For more than 75 years, the Cairo Public Library has been offering patrons various collections of books, journals, recordings, computers and, most importantly, the opportunity to create dreams.
The Cairo Public Library officially opened for patrons on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 1939. It was housed in a small room above City Hall and the fire station.
There were more than 200 books on the shelves and a promise of $10 per month from the city for additional tomes.
It was a product of the United States’ recovery from the Great Depression.
During the late 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt began designing the famous Works Progress Administration (WPA) to help unserved communities, specifically rural areas, start libraries, which prompted a group of civic-minded residents and organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Women’s Club to adopt a library program.
Cairo found itself ahead of many areas because during that time less than one-third of Georgia’s counties had libraries. Most were in bigger cities.
A Thomasville Times-Enterprise articleon Jan. 3, 1939, stated, “The library is sponsored by the City of Cairo with the co-operation of the WPA. Miss Wessie Connell is librarian.
“Offering its facilities to the entire public of Grady County, it is hoped by those who have sponsored the movement that the public generally will make use of the library. The library will be open each weekday from 12 noon to 5 p.m., which hours will make it possible for school children from out in the county to get their books during the noon hour.
“Books for juniors and adults are to be had and several late books which will be let to members on a basis of 10 cents per week are to be in circulation.”
Overdue fines today are as follows: 20 cents a day for books, CDs, audio books, magazines and vertical files; 50 cents a day for videos, DVDs and AV equipment.
As the article said, Connell was the library’s first librarian and director, but her official title in 1939 was “library clerk.” When she began working at the library, Connell was paid by the WPA with a salary of $37.50 per month.
Connell served the Cairo Public Library for 48 years. The auditorium in the present day library was named in her honor on April 21, 2004.
After 15 years, the Cairo Public Library changed locations. It moved across the street of its original location to the building that formerly occupied by the Nicholson Seed and Fertilization Co., in 1954.
According to a 1954 Cairo Messenger article, “...with steady growth in the past years the present space is inadequate for the many services sponsored by the library and the book collection now numbers over 12,000 volumes, according to Librarian Wessie Connell.
“The new location belonged to the W.B. Roddenbery Company, and library officials have expressed their pleasure in the new location, as many people will be served more comfortably since the ground floor building will not necessitate climbing stairs. As with other library projects, this move has been a co-operative community venture.”
With more than 12,000 books being in the library, the move from the upstairs room to across the street proved to be a community effort.
The article indicated that the Northside School Patrol helped with moving and school classes formed “bucket brigades” to carry the books across the street to the new location. Faulk Chevrolet Sales Company sprayed much of the library’s furniture. The 4-H Club from Wayside Community painted the shelves.
Just 10 years after moving to its second location, the Roddenbery family of Cairo gave the library its present-day and permanent home — a 9,000 square foot building located at 320 N. Broad St.
In honor of the Roddenbery family, the “Cairo Public Library” became the “Roddenbery Memorial Library,” named to honor Walter B. Roddenbery Sr. The family has supported the library from its beginning with both personal encouragement and substantial financial gifts.
By the mid-1980s, the demand for more space began. Planning and funding started in order to add 7,000 square feet to the building.
In a six-week campaign, citizens raised $265,856 to match $742,072 in-state funds provided. Keeping the same style of the building, the additions wrapped around the sides and back of the original building. In 1989, the addition created the building patrons presently visit.
Over the past 75 years, the library has created a place of creating dreams and Brenda Darsey, 70, of Cairo remembered visiting each location the library was housed-in. Her dreams became realities because of the library and memories were made that have lasted her a lifetime.
Darsey’s first memory of the original library was going up the narrow staircase above the fire department to reach the little room filled with books. When her mom and dad began taking her to the library, they lived outside of town and they would call a taxi to come get her and take her to the library in town.
“That’s where my love of reading began. I would sit on the floor and look at the bottom self of children’s books. It’s where I learned I could go anywhere in the world I wanted to go and be anything I wanted,” said Darsey.
When the library moved across the street, Darsey continued her visits.
She said, “I would walk down the side road that went right beside Miss Wessie’s office then go to the front room right in front of Broad St. I would sit there and read. It was always my goal to get a gold star certificate, which were given for the amount of books read.”
Books proved to be Darsey’s livelihood. She became an author as a result of reading the collections of children’s books when she was only a first grader at Northside Elementary School.
Darsey is the author of five children’s books, including Sam, A Special Puppy series and five coloring books, under the name Rebekah Stion.
After becoming a published author, Darsey met with her librarian, Connell, who she had always admired. She had dreamed of being “Miss” Wessie.
During their meeting, Connell told Darsey that she wanted to be her because she was doing what she loved. Darsey found it ironic that they both wanted to be one another. She told Connell that as a little girl she had dreamed of being her.
She continues to be a supportive patron of Roddenbery Memorial Library. Darsey and her husband, Johnny Darsey, are the founding members of the “Supporting Patrons” of the library. They have issued a challenge to all Grady County citizens to give $75 donation to celebrate and honor the library’s service during its 75th year.
Brenda Darsey said, “This library means so much to me. It’s where my dreams came true. They weren’t just fantasies. They came true.”
On Thursday, the Friends of the Roddenbery Memorial Library are inviting the community and surrounding communities to attend an Open House & Reception to celebrate the 75 years of library service in Grady County.
The reception begins at 6:30 p.m., with an Annual Friends Meeting following at 7 p.m. New officers will be elected and revised bylaws will be approved.
Even though the library is celebrating with an event Thursday, the library plans to celebrate all year, according to Pamela S. Grigg, who became the library’s fourth director in June 2011.
Pamela S. Grigg, the library’s fourth director, said, “We are very excited about our 75th birthday. We are planning on celebrating all year with events and hope to attract new supporters and old supporters who haven’t supported in a while. It’s really an honor to be apart of such a well supported library.”
Reporter Susanne Reynolds can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1826.