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Community comes together, opens library

It all started in 2006, according to Terry Mooney.  That was when Terry’s mother-in-law, Helen Mooney, decided to talk with the editor of The Maple Lake Messenger, Theresa Andrus, to suggest that a community library be started.  According to Terry, Helen went in to meet with the editor, stating that, “Maple Lake always had a public library in the old days; why can’t there be one now?”

Pretty soon, it seemed that everyone in town was joining the conversation.  The consensus was that it was a good idea.  And so a number of people volunteered to start the process of creating a library.

“Maple Lake is the kind of town where people pull together,” said Terry.  “If someone has a good idea,” she said, “people get behind it.” At first, the plan was to approach the Great River Regional Library and suggest that they open a branch in Maple Lake.  The GRRL currently has branches in 31 cities located in Benton, Morrison, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd and Wright counties.  As part of this plan, The Maple Lake Messenger ran a column asking for signatures on a petition to take to the GRRL’s Board of Directors, as well as donations of money and books for the new library-to-be.

It was late 2006 when the request was made to the Great River Regional Library’s Board of Directors.  After a hearing, the GRRL Board declined the request to open an additional branch in Maple Lake, citing budget constraints.  Also noted was the “10-mile rule,” which restricts new libraries from being added in communities that are within 10 miles of an existing branch of the Great River Regional Library.  Since both Buffalo and Annandale, towns less than 10 miles from Maple Lake, boast branches of the GRRL, the board felt there was not a compelling need to open a library in Maple Lake.

The decision by the Great River Regional Library Board was a blow, but it did not stop the group of library supporters.  They knew there was a lot of work to be done, but there was a lot of excitement, too.  So, by December 2006, the library proponents had set a meeting time and chosen a name for their group:  the Friends of the Maple Lake Library (FOMLL).  They began looking for a way to bring a library to Maple Lake on their own.

Soon, the FOMLL were requesting donations and books.  They sponsored used book sales to raise money, and worked with the city to plan a location for the new library.   Anticipating a combination city hall-library building in the future, they teamed up with city planners to apply for grants to fund construction of a new building.  The Friends of the Maple Lake Library even had a contest to inspire a logo design.  In May 2007, 13-year-old Andrea Paumen was the winner of the logo design, which came with a $50 prize.

The hard work of volunteers, the assistance of the City of Maple Lake and The Maple Lake Messenger paid off.  By October of 2007, FOMLL had filed their articles of incorporation with the Minnesota Secretary of State; by March 2008, FOMLL was approved by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.  By August of that year, the number of books that had been donated for the new library had reached a total of approximately 3,000 books.

With a new combination city hall – library building possibly years away, FOMLL, with financial assistance from the City of Maple Lake, made plans to rent a remodeled building that had once housed the Wright Theatre and was situated on a corner in the downtown area.  Volunteers helped with moving into the renovated building, assisting with final touches and bringing in the donated books.  Staff entered the books into the library’s computer system; donations of items for a children’s area and a purchase of used furniture and shelving helped the new space to come together.

On March 14, 2009, the Maple Lake Library opened its doors for the first time during the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Festival.  Helen Mooney, whose idea was truly the impetus for the new library in Maple Lake, cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony.

It was Helen’s telling of her husband Clayton’s stories about the old Maple Lake Library that helped to fuel the drive for the new library.  “It was a two-story building with the library in it and a dance hall on the second floor,” she told The Maple Lake Messenger’s Angela Stegeman in 2009.  Helen remembered that her husband had told her how he used to bring his mother to that second-floor dance hall.

Sue Sylvester, who has been very involved with the library project, is currently working on an archive of Maple Lake history.  Sue has searched for information about the original library, but has found it “very hard to trace,” she said.  Over the years, fires in town have destroyed documents and old newspapers, making Sue’s job even harder.  She did, however find a reference to a women’s club that started a library in the old city hall building in the early 20th century.  Organizing themselves as a “Mothers Club,” they had worked to establish a place where women could relax after doing their shopping downtown; the library was an addition to the “rest room.”  At that time, it was located on the second floor of the city hall building, which later burned down.

Sue also found a couple of mentions of a library in some 1920s financial documents, but by the 1930s, all mention of a library seems to have disappeared.  As Sue said, “By the time the Depression came around, it’s possible there wasn’t any money for that type of thing.”

We may never know the true story of the original Maple Lake Library, but its memory inspired an exciting new organization, staffed and run entirely by volunteers.  The old library also was the inspiration for a community effort that brought together the people of Maple Lake for a very good cause, creating fellowship, friendship and a feeling of togetherness.

Many of the articles and photos regarding the library’s founding have been documented in a beautiful scrapbook about the Maple Lake Library, created by Jeannie Fobbe, utilizing information provided by Terry Mooney and Theresa Andrus.  A copy of the scrapbook is kept in the reference section of the library.

The people of Maple Lake have worked hard to bring this wonderful treasure to their town, but there is still much work to be done.  The library has a plan for the future, said Terry Mooney.  “As part of our strategic plan to move the Maple Lake Library forward, we are looking for ways to expand opportunities for volunteers,” said Terry, explaining that she doesn’t mean just working at the library.  Volunteers could also be involved in program planning, archival work, grant writing, technical assistance, marketing and fundraising.  As Terry notes, “Whatever a person can offer that can help us move forward and develop an enhanced library facility – which will better meet the needs of Maple Lake and the surrounding communities – will be helpful.”

The Maple Lake Library is located at 74 Birch Avenue South in Maple Lake, Minnesota.  They are open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from noon-6 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.  The phone number is 320-963-2009; their website can be found at:

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