MATTOON -- As the Mattoon Public Library celebrates its 125th anniversary, Clay Dean recently reflected on his childhood memories of the library and on his ongoing service as president of the library board.
Dean said his favorite memories of going to the library as a youngster were of his aunt taking him to the children’s section, which was located in the library's basement at the time. Dean said they checked out books and then read them together while dining at a nearby Chinese restaurant on Broadway Avenue.
"It was an exotic adventure for me. That opened up many worlds and new ideas," Dean said.
In addition, Dean said he has fond memories of when he was first old enough to "ascend the stairs" at the library and begin using the space that was set aside for older kids on the upper floor. Dean said the upper floor was home to the first computer that he recalls seeing -- an Apple.
"The kids would crowd around it to get 15 minutes of time on it," Dean said. "I did my first book report, which was on Jesse James, all from research in the Mattoon Public Library."
Since 2014, Dean has served on the Mattoon Public Library Board of Trustees. Dean said he joined after Bruce Karmazin from the Lumpkin Foundation approached and convinced him to get more involved with the library.
Dean said his friend Ben Lumpkin and his friend's father, Dick Lumpkin, have been major supporters of the library over the years. He said Ben Lumpkin’s mother was very committed to the library and was instrumental in building the library addition when he was away in college.
"So many people in our community had done so much heavy lifting over the years, and I felt like it was my turn to give back to this organization that had given me so much," Dean said.
By statute, the board members act as fiduciaries and hire the library director. Dean said they try to stay out of the operational aspects of the library, leaving these tasks to the director and staff.
Dean said the library is funded primarily through tax levies, but local property tax revenue is is not enough to meet all of the library's needs. Consequently, Dean said board members have to help raise money for the library.
The board's most important role may be serving as advocates for the library, Dean said. He explained that the board helps raise awareness, network on behalf of the library, and promote its programs and services.
"Since I have been charged with leadership of the board, I have been fairly direct in my collective charge to all of us as colleagues to do more and do more lifting as board members," Dean said. "It is an active board that holds itself accountable and with high expectations of ourselves. We are fortunate to have such good board members."
Dean said he feels that the greatest recent accomplishment that the board has achieved was the hiring of the library's new director, Carl Walworth, last summer.
"(Walworth) is a good man, a great leader and stellar community member," Dean said. "Our future is bright."
Dean said Walworth has taken up a mission inspired by Tony Sparks to improve literacy in the community. He said the library also wants to bridge educational gaps that exist, not because the community does not have a wonderful school system, but because there are certain types of programs for which there either are not enough hours in the day to teach or it goes beyond the scope of the standard curricula.
"The library also needs to provide a community hub where people of all ages can come and learn and, also, be teachers to each other. A place where the community can come together and learn together and thrive," Dean said. "The YMCA has created a wonderful space in our community for health and recreation. We want to be a similar beacon for learning and the mind for all ages."
Dean, who is chief executive officer of First Mid Insurance Group, has an office that looks out at the library.
"There are few pleasures in life I enjoy more than when I occasionally look out and catch a glimpse of my own sons with one of YMCA summer camp groups, laughing and smiling as they come and go from the Mattoon Public Library," Dean said.