Tonawanda News

July 24, 2013

NT librarian turning a page

BY BARBARA TUCKER barbara.tucker@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — If you've ever stopped in the North Tonawanda Public Library, you most likely have seen Peggy Waite walking about, talking with patrons and children, and living her love of the library. 

Waite, one of only seven directors the library has seen in its more than 115 years, joined the library in 1975 as part-time children’s librarian. She was later named full-time children’s librarian, then assistant director, and, in 2004, director following the retirement of Dan Killian. She will retire in late August, completing nine years as head of the library.

The soft-spoken Waite is quick to say that, to her, being the director means working with staff.

"This staff has been with me every step of the way no matter what the project," Waite smiled.

Becky Stutzman, head of the children's library and a 21-year staff member, concurs.

"We're a close family. Peggy has cultivated relationships. We're very lucky here as she's added to the family relationships. She has personal qualities in spades and I don't know what we'll do without her," Stutzman said.

Stutzman explained that Waite is also a mentor to her and other staff members.

"She's always encouraged me to 'run with it' when a new idea or program is offered," Stutzman said.

Waite, who is quick to give credit for the library's success to her staff, the board of directors, the Friends of the Library and patrons, said she is torn about retiring.

"I know it's time to retire, but it's hard to walk away," Waite said.

The librarian's memories range from helping to shelve the thousands of books from the former library when the new library opened in 1975 to the latest renovation when the library was refurbished.

"There were books on every surface," she recalled. "Luckily the patrons had a sense of humor and the staff worked so hard."

She also recalled sitting next to North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt at a meeting. She asked if he'd ever come to one of her story hours when he was a child.

"He did," she laughed, "and I remember him and the friend who came with him."

Although many programs are dear to Waite's heart, it is obvious that she has a special love for the children's library.

"The programing, story hours and reading clubs are about getting children to read. The Friends of the Library, my friends, underwrite the children's events. They are incredible," Waite said.

Alice Lafferty, a library clerk, lauded Waite for all she's done for the staff.

"When we have meetings, Peggy will give us little gifts as a thanks for our work. She's an exceptionally caring person," Lafferty said.

Lafferty recalled the many times Waite would have a full spread of pastries on the table in the staff's kitchen area with a note on it, "To a Great Staff."

"We are all so happy here with her," Lafferty said.

Deb Marshall, principal library clerk, has been with the library for 20 years in different capacities.

"We're like a family — we all love each other," Marshall said. "We care about each other and take ownership. Peggy is always 'on' and she makes us want to be here."

"I'm leaving the library in good shape," Waite said. "I've always been out with the people and even now, once a month, the former librarians get together for breakfast, something I'll continue," she added.

It wasn't always easy, at the library, however.

"When Dan (Killian) brought in computers, we came along kicking and screaming," she laughed. "When the card catalog was taken away and the computer system put in, there were many complaints. We were so familiar with the old Dewey Decimal system on cards, it was hard."

In addition to being director, Waite also writes grants, a time consuming effort, for projects from the parking lot to the refurbishing. She has another grant already written that she hopes will be approved for a new sign in front of the library.

Waite said although she is looking forward to the freedom of doing what she wants to do, she is not looking forward to not being at the library.

"I love the staff, patrons, the building," Waite said. 

"Maybe because I came up through the ranks and I know how hard the staff works and how much planning goes into what they do, that they mean so much to me," she added

Waite expects to find more time in retirement to be with her family. She has two daughters, Kelly and Julie and three grandchildren, Zachary, 11, Alexander, 18 and Elyssa, 17. In addition, Waite said she considers her long time friend, Greg, who died four years ago, and family, Rob and Tanya and grandchildren Kaitlyn, 6 and Brennan, 4, her family as well.

Perhaps her remarkable tenure as librarian could be summed up in one of the "Memory Hearts" written in her honor and posted in the library's vestibule.

One heart, in a child's printing, reads: "Roses are red, Violets blue. Retirement's hard and we'll miss you."

Contact community editor Barbara Tucker at 693-1000, ext. 4110.