Library gets $2.3 million gift

Most mornings, Tesh Wickard could be found sprawled in a comfortable chair near the fireplace at the Brown County Public Library, reading the newspapers and magazines or chatting with friends.

“The library was like an extension of his living room,” said longtime friend Cynthia Miller.

That’s why she was not surprised when Wickard left his $2.3 million estate to the public library, in an endowment to be used primarily for improvements or maintenance.

It is the largest single donation ever made to the Brown County Public Library, according to the Brown County Community Foundation, which handled many of the gifts when the library was built.

This gift will be celebrated between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. April 23 in the meeting rooms on the lower level of the library, with a presentation scheduled for 2 p.m. Light refreshments will be served, and everyone is invited to attend.

The endowment is set up so that only interest earned can be used, the principal is never touched and the funds will be ongoing, library trustees said in a news release. Spending will be the responsibility of the public library board of trustees, with oversight from the Wickard endowment board.

One of the first projects planned is to modernize and revamp the checkout area at the front of the library, said library board of trustees member Bob Gustin.

“Tesh Wickard’s gift builds on the history of generosity from the community that allowed Brown County to build such a beautiful and functional library,” said Kathy Roberts, president of the library board of trustees. “It also seems fitting that Tesh was a quiet, but consistent, patron of the library, because his gift will ensure the vital, but often unseen, maintenance of our library long into the future.”

Born June 10, 1924, to Solomon and Faith Tesh Wickard, he grew up in the Flora area. Tesh was an only child who never married. Except for relatively small bequests to a few cousins and friends, the bulk of his estate went to the library. He died Oct. 31, 2014, and the endowment was incorporated last summer.

“Tesh valued the importance a library plays in the community. This kind gesture is a gift to all of Brown County, not just the library,” said Stori Snyder, director of the library, in a news release.

Snyder said Tesh made himself at home in the library, often sitting with one leg thrown over the arm of his favorite chair. A plaque noting his gift to the library is being prepared, she said.

Although his parents owned a productive farm, Tesh wasn’t interested in running it. When his parents retired, they sold the farm and moved to Nashville. Tesh served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, finished his bachelor’s degree in business at Indiana University and did post-graduate work in economics. After a short time at working at Eli Lilly Co. and teaching at Culver Academy, he found his place at Hauser High School in Hope teaching business and worked there for most of his career. He was a lifelong enthusiast of the theater and belonged to a dance group in Indianapolis. He moved to Nashville upon retirement.

“He worked in education all his life,” Miller said, “and education requires good libraries. He saw that aspect of it, too.

“He was very lighthearted and upbeat. He just loved to be around people.”

She said he was content to live in Nashville and loved the camaraderie he found at the library.

“He had found his place in life, and that was here,” Miller said during an interview at the library.

Tesh specified that the funds be used for maintenance, expansion and repair because “he didn’t want to see this institution deteriorate like so many do without ongoing support,” she said.

The library was built in 2000-01 at a cost of $3.9 million, including the purchase of the land, Snyder said. It was financed through donations and a public bond, to be paid off in 2019, she said.

The library has a couple of nest eggs for maintenance, including a tax-funded “library improvement reserve fund,” she said. But none are close to the size of this gift.

Snyder said future projects could include carpeting, roof replacement, heating and air conditioning systems, floor reinforcements, library layout changes and reserve emergency funds.

The majority of the library’s tax funding each year goes toward operating expenses, such as paying salaries and buying materials to be loaned out or used by patrons and building maintenance, Snyder said. Another six-figure portion goes toward paying off the bond.

“This is a great benefit to the library; however, it doesn’t alleviate or remove the need for regular governmental funding,” Snyder said. “Other sources of funding are still important because these (gift) funds cannot be used for purchasing books, programs or staffing.”

As a visitor, Tesh bought new lamps for the reading area, said retired library director Yvonne Oliger.

“Tesh was very special to our library life,” Oliger said.

“If he saw something that was needed, he would stop by my office and tell me what was missing and offer to help.”

Miller and her husband Bob are executors of Tesh’s estate. She said in a press release that while he was careful with his money, he loved to be surrounded by beautiful antiques and art, and he became quite knowledgeable in Asian artifacts. Expensive automobiles were an extravagance he allowed himself.

“We also loved his cars and when he got a new one we would go outside to look,” Oliger said. “My personal favorite was the Thunderbird.”

Library staff members also remember his cars, as well as his love of certain magazines.

“Tesh was always asking for the newest People magazine,” said Lila Johnson. “He would read it before we processed it and give it back. He liked to read in the quiet area but wasn’t always very quiet,” she said. “He read the newspapers almost every day.”

He told Lucy Pruitt he read People to keep up with popular culture. Diana Wright said Tesh also loved looking at books describing beautiful homes like “Hollywood Homes” or homes with elegant décor.

“Sometimes we would go back to the reading area and he would be slouched all over a chair just like he was home,” Oliger said.

“That was his greatest gift to all of us. He thought the library was home.”

If you go

What: A celebration of Tesh Wickard.

When: 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 23, presentation at 2 p.m.

Why: To mark the donation of an endowment of more than $2.3 million to the Brown County Public Library. The Ken and Helen Reeve Genealogical Research Collection also will be celebrated.

Who: The public is invited. Light refreshments will be served.

Genealogy research materials available

The centerpiece of the Brown County Public Library’s genealogy section also will be celebrated April 23.

Kenneth and Helen Reeve collected stories from Brown County residents, and during their lifetimes, they assembled about 280 local family histories.

The collection was given to the library several years ago. The histories may not be checked out but can be used by the public during regular hours.

It has been named the Ken and Helen Reeve Genealogical Research Collection.

Library Director Stori Snyder said the collection has drawn visitors to the library from many areas.

The Reeve donation will be noted during activities scheduled for 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the reading area on the upper floor of the library. The program begins at 2 p.m.

The Reeve collection is an important part of the library’s family research collection, which also has editions of the Brown County Democrat on microfilm dating back to 1914. The Democrat is also available online at the library, current to within the past 90 days.

A recent addition to the library is the acquisition of the World Collection online version of newspapers.com. The database can be accessed at the library, but also through home computers with the use of a library card. Newspapers.com contains newspaper archives from the 1700s to the 2000s. More than 3,000 newspapers can be searched from the United States, England, Ireland, Canada and elsewhere, including the Brown County Democrat, 1914-1963; the Columbus Herald, 1942-1963, and the Columbus Republican or Republic, 1872-1963.

Ancestry.com’s library edition is also available for use at the library.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, well known for its genealogical collections, has designated the Brown County Public Library as a FamilySearch Center. That means library patrons may request microfilm from the Family History Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The center contains a wealth of census, military and other government records, along with an extensive newspaper collection. The center will send requested microfilms to the library, where patrons may view them before they are returned to the Family History Center.