The woman who built the foundation of the “Finest Library in Small Town Arizona” is stepping down.
Becky Waer stunned the Isabelle Hunt Memorial Library governing board and patrons announcing last week that she would officially retire Friday, Aug. 16.
“I had originally planned to retire Nov. 28, 2019, but life sometimes throws curves and I am needed at home for family medical reasons,” Waer said.
“I will miss everyone who I have had the opportunity to meet and talk with over the past 18 years.”
Waer was hired as library manager in September 2001 after several years working at the Pine-Strawberry School as a special education aide and later as a library aide.
At the time she was hired, it was common knowledge in the two tiny mountain hamlets that the Isabelle Hunt Memorial Library was struggling from a lack of revenue and ineffective leadership.
“The library was having its own problems, and I heard the rumors (of its issues) going around,” Waer said.
At first she balked at applying for the vacant manager’s position, but later threw her hat in the ring by contacting then library board president Melvin VanVorst, who hired her on the spot.
“No application was filled out and with my limited knowledge gained working with kids at the school library, I began a new chapter in my life,” said Waer. “I didn’t know it would become an awesome 18 years working in the Pine library.”
During those first years, Waer learned the ins and outs of running the library from Harriet Follmer, a board member and volunteer who, Waer says, “Took me under her wing.”
Waer also received a helping hand from volunteer Fran Oestmann, who continues volunteering today.
Most every nonprofit in rural Arizona must have a league of supporters to provide much-needed support and financial aid.
Today it is the Library Friends who is Johnny-on-the-spot when the library needs a helping hand.
The active group meets monthly and hosts guest speakers and book reviews.
But an active Friends organization didn’t exist when Waer took over as manager.
“I remember taking an old volunteer list and the Friends list and calling for help,” said Waer. “Little by little as my pleas went out to the community my volunteer group expanded,” which brought stability to the Friends organization.
Next on Waer’s agenda was to convince the governing board to lay aside the money to hire an assistant which they willingly did.
As welcome as the hiring was, Waer had another huge obstacle to overcome — additional funding.
“Being a nonprofit plus our location in a small rural community brought on financial challenges,’ she says. “The funds from Gila County through secondary property taxes only kept the doors open.”
With the library struggling to pay bills, Library Friends and concerned community members came riding to the rescue much like the U.S. Cavalry in an Old West movie.
Soon the groups were hosting book sales at every summer arts and crafts show, operating a bookshop, holding raffles and selling See’s candies.
About six years ago, the “Wine Around the Library” benefit debuted to raves around the two towns.
Today it is one of the most eagerly anticipated social-cultural events in the high country.
“With more income, a staff, volunteers and the Library Friends, we were off and running.”
Looking back, Waer recalls a long list of accomplishments, including building community confidence in the library, designing and overseeing the construction of the “children’s room” which today is a hot spot for young readers. Waer also helped develop camaraderie between staff and volunteers so they could work together effectively.
Eventually, staff, volunteers and patrons blossomed into an extended family, “Bringing my life into theirs and their lives into mine ... we helped each other through heartache and wonderful times.”
In leaving, Waer is certain the future of the library will continue to serve the people and stay abreast of changes.
“The library’s role is changing ... technology changes how we deal with everything in the library.
Our community’s current growth will bring new ideas ... Change is always good.”