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Comanche County Public Library

Photo by John E. Williams. Color additions by Christy M. Fitzsimmons

And, I think I'm the ideal one to do the bragging, since I didn't have one single solitary thing to do with it being there. I just passed by one day going to Production Credit and there it was...a beautiful building designed by O'Neil Ford of San Antonio, some 4,500 square feet of building space snuggled between two magnificent Live Oak trees and filled with the beginning of a wonderful collection of books for young and old and all ages in between.

The library is available to the entire citizenry of Comanche County regardless of race, color or creed, just for the asking.  How amazing!  Have you visited your Comanche County Public Library lately? Well, I have, and it started me to wondering just how this beautiful, spacious facility that everyone in Comanche County should be very proud of, came to exist.  With these questions in mind, I started to write about the history of our Library but finally gave up.  Let me just touch on the highlights of it's development and fruition, hoping to enlist your interest in going to our library and reading it's history for yourself.

It had it's beginning some thirty-seven years ago (in 1960).  A group of thirty or so public spirited citizens got together and held their first of two meetings in the parlor of what is now the First Methodist Church. From these two (or was it three?) meetings came the Comanche Public Library as a non-profit citizen's corporation.

From the more than thirty original members came a steering committee - or better said, a "working" committee of five. Among these original five were (who else?) Margaret Ann Waring, along with Rena Owens, Alice Ebell, Judy Wilkerson, Julia Jo Baxter, and Phyliss Ellis, all dedicated workers for community good. These five, supplemental help from their families, and others l am sure, kept the Library going in the Courthouse basement for five years (no salaries or perks involved). His name is not mentioned, but I know that within reason Ernie helped Alice as needed (and still does).

I do remember Phyllis Ellis as one of the loveliest girls we ever knew who was very active in our Methodist Church and in the community at large.  And, it pleases but doesn't surprise us, to learn that she has continued to be a radiant, joyous person through the many years since moving away, touching the lives of all those with whom she is in contact with in such a positive way.

After five years in the Courthouse basement, the Library was moved to a building on the square.  It became a member of the Texas Library System in 1970, which provided the opportunity to apply for a federal grant to enable the financing of a building of their very own. The final project cost of $170,000 was financed by 30% federal funds, 12.5% each from the City and the County, and the remainder, some $76,000 was financed by private contributions from individuals and local businesses.

I think I'm correct in saying that nearly all the fine collection of books have been acquired through donations and memorials. In 1995, the Comanche County Public Library received a challenge from the Charles E. and Sarah M. Seay Foundation that, upon our raising $40,000 they would match it with an additional $40,000.  Local people over-subscribed their share by $10,000 and the Seay Foundation graciously matched the extra dollars.

But the real reason I became interested in this bit of local history is not only the 4,500 square feet filled with reading material encompassing the ages, but the beautifully-designed building itself, situated between two magnificent live oak trees.  Just how did it happen to be located at this particular spot?  Who selected the location and who provided the building site?  Well, at the time the building was to be built, Tiny Burton owned the lot and Editha Dudley had fond memories of days when that was her childhood home, when she watched her brothers and sisters climb those two live oak trees.  Herbert Williams reminisces that not only did he and his brothers (but not Editha) climb those trees, but Dr. Klingman's two boys and other boys joined in the fun.

With Tiny Burton donating half of the lot and Gail and Editha Dudley buying the other half, the next question was the selection of an architect and of course, there were various opinions expressed as to the merits of various architects. I hope Editha Dudley will forgive me if my recollection of her recollections vary from her exact wording. As I recall, at this time a young man by the name of John Dudley was attending Trinity University in San Antonio (and I think a young lady called Ginger was as well).  Be that as it may or may not be, Gail and Editha made occasional trips to San Antonio and Editha admired the architecture and the color of the brick of quite a number of the buildings in the area and wondered who the architect was and also the origin of the brick.

I think Gail came actively into the picture somewhere at that point:

  • found the architect to be a gentleman by the name of O'Neil Ford
  • found out that he was one of the outstanding architects of his time
  • this very unusual color brick was imported from Mexico.
Again, as I recall Editha's account, she and Gail were spending the night in the St. Anthony Hotel in downtown San Antonio.  Gail looked up Ford's number and called him and if these are not Gail Dudley's exact words, they kind of sound like Gail to me

"Mr. Ford, my name if Gail Dudley. I am from Comanche County in Central Texas. Now, I have never in my life borrowed a book from any public library, but we want to build a library in Comanche that I and any other citizen of the county can borrow any book they need on any subject. We have $170,000 and we want the very best library that amount of money can buy.  We also want it built with the same brick you are using in these local buildings you have built and we want you to design and build it!"

Thus the deal was made over the telephone between two men of considerable talent in their respective fields of endeavor and now you know we have a Comanche County Public Library constructed of brick from Mexico (and all this happened before NAFTA!).

I have been hesitant to mention any more names, other than those mentioned because so many, many have been involved and have contributed so much time and talent, however, in recent years the names of Helen Croft, Stewart Caffey, and Quay McCall, keep coming up and of course, John Earl Williams, Foundation Chairman.  And, how can one mention John Earl without Helen? See there, I knew I shouldn't have started mentioning names. For example, who were those public-spirited citizens who served on the Commissioner's Court and the City Councils and all the individuals who first met, planned, endorsed and worked toward the realization of this dream?  Whoever they were, some are no longer with us, the Comanche County Public Library is and will remain a memorial to them for many years to come.

And now, dredging up a very old childhood challenge, I double-dog dare you to find any library in a county the population of ours that has anything that remotely compares with our Comanche County Library nor any library in any town large or small with a Library Staff to match our Margaret Ann Waring, Chief Librarian of 37 years, Mary Hart, Assistant Librarian since 1980 and current Clerk, Katy Creek. 

Have you visited the Comanche County Library lately? Well why don't you?

Printed in The Messenger magazine, July/August 1997