Retiring Tunbridge librarian checks out

  • On her last day working at the Tunbridge Public Library, Jean Wolfe checks books out with Scarlett Garran, 5, of Tunbridge, Vt., on Friday, April 30, 2021. Garran had picked out a big pile to take home. Wolfe has worked at the library for nearly 40 years. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • On her last day at the Tunbridge Public Library in Tunbridge, Vt., Jean Wolfe, right, hugs Catherine Freese, of Tunbridge, on Friday, April 30, 2021. Freese was the library's director in the 1980s and Wolfe took over for her when she left for another job. Mariah Lawrence, at left, is the library's new director. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Jennifer Hauck

  • Mariah Lawrence, left, and Jean Wolfe unpack new Chromebooks for use at the Tunbridge Public Library in Tunbridge, Vt., on Friday, April 30, 2021. Wolfe, 80, is retiring as library director after working there for nearly 40 years. Lawrence has been hired as Wolfe's replacement. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/1/2021 12:11:16 AM
Modified: 5/1/2021 12:11:13 AM

TUNBRIDGE — On a sunny day, the Tunbridge Public Library is really a sight to behold.

The back windows look over the fairgrounds for the Tunbridge World’s Fair and the rolling hills beyond. Light bounces through the skylights off the hardwood floors and area rugs, falling on the books on each shelf. Comfy furniture is grouped in the center, providing the perfect place to read or visit.

“Everything you see is a result of the hard work of volunteers,” Jean Wolfe, who retired as library director this week after working there for nearly 40 years, said Wednesday.

When Wolfe, now 80, started at the library in 1983, it shared a 1904 two-room schoolhouse with the town offices. In 2001, it moved down Route 110 to its current home, a historic house that the Tunbridge World’s Fair directors purchased as a gift for the library. It allowed Wolfe and volunteers to create a specific space for children and other community programs, among other upgrades. When the library moved, the whole town turned out to help cart books from one location to the next.

“The renovation of the house was done with the greatest respect for the fact that it is a historic building,” Wolfe said, recalling one day when an expert led a workshop for volunteers about how to restore plaster. “It was quite a privilege to work on the plan for turning an old house into a library.”

Wolfe’s involvement with the Tunbridge Public Library was almost serendipitous.

She had worked in a library while she was in graduate school and her husband, David, was teaching at a college in New York.

“I did not have a library degree,” she said. “I worked in tech services there and learned as I went with a really wonderful mentor.”

She had planned on attending library school before one of her young sons was diagnosed with leukemia.

At the advice of a doctor, the family moved permanently to Tunbridge so he would have room to run and play without worrying about his fragile immune system.

“I had, at that point, three little boys, and we read all the time,” Wolfe said. “I had been so privileged to live in a college town, and the library was such an important part of my upbringing.”

In the early 1980s, there was a chance the library would no longer continue. The librarian at the time stood up during Town Meeting and questioned the need for having a town library.

“It was one of those (moments) where you remember where you are at certain points in world history, but this time it’s local history,” Wolfe said. “A number of us got together immediately and said, ‘Yes, there is a use for having a library in Tunbridge. Let’s see what we can do about it.’ ”

The group met at dairy farmer Euclid Farnham’s house and figured out how to run the library. Catherine Freese became the librarian and Wolfe became her assistant. When Freese left to become the librarian at Sharon Elementary School, Wolfe stepped into the role.

“We worked together trying to create a library and it was all with volunteer help,” Wolfe said.

While libraries can serve as gathering places in communities of all sizes, it can be even more true in rural towns like Tunbridge, with a population of about 1,250. That’s something that Wolfe kept at the forefront during her decades at the Tunbridge library.

“The library needed to be a real community effort where the concerns of the people that came in were just as critical as supplying them with materials and information,” Wolfe said. “If someone was just retired or someone had just lost somebody, if you know about them as people you can treat them with caring and concern that would be appropriate.”

That’s a tradition that new library director Mariah Lawrence, who was born the year Wolfe started working at the library, will continue and grow. Lawrence, a Tunbridge resident with four children, started leading children’s storytimes at the library in 2018.

“I think that the most important things I’ve learned from Jean are about the people and the places in this community,” Lawrence said, adding that Wolfe talked to her about patrons’ favorite books, the genres they like and the contributions they’ve made to the town. “A library in a rural community is the center of community. It is the space of gathering, it is a space where people can share their assets, where they can meet new families.”

Wolfe encouraged Lawrence to take library certification courses and take on more roles at the library.

“She’s a wonderful mentor, friend and teacher. I’m very lucky,” Lawrence said. “I love that a library is a place that is the most pure example of self-directed education and I’ve always really been drawn to that.”

Throughout the years, Wolfe has witnessed growth in technology and trends in literature. She’s seen computers take on a more prominent role in library services, and young adult and children’s authors take on more complex topics.

She has seen generations of Tunbridge children grow up and help them check out their first books. She’s provided comfort, conversation and companionship to scores of Tunbridge residents.

“I love the people and really care about them,” Wolfe said. “In a little library, in a rural setting, it’s so much more personal.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

Valley News

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