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Article updated: 1/20/2013 7:58 PM

Warren-Newport library celebrates 40th anniversary

By Steve Zalusky

In the midst of the Warren-Newport Public Library District's 40th anniversary celebration Sunday, the library's first director, Joan Wilts, remembered the library's humble beginnings, before the district was formed.

In 1973, the library began operating in the building that would become Gurnee National Bank, at Milwaukee and Grand avenues.

"That was a new building, and the bank hadn't even moved in yet. We moved in before they did," Wilts said. "I remember distinctly that we, the few of us, and our husbands, assembled the shelves on Super Bowl Sunday and (we) weren't too popular with our husbands, who we made come and help."

Wadsworth resident Bonnie Shepperd started as a volunteer around that time, and later worked as the district's administrative secretary until 1998.

"It was very crowded, and they had very few books at that time," said Shepperd, who also remembers they had an old bookmobile that kept breaking down.

When the Warren-Newport Public Library District was established a short time later, it had between 5,000 and 6,000 volumes and served 16,500 people.

Today, the library operates in a recently renovated state-of-the-art facility at 224 N. O'Plaine Road, with an annual circulation of 1.2 million items and 36,962 cardholders in a district serving 66,690 people.

Sunday's 40th anniversary celebration brought together many of the original supporters and employees. Among those in the audience was the library's first board chairman, George Greene, who listened as current library board president, Laurie Styrcula, encouraged people to come to the library and use the services that can help them in their careers and businesses.

"At Warren-Newport, let our service be the spark that inspires you," she said.

Besides speeches, the event also featured food, games, activities, the signing of a giant "Happy 40th Birthday" card, and a scrapbook of the library's history.

The Gurnee-based library has grown with its district during the past 40 years, and now caters to a diverse demographic. It does important outreach with its bookmobile, which visits the homebound and the area's five seniors centers, but also looks to the future by catering to youth. One of the library's popular features is "The Vault," an area specially dedicated for after school study or play on the sophisticated gaming system donated by Bill and Jill Ballock.

"We have kids coming over after school every day. Having a dedicated space is wonderful," said Diane Braun, the library's senior children's and programming associate.

Angelina Macias, 11, of Park City, said, she frequently uses the library's resources to help her with her school work.

"The Warren-Newport Public Library has been my number one resource on all my projects in the world that I've done since I've been a kid," she said.

Former Lake County Coroner Barbara Richardson, one of the Friends of the Library, said she's used and enjoyed the library for more than 20 years.

"It really is a community library," she said.

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