The volunteers and staff at the Waukegan Public Library likely never met Helen N. Morrow, but the late educator's lifelong passion will go a long way in helping their mission.
"This gift is going to open doors of opportunity to the have, as well as the have nots," said Verna Wilson, president of the Waukegan Public Library Foundation board.
Wilson was among more than a dozen Foundation, staff and board members who gathered Thursday in a recently renovated section of the library to officially accept a check for $100,000 -- one of the largest gifts ever received by the library.
The money will be used to support literacy programs in general, with a focus on adult and family programs offered throughout Lake County.
Rather than send it via a delivery service, as is customary, Scott B. Friedman, an attorney and trustee of the Helen N. Morrow Trust, personally delivered the check to the appreciative recipients.
Morrow, a Wilmette resident, died last fall at the age of 94. She was a history teacher who worked at New Trier High School for nearly 40 years.
Religious and educational purposes were among Morrow's priorities for the discretionary funds of her estate, Friedman said.
"She wanted to foster and maintain educational programs," he said. "We see a need in the community and we try to fill it."
The connection came through Diane Tuchman, a Deerfield resident and volunteer in the adult literacy program. She worked with Friedman, who asked if she knew of any groups that would fit with Morrow's wishes.
"I told him my story and told him about this program," Tuchman said. The Waukegan library was selected after an internal vetting process, Friedman said.
"Helen, as an educator, would be very proud," he said.
The gift will support the library's educational initiatives focused on improving literacy programs, which can mean the difference between a dependent and independent life, library officials said.
"Without literacy, it's a cycle of codependency of others to take care of you," Wilson said. "The workforce needs us to train people."
Gale Graves, educational services and grants manager, said the $100,000 would be targeted toward the Adult Literacy Tutoring program, which matches volunteers with adults who want to improve reading, writing and math skills or to learn English, and the Families Learning Together program.
The funds will buy instructional materials and pay instructors, and that, in turn, will allow for more classes.
The Waukegan Public Library recruits tutors from throughout Lake County, manages their training and tracks the progress of learners, who are taught at libraries and schools at various locations. Through partnerships with the College of Lake County, Mundelein High School and Highland Park High School, tutors from the Adult Basic Education Program serve 300 students each year. The family program is taught at the Waukegan library, but it is available to all Lake County residents.
Dan Drury, library Foundation treasurer, said literacy is the key to better jobs and joked that the group needs to "get the word out to more attorneys" to attract more funding.
"This is a gem in the middle of a struggling city," he said.