Long Overdue: The Plainview Library

Story by Jeannie Stone

They did this backward, so to speak. But then nobody had ever started a library in the tiny town of Plainview before. All Brad Finkbeiner knew was how badly the town needed one.

Finkbeiner, a former pastor of the Missionary Baptist Church in New Bethel, began asking everybody to donate books because he wanted to build up a library. He decided to memorialize a book- loving friend, so he named the project after James Elmore.

Scott Gongola owned the Superette in town. He offered to store the boxes of books coming in for the library because there was no building designated for the actual facility.

“Brad gathered all these books, and they just sat around for two years,” Friends of the Library board president Dean Blalock said.

“When he moved to another town I asked the committee members what was the plan for the books, but nobody knew anything.”

About that time, the Plainview School District offered to lease a little yellow house to the group. Unfortunately, the condition of the house prohibited its restoration, and so it, too, became a storage facility. But with every step forward, the fervor in the community grew, and all the building pieces, miraculously, came together.

In 2006, longtime residents Bid and Louise Hopper purchased the property and a house formerly used as a church, located just a block off Main Street. They did so for the expressed purpose of donating it to the city for use as a library.

“Senator Sharon Trusty located a $5,000 donation to start us off,” Blaylock said. “She and Representative Nathan George have done a lot for this community.”

There are a lot of stories to tell about the birthing of the long- anticipated library.

“The list goes on and on. It’s just impossible to mention everybody who helped, and continue to help with this project,” Blaylock said.

First off, Mayor Doug Forrest and the city council agreed to pay all utilities, “and that is huge,” Blaylock said.

“With that taken care of, our largest expense is the insurance, which costs over $2,000 a year… but we raise that through our annual spring dinner in the school cafeteria and the BBQ sandwiches Bobby Smith makes and sells at our Frontier Days’ booth. He works at the Corps, but he has done this BBQ thing over and over, and he has developed an awesome recipe.”

In the library itself, Chambers Bank and Dr. John Westlake donated computers, Plainview First State Bank donated upholstered chairs, some leather to surround a table, and Charlie New, owner of New’s Office Supplies in Russellville, donated the copy machine.

“I had just gone in to ask him if there was a machine that we could buy for next to nothing, and he gave us this beautiful thing,” Blaylock said and gestured to the modern equipment in the corner.

The hodgepodge of shelving, amazingly, looks as if it were planned that way.

“A man in Lamar handmade these maple shelves on rollers and even delivered them to us,” Blaylock said. “The library in Fayetteville donated the metal shelves which make up our fiction section.

“An antique revolving bookcase, as well as the flag flying out front, was donated by retired school principal Jimmy Gowling. The bright pink metal standing, which sports Hubba Bubba logos, sits in the children’s room by the generosity of the Superette.

“A glass display case, which stores rare and vintage books, was donated by the drugstore in town, and the high school donated the antique card catalogue unit that is now sitting at the library’s entrance. Someone saw a similar one posted on eBay selling for $1,200, so we are real proud if it.”

She pulled out the drawers to show that audio books are organized in the bottom drawers.

“We file our books alphabetically because nobody knew the Dewey Decimal System,” she said with a laugh. “In the beginning, we were flying by the seat of our pants.”

River Valley Furniture in Russellville donated couches, and retired florist Billy Johnson altered the curtains.

“We have so many talented people that help out,” Blaylock said. Not all of their supporters, however, are permanent residents.

“We have people, who regularly camp at Lake Nimrod, that sign up for a library card. Usually, the first thing they say is that this place is so cozy, warm and comfortable. And they sign the guest book and tell us the ladies are so nice and helpful.

“When Bood Keithly from Chambers Bank first came into the library he remarked that it was just like Barnes and Noble,” Blaylock said with pride.

The library has 7,000 books in its current circulation with many more stored in the yellow house. The library has a reference section, a large fiction area as well as a nonfiction and inspirational area. There is a wide assortment of videos and DVDs to check out. There is children’s section in one room and a law section in another.

“Bob Hood, of Hot Springs Village, donated an amazing collection of law books which had belonged to his lawyer son before he passed away,” Blaylock said.

“We plan to move the law books into the fellowship hall and have this whole area as a war room.” Books on war, that is.

The collection of coffee-table quality books is staggering. Ray Ward, of Russellville donated 600 books which he had amassed over the years, “and they are just gorgeous,” Blaylock said.

The books feature ships, planes, sites and actual photos from both World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, even the Civil War.

“People come in and just sit and spend all afternoon looking at one or two of these.”

Ray Ledbetter’s widow also gave his vast collection of large picture books featuring foreign lands and people to the library. They offer breathtaking photography of our world.”

Supporters of the library are proud of the growing collection of Arkansas authors. AmongthoseisWidowedbySenatorSharon Trusty; the series by Northwest Arkansas author Wayne Hancock, which includes Gotcha, The Unlikely Predator, and 30 Days in May. They also carry Michael Pledger-Ball’s book Summer of the Secret Squadron.

And, of course, books have been donated by patrons in the community. An honor board lists many of those benefactors.

Some folks drop off donations in a box which sits at the front counter. These collected funds allow the library to purchase the incidentals they need such as paper towels, hand soap and toilet paper.

“At our fundraising dinner, Lavada Padgett, who runs Shinn’s Preschool and Nursery in Russellville, gave us $200 and gave us another $200 later.”

Padgett had told Blalock that Plainview was her hometown and she wanted to support the library. “She also volunteered during the summer story time program,” Blalock said.

During summer, children take over the library. Story time is offered, and several children within walking distance visit every day. Charles Lee Dearing was honored last year at the dinner with an award for “the youngest/best library helper,” Blalock said.

“His mother owns the drugstore around the block, and he comes, sometimes daily, to help us in whatever way we need.”

Blalock shared a story about a neighbor boy who also visited every day.

“Before we even opened, John David would come every day and ask if he could get a library card yet. Finally, I promised him that he would get the very first library card. Well, at a fundraiser, the mayor claimed he wanted the first library card, and I said, ‘Oh no, that’s already been promised to John David Green.’”

When the time came to issue the cards, Blalock, a retired teacher, made sure to keep her promise and created a special card for the boy with a big number one printed on it.

The meeting room, also known as the fellowship hall because of its former church function. It stores the many paintings and works of art which are not currently on display in the main library. Local artists D.J. Westlake, Marie Honeycutt, Minnie Smith and Denise Robinson, have generously donated their works.

“In fact, the elegant sign in the front yard was painted by Westlake and built by her boyfriend,” Blalock said.

The effects of the auspicious 2006 grand opening lingered in the community of Plainview as they celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2007.

The Friends of the Library board is made up of 10 “very” active members. They are: Dean Blalock, Mary Alice Cox, Mildred Cunningham, Rosemary Davis, Alice Garvin, Dixie Gossett, Sharon Hamilton, Marie Honeycutt, Eddie Howell, Billie Johnston, Jan Loney, Ann Mann, Marvalee Paul, Mary Lee Rice, Gee Spencer, Nadene Trantham and Jon Williams.

“We are non-profit, but we are self- sufficient,” Blalock said. Through the Experience to Work program funded by the state, Marvalee Paul and Mary Alice Cox work 20 hours per week. On Saturdays, however, volunteer Eddy Howell, the Methodist minister in town, opens up.

“He tells me he loves to be here where it is quiet, so he can work on his sermon,” Blalock said.

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