit.
“And it’s Downey dirt,” confirmed Claudia Daley, who led the Pledge of Allegiance at the May 30 ceremonies. Claudia is the library’s literacy director, and the heartbeat of the Children’s Book Room, according to her many admirers.
“And it’s fresh dirt,” said Ben Dickow, director of the library. “It was delivered here five minutes before we were ready to begin,” he said, as he donned his hard hat for the digging to come. Ben also directs Downey’s Columbia Memorial Space Museum, and he emceed the afternoon, which turned out to feature a clear blue sky and a hot sun, a relief after the clammy May gloom we’ve been having.
First Ben thanked the Friends of the Library, “the fundraising arm of the library,” as he said, and its many volunteers, headed by Virginia Yoshisyama.
“My colleagues on the city staff deserve our appreciation too,” said Ben. City Manager Gilbert Livas was there. And former mayor Dave Gafin, as well as the many “dignitaries” who all supported Measure S, the self-imposed 20-year sales tax which Downey voted for, to fund these city improvements.
The City Council was represented by Mayor Rick Rodriguez and council members Sean Ashton, Claudia Frometa and Alex Saab, all of whom donned the plastic safety hats and bright yellow safety vests.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a director,” Ben said, “the culmination of many months of planning, and the beginning of a brand new start for the library.”
After welcoming remarks from Mayor Rick, standing in front of an orange “Measure S” scrim, the ceremonial diggers went to work, from the littlest on up.
A many-tiered group including Michael Calvert, executive director of the Downey Chamber of Commerce, posed behind the mounded heap of dirt, with shovels in hand: council members, civil servants, interested adults, children and their parents. The whole community was involved in the celebration.
Girls dig too. A contingent of happy pre-schoolers all wore the hard hats and enthusiastically filled their shovels with the fresh Downey dirt.
Seen in conversation were former Mayor Mario Guerra and Dorothy Pemberton, Soroptimist and head of PTA Helps’s Pantry, that gives food to helps needy school families when they need emergency food supplies.
“Canned donations are always welcome,” said Dorothy, who was wearing a city-approved navy knit cotton dress with the large round patch of the city seal and the legend stitched below it that says she is a Parks Commissioner too.
Mario has been so busy in his appointment as Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army that he hasn’t had time to miss being mayor.
“Two weeks ago I was at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, and next week it will be Ft. Sills, Oklahoma,” said Mario. “Before, there were so many places I never knew about. Now each one is special to me.”
Mario is doing just what the Army wants, telling the Army’s story as he learns it. He was first appointed by President Obama and re-appointed by President Trump. No one could ever pay Mario to be as enthusiastic as he is: that is his gift to his country. We own him thanks for what he does.
“The library has been such a big part of our family,” said Lana Joy Walhquist. “For the children’s books, and the story time. And the books I use for research.”
Lana’s three children — Peer, Leif, and Mary — were enjoying the goings-on and were well supplied with bottles of water on a day which turned as hot as this one.
“I work at home, which means, I don’t work at home but at Starbucks or the library,” said Lana. “But why should I have to pay to sit at Starbucks and work? I pay my taxes, and I’d rather be at the library. We can’t wait till it opens again.”