When the new Whitehall branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library system opens next year at 4445 E. Broad St., it is expected to feature a spectacular children's area.
The children's wing is being built with a gift from a librarian who for three decades quietly passed along her love of reading, particularly for children.
Officials from the city of Whitehall, Franklin County, Columbus State Community College and Columbus Metropolitan Library all lauded the construction of the new Whitehall branch during a groundbreaking ceremony Sept. 10 at a vacant lot on East Broad Street, but it might have meant the most to a woman seated in the audience.
Susan Snowden, 57, of suburban Chicago, flew to and from Columbus on the same day, Sept. 10, to represent her late sister, Carol Snowden, whose $750,000 gift to the Columbus Metropolitan Library will make the children's wing at the Whitehall branch possible.
"She loved kids and saw what a difference reading and education could make in the life of a child," Susan Snowden said of her sister, carol. "Being able to continue helping children was her dream."
Snowden said she plans to return for the library dedication, tentatively scheduled for June 2014, along with her sisters, Nancy Snowden and Peggy Murphy, and their mother, 92-year-old Virginia Snowden.
Their mother is credited with instilling a joy of reading in the sisters during their childhood in Peoria, Ill. Virginia had taken her daughters to the library each week and had helped establish the first library at her daughters' grade school in Peoria.
"That's where it began," Susan Snowden said.
Carol Snowden was a teacher in Champaign, Ill., and then worked as a librarian at the Commerce Library at the University of Illinois. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in education and earned her master's degree in library science from Indiana University.
After receiving her master's degree, she accepted a job at Columbus Metropolitan Library, spending her final 30 years working at the Whitehall branch.
While there, she led story times wrote preschool programs for Head Start and visited other area schools.
Her benevolence extended beyond Columbus Metropolitan Library as she also left about $70,000 each to the libraries of 10 other area schools, Susan Snowden said, as well as a gift to her grade school in Peoria, all totaling about $1.5 million.
Carol Snowden died in January 2008 at age 57 from ovarian cancer but had told her family members about three years earlier of her plans for her estate, built from acute investments and a frugal lifestyle, including driving well-used vehicles.
After she became ill, a will was established to ensure her declared intentions were carried out, Susan Snowden said.
"She would be so content to know her gift can be used in this new library," Susan Snowden said.
At the time of Carol Snowden's death in 2008, Columbus Metropolitan Library had not yet envisioned the construction of a new Whitehall branch, nearly three times the size of the existing branch where Carol Snowden had worked.
"We are building a 21st-century library to meet our current and future needs," said Patrick Losinski, chief executive officer of Columbus Metropolitan Library.
Alluding to orange paint on the grass, marking the exterior walls of the future 20,000-square-foot library, Losinski said, "It is hard to believe this open field will be a bustling library in one year."
Losinski acknowledged Susan Snowden and said that through her late sister's gift, it was possible for the library to provide a children's area on an "unprecedented" scale.
Mayor Kim Maggard, Franklin County Commissioner Marilyn Brown and state Sen. Kevin Bacon also spoke during the groundbreaking ceremony.
The audience also heard from who stands to most benefit from the new branch -- the children who will visit it.
Fourteen-year-old D'Andre Johnston, an eighth-grader at Rosemore Middle School, recounted first visiting the library when he was 7 to attend a summer reading program.
Today, he is a "VolunTeen" and continues his education to help other children visiting the library.
The existing Whitehall branch at 4371 E. Broad St. first opened in 1959. It was renovated in 1982, and an addition was built in 1993. However, that addition left the site with less-than-adequate parking, and that was one of the criteria used in selecting the Whitehall branch as one of two the Columbus Metropolitan Library had chosen to rebuild first as part of its 2020 Vision Plan.
The existing library has about 40 parking spots; the new branch will have more than 100. The size of the new library, whose construction is estimated at $7.6 million, will be more than 20,000 square feet, compared to the existing 7,466-square-foot library.