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There’s so much to be thankful for

Can you believe that Durango School District 9-R has hosted public libraries for almost half a century? In 1981, in conjunction with the expansion of Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary School, the Fort Lewis Mesa Public Library was created as a branch of the Durango Public Library system. Similarly, in 1999, in conjunction with the expansion of Sunnyside Elementary School, the Sunnyside Public Library was created. Both libraries had public librarians, provided by Durango Public Library and paid for by the La Plata County government. Both libraries also had masters-level teacher-librarians, provided by and paid for by 9-R.

Unfortunately, less than 20 years later, budget constraints and shifting priorities eroded this exemplary educational pillar. At the same time, county officials had difficult budget decisions to make. As a result, two of the existing, functioning libraries in our county were about to close permanently.

Southwest La Plata Library District is indebted to Dan Snowberger and the 9-R administration who generously used grant money to keep the Fort Lewis Mesa and Sunnyside libraries operating, while concerned citizens, many of whom now lead the library district as board members, worked to create the Southwest La Plata Library District.

In addition to those board members, community members who recognized the value of our community libraries helped gather signatures, financially support the district’s campaign efforts and in many other ways laid the foundation of our library district. Among those remarkable library supporters were Helen Ruth Aspaas, Barbara Harris, Elaine Slade, Amanda McKown, with her dedicated daughters Julia and Eva, Dr. Kim Yeargin, Nycole Eoff and Dr. Alana Ostrander.

In November 2018, voters graciously approved the formation and funding of the new library district, and in January 2019, service to the Fort Lewis Mesa and Sunnyside communities and schools continued under the guidance of the new organization. Unfortunately, financial difficulties continued to plague the district, as mil levy funding would not be distributed until 2020. We are grateful to the La Plata County commissioners, the Ballantine Family Fund and La Plata Electric Association for providing stopgap funding to keep the library district running through 2019.

Everyone mentioned above, and many others, poured tangible resources and sacrificed time and effort into this labor of love. Specifically, I would like to express my appreciation for Roy Horvath and his efforts throughout this process. I value his devotion, his commitment and his consistency. He has the ability to work with everyone, dream big and make possibilities realities. His leadership as board chairman will be greatly missed at the conclusion of his second term in January.

Finally, I am grateful to our library patrons. From our youngest “Wee Read” toddlers, to our weekly school visitors, our home-schoolers, our teens, their parents, grandparents, and all our community members: Thank you for allowing us the opportunity and responsibility of serving you. We hope you will always feel welcome at our libraries and that you find the information, resources and camaraderie you seek. Your vibrant presence in the library proves our value to the community.

Rebecca Benally is with Southwest La Plata Library District.