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Library History

Read how this library was established and how it has evolved to become such an important part of our community.


The Wapello Public Library was first opened to the public November 2, 1925 in the *Wonnel building.  
The first books were donated until funds had been raised to purchase newer publications.

Ladies of the Federated Clubs donated their time to conduct the business of the Library.
Myrtle Erwin was the first president to work on this worthy project.

Funds were raised by food sales, card benefits and home talent plays. The neighboring town libraries also assisted.  There was no money paid out for Librarian services during this time.

After three years, records show over 900 patrons had used the library.  There were over 1500 books available for check out.  Twenty six new books were purchased for the amount of $35.00.

In 1929, the Library moved to the front rooms of  *Wehmeyer building . With the increasing usage of the Library, the public requested a reading room and rest room facilities which were not available at that time in Wapello.
 It was especially needed for women and children who had no place to wait while their men folk were conducting  family business.

The Federated Club owned all the shelving and furniture in the Library and were able to comfortably furnish the new rooms, but they could not afford any more rent expense.

On March 6, 1929, the ladies of the Federated Clubs made the first request for aid to the Wapello City Council for the Library.

The letter to the City Council pointed out the Library was filling a real need in the Wapello Community.  

The ladies felt the Library had outgrown their volunteer field of endeavor and should be placed on a more permanent basis and more efficient scale of management.

To accomplish this greatly needed service, they requested the assistance and cooperation of the Wapello City Council to properly maintain the Library.  The City would then  assume responsibility for it as made possible by the Iowa Library Laws.

As provided by law, the City Council could establish a free public library which would be governed by a board of trustees, consisting of five members to be appointed by the Mayor, and with approval of the City Council.  This would guarantee the permanency of the Library and its proper management.   

This letter was signed by Myrtle Erwin, Edith McCullough and Lillian Keck.

While Fred Schwob was Mayor, the City proposed a tax levy, which was voted on favorably.   The Library became City tax supported in July of 1929.

The first Library Board of Trustees were Ed Ohlwein, Marion Barnes, Myrtle Erwin, Mrs. Mayme Thomas and Mrs. Lewis  (Lillian) Keck.
Mrs. Mayne Thomas served as the first paid  librarian beginning in 1929.  Her salary was $156.00  for the year.

In  December of 1936, the Library moved a third time to the *G.A.R. building.  The rent was $120.00 per year which included utilities.

The lease was signed between the Library and Ursula Wood Tent No 11,  Daughter of Union Veterans of Wapello, Iowa.  This  building was donated to the City of Wapello.

In 1960, Mr. and Mrs. Louis (Lillian) Keck offered to build the present Library, located at 119 North Second  Street, in memory of  his parents  Mr. and Mrs. John  (Anna Boddin) Keck

Askren and Nelson were the general contractors.  Library Board of Trustees during this time were Myrtle Erwin, Lillian Keck, Arlene Hoover, Fern Deihl and Jessie Torode.  
 Librarians were Mrs. Ben Pettis and Mrs. Charles Paris  

City Council members were Merton Askren, Edgar Lihs, Joseph Patrick Sr., Leroy Darby Jess McGill and John Williams.  A.R.Gustafson was Mayor.

On May 13, 1961, the dedicatory program was held and Keck Memorial Library was presented to the City of Wapello.  A.T. Wollenhaupt President of the Wapello Chamber of Commerce gave the welcome.   William O. Weaver gave the dedication address.

There were 10,000 volumes of reading material available for the over 800 local patrons at this time.

The 25th anniversary open house was held on May 13, 1986.  The Library Board of Trustees included Don Brown, Larry Kerr, Cindy Small, Margaret Weaver and Janet Williams.

Wapello City Council members were L.J. Thompson, Mayor, Bob Barrick, James Hodges, Kenneth Moore, John Stanfle, Keith Street, Richard Johnson and Larry Wagg.
There were 22,000 volumes on the shelves  and over 2500 patrons using the Library facility.

