2012-09-06 / Undercover Historian

Collier County libraries benefit from 55 years of Friends

maureenSULLIVAN-HARTUNG

Even before Collier County had its first library, those supporters pursuing that dream called themselves the Friends of the Library. Officially establishing themselves in 1957, these Friends would be on hand to help with the establishment of and subsequent fundraising for that first library, known today as Naples Regional Library (and to old-timers as the Central Avenue library).

It was 55 years ago this week, on Sept. 3, 1957, that the Collier County Commission, at its regular meeting in the county seat of Everglades City, voted 4-1 to create the Collier County Free Public Library. According to the passage of the referendum quoted in the Collier County News (forerunner of the Naples Daily News), the library would have “a central station, perhaps at Naples, collection stations at other points and a travelling bookmobile to connect them. The cost of the project will be $15,000 a year from the county and $10,000 a year in federal aid for four years…”


The Collier County Free Public Library Bookmobile, funded by the Friends of the Library, provided continuous library services to county residents in the remote regions of Marco Island, Everglades City and Immokalee from 1958-1981. On its maiden voyage to Everglades City on Aug. 1, 1958, 15 adults filled out forms for library cards and 129 books were circulated. 
FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY OF COLLIER COUNTY / COURTESY PHOTOS The Collier County Free Public Library Bookmobile, funded by the Friends of the Library, provided continuous library services to county residents in the remote regions of Marco Island, Everglades City and Immokalee from 1958-1981. On its maiden voyage to Everglades City on Aug. 1, 1958, 15 adults filled out forms for library cards and 129 books were circulated. FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY OF COLLIER COUNTY / COURTESY PHOTOS Through the determined efforts of the Friends, the Naples Woman’s Club, Naples Chamber of Commerce and the Collier County News, along with hundreds of concerned citizens across the county, the Collier County Free Public Library was born. Born, but not yet built.

Before that 1957 vote, however, the present e gi day library system already had its origins with the Naples Woman’s Club. Historically speaking, in most small towns

At across America, local women’s clubs are usually the driving force or founders of libraries, hhospitals, garden clubs and youth shelters — and Naples was no exception. In 1950, the Naples Woman’s Club provided a small room in its pre-Park Street clubhouse to house a small collection of 7,000 books that would be the basis for the Collier County Free Public Library on Central Avenue.


The first Collier County Free Public Library on Central Avenue, referred to today as Naples Regional Library, sits on property donated by Dr. and Mrs. Ferdinand C. Lee. The first Collier County Free Public Library on Central Avenue, referred to today as Naples Regional Library, sits on property donated by Dr. and Mrs. Ferdinand C. Lee. In 1961, the Friends launched a capital campaign to raise funds for the construction of the Central Avenue library complete with administrative headquarters. The original plans called for a building with 6,600 square feet, plenty of parking space and room for expansion. In 1963 a sign was erected designating the land as the proposed library site.

Very special Friends, Dr. and Mrs. Ferdinand C. Lee, generously purchased the block of land the library sits on and then gifted it to the Friends. In 1965, the Friends entered into an agreement with the county, announcing that the library land and building would be leased to the county for the sum of $1 annually for the next 99 years.

All the fundraising efforts during the previous five years finally paid off when the new library opened its doors on Feb. 13, 1966. The cost of construction was met entirely by donations, without any capital expenditures by the county.

Those spearheading the Friends in this much-needed project were the organization’s first president, Eugene Lee Turner, who was also president of the First National Bank of Naples; Mamie Tooke, fundraising chairman and president of The Bank of Naples; and attorney Benjamin Parks, who served as the president of the Collier County Library Board.

From books, videos and DVDs to book discussions and special programs for all ages, the Friends have faithfully paid for numerous items and services when the county has been unable to provide. The Friends have even bought chairs and carpeting for the various branches and provided scholarship money for library staff.

Every Collier County library — 10 in all — has benefitted from the generosity of the Friends. All of them have received materials for their collections from the Friends, and the Friends also provided the funding for the first Internet connection and paid the salary of the first volunteer coordinator.

Programming funded by the Friends ranges from art exhibits to film festivals and the seasonal Author Lecture Luncheon Series that since 1980 has drawn well-known authors such as naturalist Dr. Roger Tory Peterson, P.D. James, Robin Cook, Patrick Smith, Cleveland Armory, Pulitzer Prize-winning Rick Bragg, James Patterson, Mary Alice Monroe and Nicholas Sparks.

Funds are raised through membership in the Friends and through the abovementioned author lecture series, which is the only Friends-sponsored program for which attendees must pay admission, as well as at the annual “Red, White & Routleet,” the casino night benefit coming up Friday, Nov. 2, at the Waldorf Astoria Naples.

To learn about how you can join the Friends of the Collier County Library System, call 262-8135 or visit www.collier friends.org. I hope you will consider becoming a Friend during the organization’s 55th anniversary year. ¦

— Maureen Sullivan- Hartung arrived in Naples in 1981. Following a year’s stint as a reporter for the former weekly Everglades Echo newspaper, she began freelancing. Her first book, “Hidden History of Everglades City & Points Nearby,” was published in 2010 by The History Press in South Carolina. Look for her Undercover Historian column every other week in Florida Weekly. Learn more at www.maureenwrites.com.

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