Richardson checks out after 29 years

Published on Thu, Nov 20, 2003 by Jack Kintner

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Richardson checks out after 29 years

By Jack Kintner

After 29 years, the book is closing on Kathy Richardson�s library life.

�I love this job, and still look forward to it every day,� Richardson said recently in reflecting on her nearly three decades of running the local library.

Richardson opened Blaine�s library building on Third Street in 1988 and said she was surprised to learn that a number of local people didn�t know that Blaine even had a library, let alone one that at the time was 77 years old.

In time, Richardson compiled a brief history about the library, with help from Lorene Botta and Clare (Mrs. Peter) Larson. She developed a list of local librarians and their years of service, and found out that her 29-year tenure is by far the longest among the 12 who have been in charge of the local facility.

As a child the Bellingham native used to walk to Bellingham�s Carnegie Library at 1414 Commercial Street (now a vacant lot) from her Broadway Park house. �I remember their phone number, 978,� she laughed, �which didn�t switch to seven digits until they moved in the late �50s.�

The youngest of three children, her family loved fishing, and on opening day, her brother Tom caught the biggest trout at Toad Lake while she caught the biggest one in Lake Whatcom, a five-and-a-half pound rainbow trout, �on a little pearl wobbler, maybe an inch long.�

Her sister Janet (Mrs. Tom) Miller of Anacortes remembers her as a �devious little sister, a practical joker� who liked to hide Miller�s precious mail, mostly love letters from her future husband who was fishing in Alaska.

Richardson�s mother Tillie was a trainer for Campfire Girls, helping set up local groups, among them one for girls on the Lummi Reservation. She died of cancer while Richardson was entering high school in 1955.

Richardson played flute in the Bellingham high school marching band that went to the 1957 Rose Bowl, �but the director told us we had to carry flags since no one could hear the flutes anyway,� she said. Before graduating in 1955 she met Weldon, her husband of 43 years, then a trumpet player and a senior at Western.

The young couple arrived in Blaine �the same year as the freeway,� Richardson said, 1963, and planned to be here two years at most. �But it�s a wonderful place,� Richardson said, �great to work in and raise kids.� The Richardson�s have four. Mike is the oldest followed by twins Jeff and Scott and the youngest, their daughter Lynne.

In 1974 Richardson answered an ad for a job at the library, then in a room at city hall, �and the man I met there for the interview, instead of asking questions, just showed me the room, gave me a key to its outside door, said good luck and left,� she smiled. By that time it had been a branch of the Whatcom County Library System (WCLS) for 13 years, and she became the manager not long after being hired.

�The move to our present building gave us almost six times the area to work with,� she said, �and was a wonderful project that involved a lot of the town.� The collection went from just over 4,000 volumes to well over 20,000, and the interior of the building, designed by Bellingham architect Scott Piper, has the same light and airy feeling as the downtown branch of Seattle public library where Richardson once worked.

She�s carefully kept scrapbooks full of photographs of her time at the helm, almost all of which are of people instead of just brick and mortar or empty rooms. WCLS director Joan Airioldi calls Richardson an ideal branch manager.

�She�s created a warm and welcoming atmosphere here that reflects both her love of people and her well-developed professional skills. We wish her well but sure hate to see her go.�

Richardson herself is looking forward to retirement, as she�ll be able to visit grandchildren in Florida and spend some time with her husband, Weldon, currently serving as a customs consultant in the Balkans until next fall.

Anyone with photo ID proving county residence can get a free library card granting privileges at both the WCLS and Bellingham public libraries.

Virtually any book (probably not the Guttenberg Bible) at any library in the world is accessible through interlibrary loan. Books can be renewed at the WCLS website:

Library history
The 5,400 square foot building is the first to be built here specifically to house the Blaine Library, though that had been the dream ever since the beginning.

Four local families tried but were unable to persuade Andrew Carnegie to build a public library in Blaine (as had been done in Bellingham, Port Angeles and a few other northwest cities), so they started their own with private donations. Surplus books came from the Seattle public library.

A grand opening was held in the summer of 1911 and the Blaine Free Library was set up in a ground floor room in a house on the west side of Peace Portal Way at Martin Street, now a vacant lot, and the first librarian was a woman known as Mrs. Daley.

The library moved several times in the next 15 years, first to the old Odd Fellows Hall (where Wolten�s Hardware is now). During World War I it was moved to two upstairs rooms in the old Home State Bank Building, at one time home to one of Blaine�s two competing phone systems and site of Blaine�s earliest European settlement, a couple named Whitcomb who arrived in 1860 and moved in with a bachelor named Compton. They homesteaded on the south side of Drayton Harbor 10 years later, eventually selling out after almost 40 years to George Willison, the man who built the Home State Bank.

In the early 1920s the library moved again, across the intersection to what later became Amsberry�s Variety Store. The librarian in those days was Martha Barnes, with her husband one of the four couples who had earlier petitioned Carnegie (the others were Kingsley�s, Simonds�s and the J.L. Smiley�s). She kept censored books available but on a special shelf, and reportedly was shocked when one of them, Maupassant�s �La Mare au Diable,� was also available from the Blaine high school French teacher.

In the late �20s the books were stored behind the city�s utility office in the old Leader building at the corner of Third and Boblett streets. City hall moved to its present location on H Street and the library followed in 1932. Belle Montfort took over as Blaine librarian for 10 years, introducing the Dewey Decimal system.

Beginning in the �80s, a number of the communities where WCLS has branches built new facilities. Blaine was one of the first. Richardson said that Carol Post was among those who first got the idea, though a list of all those involved would be about the same as a Blaine phone book might have been in those days.