The *Zella W. McNeal Reading Room  which was donated by her family, was dedicated on July 16, 1989.  Mayor L. J. Thompson accepted the addition on behalf of the City of Wapello and Keck Memorial Library.

Since that time, Keck Memorial Library has expanded their hours, has been fully automated and has received State Accreditation .

The Library offers all types of reading and reference material, computers for public use  and a Reader Printer,  which is used frequently by those  in  Genealogy  research. All the area newspapers are on film.

The Library also has music tapes and  videos, a well supplied children’s section  and a special shelf for new  books and tapes.
There is a weekly story hour and a very well attended summer reading program.

Keck Memorial Library also serves the citizens of Oakville, which contribute to the support of the Library.

March 3, 1993, a Friends of the Library Group was formed.  This organization sponsors many programs thought out the year for patrons of all ages.

 The Tots ‘n Totters program for pre schoolers is one of the more popular programs.  A Winter Reading Series is also a very successful program.

The Friends offer a book delivery to shut ins and the Nursing Home.

The Friends also are willing helpful hands when needed to the staff at Keck Memorial Library.  The Friends receive  financial aid from the Wapello United Fund and  as well as  a great patron support base.

 In 1999,  there are 28,000 volumes for the 2500 plus patrons from the Wapello area.

The Board of Trustees includes: Edwin Bayne, Jack Poe, Steve Dickey, Neil Toland and Rose M. Carlson.

Keck Memorial Library has been most fortunate in having many fine members on the Board of Trustees who have served over the years to help keep  the Library one of the finest small town Libraries in the State. 

Keck Memorial Library has been used as an example of what a small town library can be with the support of the Board, City Council, Board of Supervisors and  many area citizens.

Head Librarians who have been a valuable source of information and aid to the  patrons over the years include, Mayme Thomas, Antoinette Barnes, Carrie Hurley, Estella
Christie, Lu Erwin, Marjorie Pettis, Mrs. Charles Paris, Ruth Kallenberg, Charlene Aspelmeier, Murry Stineman and Llewann Bryant.

*Notes of interest and word of wisdom by local citizens.

*John Keck migrated to Wapello from Germany in 1859. The Keck Family was  involved in many worthy projects in Wapello.  He was President of  the Wapello State Bank,  when it was organized in 1935. He also served as Mayor.

Mr. and Mrs. Keck were both very civic minded and deeply committed to the City of Wapello.  They owned the Keck Furniture store which also sold curtains, china, coffee, tea and flour.   He was also operator of Keck Bros. Funeral Home.
The Keck Theater building which was built about 1914 as a vaudeville theater and was later used as a movie theater still bears the family name. Now it is the site of a small restaurant and home to the Old Keck Theater Players.

*The Wonnell building was once owned by Eliza J. Mincher and later sold to Anna B.Wonn, who operated a dry goods and millinery shop.

The building was also the site of a florist, Kendrick Cafe,  Ruth Mills office and is now the site of Irish Ivy Flowers and Gifts .

There was an alley along the side of this building which over time blended the lines between England’s addition and old town Wapello.

*The Wehmeyer building is also known as Springer Apts. At this time owed by Larry Lihs.

 *The old G.A.R. building is where Wapello City Hall was located before the move to the new City Hall on North Main.

*Zella Wright McNeal was the daughter of Charles and Molly Wright born in Wapello June 30, 1883.  She taught in a country school just east of Wapello and spent thirty nine years teaching in various local schools in this area.  She and her husband Ralph McNeal raised four children, Katherine, William , Richard and Fred.  She was a member of the Order of Eastern Star, twenty year member of the Kensington Club and  honorary life member of the State Teachers Association.  She was an avid reader and encouraged all her students to read continuously.

 It is  certainly appropriate that her name  be associated with the Keck Memorial Library Reading Room.

*Keck Memorial Library at 119 North Second Street, is located on the former E R. Winter Insurance and Real Estate location.

This resource is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by State Library of Iowa.