Power of ‘yes’ rakes in dough for library

Kathleen Marsh

After writing two acknowledgement letters for big donations to the Lakes Country Public Library Building Fund, I realized that the bulk of my time this past year has been spent in pursuit of money. Not personal income — money needed to renovate and expand Lakewood Library. How on earth did this happen? I’m supposed to be retired, relaxing in a rocking chair.

Now agreeing to be the point person on fundraising for the library project was not a hasty decision. Raising at least $800,000 would definitely be a formidable challenge. Should I? Could I? What if I failed? Maybe I should just say no. When I dither like this, asking the Almighty for a direct answer is not my style. Nope, I ask for a sign.

A few days later, I made a wrong move while picking apples and fell. Hard. My head bounced off a rock. I lay there dazed for a minute. Gingerly checking myself, I concluded I wasn’t badly hurt. I got up slowly and made my way to the house, fetching an ice pack for the rising bump on the back of my head. I took an ibuprofen and watched for signs of a concussion. A few days passed; the pain and bump subsided. I rejoiced; I was one lucky lady. I pondered, was that the sign? Had God spared me because…? It sure seemed like it. I said yes, fired up my PC and got to work.

People scoffed; it wasn’t possible to raise that kind of money in northern Oconto County. Had I known the price tag would double, I would never have said yes, but we don’t know what we don’t know. By the time the guesstimate came in, I was all in. The process includes long meetings that challenge the backside, phone calls that last until your ear goes numb, interminable hours on the computer and crushing disappointments when you get a no.

A project this big requires big money, typically in the form of government funding or foundation grants. I started there. At first, it did not go well. Out of the gate, there were two smaller nos, then the big one. Oconto County Board denied our request for ARPA funds. That was a very dark day. I called my daughter, choking back tears.

“I can’t do this, Jina. I’ve let everyone down.”

She listened as I vented, then shared a piece of great advice: “Mom, they didn’t say no; they just didn’t say yes — yet.” Next came the admonition I used on her when things didn’t go her way — pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again. Four trips to Oconto later with my building expansion committee co-chair, Tom Thielke, the board said yes to a $300,000 ARPA grant.

It’s true; success breeds success. We got sizable grants from the Bond Foundation, WPS and the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation. We doubled a $10,000 match, then $20,000, and have a new $15,000 one going. Private donations ranging from $5 to $10,000 have come in each week since May. The largest was our Christmas miracle. Sen. Tammy Baldwin notified us we would receive $500,000 in federal funding.

Yes! We haven’t scored the touchdown yet, but we’re in the red zone.

Every contribution counts, even the coins deposited in our donation box by the little ones who come to story time, but there is one that especially touched my heart. I promised to keep the donor anonymous so I’ll call her Starr.

Starr is a bright, serious young woman who works at a busy retail establishment where customers need purchases delivered just right. Her schedule varies; she earns $20 an hour. She told me that due to sensory processing difficulties, she needs a quiet, comfortable, secure place to read, study, learn; you know, a place like a library. When Starr said she was donating $5,000, I was speechless, which my husband, Jon, will tell you doesn’t happen all that often.

I asked if she was serious.

“Yes,” she replied. “The only stipulation is that you use the money to furnish and equip one of the new study rooms for people with sensory issues.”

I told her we could make that happen, then asked if she’d be willing to serve as a consultant. “Yes!” Starr exclaimed, clearly experiencing the joy that comes from doing something extraordinary to help others.

I’ve always been told, “Give until it hurts.” That’s fine, but why not be like Starr? Whatever the charity or cause, give until it helps. Just say yes.

Want to learn more? Visit lakescountrylibrary.org. To contribute, send a check to LCPL-BEC, 15235 State Highway 32, P.O. Box 220, Lakewood, WI 54138. Donations of any size are greatly appreciated.

Kathleen Marsh is a lifelong educator, writer and community advocate. She has published eight books, four on the history of Townsend, where she and husband Jon are happily retired on the beautiful Townsend Flowage.