Library Foundation Honors Longtime Board Members

By Andy Meek

The Memphis Library Foundation, created in 1994 to organize and raise funds for the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, is honoring several longtime board members next month with an appreciation luncheon.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

Memphis philanthropist Honey Scheidt likes to describe the library as “the most democratic institution we have.”

That feeling informs her longstanding service on the board of the Memphis Library Foundation, the organization created in 1994 to organize and raise funds for what’s now known as the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.

Several other foundation board members have served on the board for years, some since its beginning. And next month, the foundation is honoring a group of them with an appreciation luncheon at The Peabody hotel, which also comes as the foundation celebrates its 20th anniversary year.


In addition to Scheidt, honorees at the luncheon Feb. 6 at 11:30 a.m. include Dunbar Abston, Jack Belz, Mike Cody, Leslie Dale and John Paul Jones. Jones is a former publisher of The Daily News and the father of its current president and owner, Peter Schutt.

The late Charles Leonard, former board president and campaign chairman, will be honored as well. Some of the group’s recognition will come in the form of a video presentation put together by Memphis filmmaker Willie Bearden that includes interviews with honorees.

“We’ve worked with Willie over the last few months to create the video presentation for this event, the long version of which will live in the library’s Memphis room,” said Diane Jalfon, the foundation’s executive director. “The honorees all played different roles in the library’s story, and they talk about those roles. It was an ambitious project at the time, raising money for the library.”

The event is open to the public – individual tickets are $60 – where they’ll be able to hear stories of how the iconic library facility came into existence.

The foundation got started with the goal of launching and conducting a capital campaign to help build the Central Library. The original goal was $20 million, and by the end of the campaign in January 2003 the foundation had topped that by bringing in $21.5 million.

Since the foundation’s start, almost $30 million has been raised to support the library’s work.

Alluding to Scheidt’s comment about its “democratic” nature, Jalfon stressed that the library system is about more than checking out and returning books. There are three people on staff, for example, solely to cater to area job seekers. And the library recently began acquiring tablets and iPads to help with literacy work.

“It’s evolving, keeping pace and innovating,” Jalfon stressed, adding that about 2,500 each day come into the Central Library, which the foundation board members being honored next month made “extraordinary contributions” to establish.

System-wide, nearly 3 million customers each year visit the 18 locations of the Memphis Public Library System, which gets a mix of public and private funding. More than 600 computers are available to use throughout the system, and more than 2,800 programs were offered in 2013.

Services include the library’s JobLINC mobile career services, LINC/2-1-1 telephone referral services, a TV and radio station, small-business center, laptops for checkout and free wireless Internet access. In addition to books, customers also have access to things like DVDs, records, compact discs and downloadable books for e-reading devices.