ALPHARETTA, GA. – Leona Bolch has been the face and heart of the Alpharetta Branch Library for about as long as most city residents have been able to read.
Library manager at Alpharetta for the last 25 years, she is retiring after 39 years in the Atlanta-Fulton Library System to do some traveling, visit friends and family and all those other things she always wanted to do.
“I want to learn to play bridge again,” she laughed.
Bolch grew up in southwest Atlanta and attended Southwest Atlanta High School. She later lived in Ben Hill before her parents bought a farm in Douglasville when she was in college. Out of college she joined the Army’s Special Services – no, not as a Green Beret, but in library services – to see a bit of the world.
“I did too. I was in Germany and Italy, and I got to hitch on government flights that took me to Thailand and India,” she said.
She returned to Atlanta after military service and went to work for the AFPLS serving in many capacities including librarian at West Hunter Branch, branch manager at Stewart-Lakewood Branch and as coordinator of the Model Cities program that was an outreach program to serve Atlanta communities.
But ultimately her longest connection was here in Alpharetta as branch manager from 1983 until Oct. 31 of this year.
“At first it was just one room in City Hall. The Police Department was in the basement and Alpha Drugs was upstairs where I was,” Bolch said. “I lived on Brooke Street. So I would watch my son Jay walk home from school every day.”
Oh, Alpharetta was a small town in those days.
“I remember when there was just one traffic light in town. There have been a lot of changes,” she said.
For many years, the Roswell and Alpharetta libraries were the only branches above the Chattahoochee River. And in terms of circulation, they along with the Sandy Springs Branch were the top three libraries in the system.
But you have to remember, Sandy Springs Branch was 25,000 square feet, Roswell 20,000 square feet and Alpharetta only 10,000 square feet. Today, Northeast Spruill Oaks Regional Library and Robert E. Fulton Regional Library at Ocee have taken some of the load in North Fulton, but Alpharetta still rivals for the most circulation.
“When Spruill and Ocee opened, they cut our circulation in half, but now it’s up to where it was before,” she said.
She credits The Friends of Alpharetta Library, an all-volunteer support group, with making it possible to keep books on the shelves and for buying the many “extras” that improve the library’s service.
Of course, libraries today do much more than circulate books. It is a center for job searching, networking and Web surfing.
“In today’s economy, a lot of people look to the library for all sorts of media for entertainment, too. They check out movies on disc, music as well as books,” Bolch said.
Then there is much for children to do at the library. She recalled mothers bringing their children to hear “Ladybug” Hiesel, the children’s librarian, read to them.
“Then those children grew up and brought their children to be read to by Ladybug.”
Another favorite memory was when Congressman Ben Jones – perhaps best remembered as “Cooter” on the ‘70s show “The Dukes of Hazzard” – would come and read also.
“He loved to come and do things like that. It was natural for him being an actor,” Bolch said.
Bolch is excited about the new 25,000-square-foot library planned as part of downtown’s City Center. She said there are going to be study rooms and individual computer rooms as well as an auditorium for meetings, programs and other presentations.
“It’s going to be a really great thing for the city,” she said. “And I’m going to enjoy coming down her and letting other folks wait on me.”