By Sarah Naron
GRAPELAND – In honor of National Library Week 2018, which kicked off Sunday, April 8 and will continue through Saturday, April 14, Harry Pridgen, president of the Board of Directors for the Grapeland Public Library, took time to speak to The Messenger regarding the importance of the organization.
“We’re more than a library,” Pridgen said. “We do fax. We do computers. People fill out job applications – all kinds of stuff.”
According to Pridgen, the library sees “quite a variety of people” and offers a number of activities to its visitors.
“We have a genealogy class every other Tuesday,” he said. “We have a guitar class one night a week. Some ladies meet here for yoga three afternoons a week.”
Pridgen added that individuals who do not own computers or are not familiar with how to use the Internet can come to the library for assistance with tasks such as making online purchases.
Books are also delivered by the library to local shut-ins upon request.
The library also offers a children’s program, which Pridgen said is in the process of being rejuvenated.
“It is not very strong now – the group of children that we had have gotten big, and we have yet to build another base,” he explained. “But we’re working on it. We expect to have a strong one soon.”
Located just outside the library is a rose garden named in honor of Jesselyn Cutshaw, who was among the library board’s original members.
The library features a genealogy room which was sponsored by Dr. Ruth Simmons, the current president of Prairie View A&M University, who was born in Grapeland.
“She’s not only the first female president of an Ivy League school, she was the first minority president of an Ivy League school,” Pridgen divulged. “She was president of Brown University.”
As Pridgen explained, Dr. Simmons appeared on a PBS program called “Back to Your Roots” a number of years ago.
“She chose to have it done out here in the rose garden,” Pridgen said. “She came in and looked. PBS came in and looked. She fell in love with the place, and she financed this room. So, we’re kind of proud of that.”
Pridgen also provided information on the history of the library.
“Once the Methodist church built their new church out on the bypass, this building was vacant,” Pridgen explained. “My cousin, Brent Pridgen had a vision that the city should have a library.”
Brent Pridgen’s desire was one which was shared by his mother, and the two purchased the building and began the process of starting the library.
“They had a lot of help from some pretty distinguished people,” Pridgen said. “Some of the original board members were Dr. David Gallant; he was an English professor. Dr. (Edward G.) Cutshaw’s wife was instrumental in the beginning of the library.”
Pridgen shared that a donation was recently received by the library from a gentleman who also holds ties to the library’s beginning.
“His father-in-law was somehow connected to the Fort Worth City Library,” he explained. “He helped them get started.”
The library, which will celebrate its 16th “birthday” later this year, has been “quite successful,” according to Pridgen.
“We don’t see a hundred people a day, but this is Grapeland,” he said. “We serve people here from Slocum and the Elkhart area. Several years ago, the public library in Palestine closed – the building fell in, and they were closed for a number of years. We got people coming there from that. We don’t just serve Grapeland. A lot of our genealogy people come here from Crockett.”
As a 501(c)(3) organization with only one paid employee, the library relies heavily on the assistance of volunteers and donations from the public.
“We will nearly always take volunteers,” Pridgen said. “Presently, we have a full staff.”
As Pridgen explained, the library is open three days per week for 10 hours each day, and one volunteer is on staff throughout each half of the day.
As a fundraiser, the library hosts a rummage sale twice per year.
“It coincides with the bluegrass at Salmon Lake, Memorial Day and Labor Day,” Pridgen explained. “People come to it year after year and visit here year after year and buy stuff. We’ve come to know a lot of those people and look forward to seeing them.”
In addition, a chili cook-off and bake sale – along with a special opening of the rummage sale – were held at the library last month.
“We did very well with that,” Pridgen reported. “We had five teams enter the chili cook-off, and everybody had a good time. It’s something we can build on, I think. Other people have expressed interest in it.”
As a result of the bake sale and chili cook-off, a total of more than $1,038 was raised for the library.
The library is located at 212 S. Oak St. in Grapeland. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information, visit www.grapelandlib.org.
Sarah Naron may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.