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November 08, 2012Last Tuesday, I had a difficult duty to perform. Two retirement parties were going on simultaneously for two dedicated servants to our community, and not wanting to choose between them, I went to both.
Leona Bolch and Lu Conti were retiring after 30-plus years of service as managers of the Alpharetta Branch Library and Roswell Branch Library respectively.
Now before I wax too eloquently on what they have done for their respective communities, let me say that they both loved the work they performed. Leona and Lu were two special people who loved books, loved the people they served and did their jobs under adverse situations.
I met them 19 years ago when I first came to work for the Revue and News. I have always loved libraries as they provided me access to a world of learning and entertainment. I lived in Roswell and worked in Alpharetta so I made sure I was well acquainted with the library facilities in both cities.
As an avid reader, both institutions provided me with countless hours of entertainment and instruction. Libraries are a measure of the desire of the community's love of culture and learning. It was a sad legacy that the former Atlanta Fulton Library System Board of the '80s and '90s, dominated by Atlanta-centric interests, had failed the library system so miserably.
That Leona and Lu served so selflessly and with good humor through years of a lack of support is a credit to their dedication and desire to serve. Their retirements within days of each other have seen more than 70 years of institutional experience and dedication walk out the door.
It was an inevitable loss. The numbers tell the story. During the time I knew them, their respective libraries met incredible needs. Lu's library was either No. 1 or No. 2 in materials circulated. Leona's Alpharetta branch was licking at her heels despite housing a paltry half the square-footage of Lu's 20,000 square feet.
They fed hungry residents' desire for books, books on tape or CD, videos, DVDs and other materials. They did not worry much about the lack of support from above. They knew whom they served.
They did not do it alone. Almost every library has Friends of the Library. Local volunteers who work slavishly for their libraries to get books back on shelves, raising money for materials, equipment and the components to maximize their library's ability to serve the community.
I often wondered how Lu managed to keep up morale when a mean-spirited library board actually refused to accept a $20,000 grant for English as a second language instruction. That board took umbrage at the General Assembly for not granting them the right to decide who would receive it, and would have let the grant expire until on the last day the Board of Commissioners voted to accept it (by a scant 4-3 vote).
So in retaliation, that vindictive board deleted $20,000 from the Roswell Library's budget the following year. Thank God, there is a new AFPLS Board that sees their job as serving all of Fulton County and not just Atlanta.
That is why a $200 million bond referendum passed with almost 80 percent voter approval. We now have a board worthy of the public trust.
Lu and Leona will now have time for some well-deserved "down time." Both say they will travel and do the things they have always wanted.
But I have no doubt they will be back. Books are in their blood. And when the grand new edifices in Alpharetta and Roswell are built, they will be back. It's where they belong.