Leaving on top: Gurnee library boss wins state honor just before retirement
Warren-Newport Public Library Executive Director Stephen Bero is heading into retirement on a career high.
Bero has been named the state's librarian of the year for 2014. He'll finish his lengthy career at the Gurnee-based library system next week.
"I just feel good about the way I'm leaving now," Bero said Thursday. "Leaving at the top of my game with honors."
Bero's selection as the 2014 librarian of the year was made public this week. He received the news privately from the Illinois Library Association last week.
Library association officials said the award celebrates distinguished service and leadership. They said Bero was selected, in part, for being a strong believer in library advocacy and helping create financial stability for Warren-Newport.
Warren-Newport spokeswoman Jan Marsh said library employees have been "over the moon" since learning their boss received the statewide kudos.
"He is so deserving of the honor and the timing is perfect as he leaves librarianship," Marsh said. "In addition to being a great library director for our community for 10 years, his statewide leadership benefits communities across Illinois."
Library board Trustee Jo Beckwith complimented Bero for initiating improvements at the O'Plaine Road facility.
Bero, 59, announced his intention to retire from Warren-Newport in February, saying he wants to spend more time with his family and pursue other interests. His achievements include overseeing a 14-month, $8.7 million expansion and renovation program that was completed in 2011.
However, he encountered turbulence at a five-hour library board meeting in March. That's when board Vice President Ron Friedman, without elaboration, made an unsuccessful motion to place Bero on administrative leave for three weeks and order him to give all work property to elected officials.
At the same meeting, library board President Socrates Rivers questioned Bero's financial acumen. Bero's board critics were countered by many in a crowd of 140 employees, patrons and others who supported him.
Bero, who has worked at public libraries for 23 years and has been active in regional trade organizations, retires effective Thursday, July 31.
In retirement, Bero said he plans to be at home in the daytime with a son entering first grade and a 1-year-old son. He said his wife wants to return to the workforce in the fall.
Bero became known to Daily Herald readers when columnist Burt Constable chronicled the librarian's problems in bringing Lily Zheng to the United States from China so she could become his wife.
After 3½ years of red tape, Zheng received legal permission to depart China and start a new life with Bero in Lake County. The couple married in 2006.