The quality of a community in many ways can be judged by the quality of its library. Here in Kenai, we are fortunate to have a wonderful public library, and we would like to take a moment to offer our thanks and gratitude to the person who was the driving force behind the library for four decades, Emily DeForest -- better known as Ms. Emily to generations of Kenai Community Library patrons.
Ms. Emily started as a volunteer at the library shortly after arriving in Kenai in the late 1960s. At the time, the library consisted of nothing more than several rolling carts stacked with books, pushed up against the walls of a building in Old Town Kenai that served a number of purposes, including the jail.
Ms. Emily took the reins as the library's first paid director in 1972, and under her careful guidance, the library grew and expanded, moving into its current location on Main Street Loop.
Ms. Emily "retired" in 1999, but remained dedicated to the library right up until her death on June 19.
"We all thought the world of Emily, because she was a great librarian, knowing our community needs and what our interests were," said Nedra Evenson, who has been involved with the library for almost 40 years. "With our limited funds, she was able to expand our library very wisely. As we grew, as our community grew, our library grew.
"We were very lucky to have her as a librarian. Her choice of material was right for our community."
By all accounts, Ms. Emily never missed an opportunity to advocate for the library. She had a knack of drawing in people as volunteers and cultivating their particular talents. And she was at every city council meeting, knitting in hand, to ensure the library was considered whenever possible.
Some might have described her as old school in her approach to running the library -- "She Who Must Be Obeyed" is how some referred to her -- but at the same time, she was very progressive, bringing in computers and other technology for public use.
Through her efforts, our library is more than a building full of books.
"It reflects in all of your citizens, from the youngest child who comes in for story hour to the oldest individual. The whole community revolves around its library," said Evenson. "I think everybody who was associated with the library sensed that it was a vital being."
While the library has grown into a wonderful place for our community, it's the people who make it great. Ms. Emily's dedication and devotion to the library, and by extension, the community, are what make Kenai such a vibrant place to live.
We hope our library continues to grow with our community. We can think of no better tribute to Ms. Emily's memory than to continue to support the library and all of its programs.
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