The New Buffalo Senior Woman’s Club saw the need for a library in our community in 1938. Club members picked up books here and there, and community donors helped provide funds in the beginning. The Library started with 400 books and volunteers performing the tasks of librarians in the old school building, which later became the Village Hall and currently is the site of the City Hall. The first Library Board members were: Dorothy Seaman, Chairman appointed by the Village Council; Olive Stromer, Secretary; Otto Svejda, Treasurer; J. E. Barlow, Trustee; J. M. Littlejohn, Trustee; Janet Van Wert, Publicity Agent.
In 1939, the Village took over the library and it was moved from the Village Hall into an unoccupied room at Shoreline Cleaners on Whittaker Street. Rent was $10 a month. After only two years of existence, it was evident that the Library was definitely growing and needed stable financing. In the 1940 election, the voters approved support for a library and thus the New Buffalo Township Public Library became official.
Early paid librarians were Emma Deaver, 1939, and Eileen Marx, 1939-1944. When Marx resigned, Minnie Guhl was hired, and guided the Library’s development until her retirement in 1960.
In 1944, another source of income came along……….State Aid. The Library qualified, but Miss Guhl had to resign as Board President in order to remain librarian and had to attend a library summer camp. Today, the Library still abides by the State’s guidelines and receives State Aid based on the census figures for our area.
The growth of the Library meant that expenses were also growing. Up to this time, the expenses were paid for by the Township. In 1955, voters approved a separate millage for the Library, which today is still the Library’s main source of income.
By 1960, the book collection had grown to about 10,000 with an annual circulation of 14,400, and there were 700 registered patrons.
Clara Raz, a Library Board member, took over the librarian duties when Miss Guhl retired in 1960. The Library finally found a permanent address in 1961, when the former Bank of Three Oaks building on U.S.12 was purchased. Children’s story hours were held on Saturdays and summer reading programs were held every year. The Library was able to borrow books from the State Library and continued using a book rental service in addition to purchasing books. The patron list grew and the collection expanded.
Librarian Clara Raz resigned in 1965. Ramona McCort, a Library Board member and assistant to Mrs. Raz, was hired to be the new Director. At this time, the Library began serving Chikaming Township residents in exchange for ½ of that township’s share of county penal fines. Now, the Library was serving residents of New Buffalo Township, the City of New Buffalo, and Chikaming Township. The Library continued to grow and expand its collection, and began opening up on Monday evenings from 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Eleven years after moving into the building located on U.S.12, plans for an addition were underway. Purchasing adjoining property did not work out. Addition plans were eventually changed to relocating and constructing a new building in 1977………the first new library building in New Buffalo. That new location is our present site at 33 N.Thompson Street. The lot was purchased from Adelaide Farina for the sum of $6,000. The building was constructed in 1978 with the main floor being used for library services and the basement for storage purposes. It was built by Pearson Construction Company of Benton Harbor for the bid price of $149,100. Voters of the community were not asked to support any additional funding to pay for this building. Instead, Library Board Treasurer at that time, Joseph Balsanek, secured many donations to help meet the cost of construction. The old library building was sold to Dominic Farina for the sum of $38,000, and a mortgage for $60,000 was secured to pay the final costs of construction. The mortgage was quickly paid off by October of 1982. During this time, the Library had its first photocopier available for patron use
In the latter part of 1983, Ramona (McCort) Balsanek became seriously ill and was unable to carry on the duties as librarian. Her daughter, Merry McCort Pirkel was hired in January of 1984 to help out with library duties. In September of 1984, Merry was hired as the new Director. During her 11 years as Director, the Library saw major changes as did many other libraries across the nation as the automation age moved forward. When the first staff computer arrived at the Library, the typewriter was being used to catalog all materials, the wooden card catalog with its many drawers was the source of finding materials, and you had to sign your name on the book card when checking out. The computer age had arrived, and slowly the manual ways of doing things began to be replaced by computerized programs.
The Library building underwent a major change. More floor space was needed for materials, and it was time for the basement of the Library to have barrier free access. Plans were made to excavate the street side of the building and open up the basement area with windows and an entry door. At that time, construction grants were being given through the Library of Michigan. Our Library was fortunate to secure an $18,000 LSTA grant if we had matching funds. Those matching funds came from a very loyal patron, Dorothy Armington, who donated $25,000 to complete the project. The remodeled lower level of the Library became the new children’s area, and the main floor adult department had room to expand. Once again the Library undertook a major building project and was able to do so with the help of others without asking the voters for additional funds.
Director Merry McCort-Pirkel was sure the future was in automation, and New Buffalo was the first library in Berrien County to try automating its collection. It worked. However, a few years later in 1991, technology changed and we automated once again using a more sophisticated automation system.
The Library now had a complete automated system, and the manual card catalog was removed. A laminator service was added and a microfilm reader and fax machine were purchased. Entertainment videos and books on audio cassette were collection additions. The Director was looking forward to the Internet becoming a part of the Library’s resources when she became seriously ill and passed away in November of 1995.
Bonnie Kliss, the cataloger and bookkeeper at the Library since 1985, was hired as the director and served the library for eleven years. Julie Grynwich was hired as director October 9, 2006 as Bonnie retired and became the bookkeeper once again.
Why are we a township library when we are located in the city? Many people have asked that question. When New Buffalo Township voters approved support for a township library in 1940, the city did not exist. The village of New Buffalo became the City of New Buffalo and in the dividing process, it was agreed that the Library remain a part of the Township.
History has a way of always repeating itself, and once again the library outgrew the current building. In July of 2012 the City and Township formed the Library Building Authority to go to the residents for a millage to build a new library. The Pokagon Fund generously awarded the library a $900,000 grant toward the construction of the new building. In November 2012 the citizens of New Buffalo voted in a 5 million dollar millage and with the Pokagon Fund grant the dream of the new library was realized. Construction began in April of 2013 with the demolition of the current library building. The operation of the library continued in a temporary building owned by Bert and Carlene Shedd on Madison Ave., until the Grand Opening of the new library facility, on August 16, 2014.
The Library is a place where people of all ages are welcome, and encouraged to visit! Read the daily newspaper, look at a magazine, get a good book to read, download a good book to read, take home a DVD to watch, look up something on the internet, have fun at Children’s Story Time, or be part of the activities sponsored throughout the year……….all of this is available to the people of our community through tax support and other sources of income. Donations helped fund our first two library buildings and move us into the future! We are so appreciative of your monetary support of our library and accept all donations now for library operations. Without your support our history would not have happened, and the library board and staff look forward to serving our community for years to come. Thank you!
Librarians: 1938 New Buffalo Senior Woman’s Club Members (established and operated)
1939 Emma Deaver
1939—1944 Eileen Marx
1944—1960 Minnie Guhl
1960—1965 Clara Raz
1965—1984 Ramona McCort Balsanek
1984—1995 Merry McCort-Pirkel
1995—2006 Bonnie Kliss
2006 – Julie Grynwich