The cover of the childrens book written by Joan Jarvis Ellison: The Year (I donated my mom to the library).
A shepherdess, wool artist and writer, Joan Jarvis Ellison is pictured here--surrounded by colorful wool yarn--at the Mercantile on Main, where she is one of the merchant-members.
Sketch of the library, prior to construction in 1988.
Newspaper clipping shows the group that gathered when ground was broken for the Pelican Rapids Public Library in 1988.
A “political” cartoon, published in the Pelican Rapids Press--promoting the library campaign.
Sketch of the library, prior to construction in 1988.
The Bookmobile came to Pelican Rapids in the 1960s. A permanent library was completed in 1988.

One of founders penned children’s book recalling 1980’s library campaign

By Paul Gubrud, Special Correspondent 

Years ago, when I moved to Pelican Rapids, I quickly noticed how much it was like the small town that I grew up in. Main Street was similar to Dawson’s, and I saw many familiar Scandinavian names, both in the phone book and in the cemeteries. 

But, when I looked for the library, I found that Pelican Rapids didn’t have one. How could that be? A town without a library?

Recently I heard of the children’s book, “The Year (I donated my mom to the library),” written by local author Joan Jarvis Ellison related to establishing our library. I had to check it out… at the library that is. 

Joan’s book is a thinly veiled fictitious account of what it took to create the library in Pelican Rapids through the eyes of a young girl. 

Abby, the young girl telling the story, talks about growing up in the small town of Loon Lake. As a young girl of 11 or 12, she was troubled by what she thought was the lack of friends. She also talks about her mother donating so much time to raise money for a library, and her father was not home for days at a time due to his work. Abby felt lonely and neglected.

If you remember the fundraising and building of the library back in the late 1980s, or if you know Joan, you will recognize the parallels.

“Some years, library volunteering was close to a full-time job,” said Joan.  “People who remember the years when we built the library will remember many of the scenes in the book.” 

I recently discussed the book and the history of the library over a cup of coffee with Joan. We had a stimulating conversation, and I learned what it took for Pelican Rapids to have a library. 

Pelican Rapids had not always been without a library. In the early 1900s, the village established a small library upstairs in the present Historic City Hall building, but it eventually fell into disuse.

Then the Women’s Civic Club and the Community Service Club saw the need for a library in the community. In the summer of 1966, they made arrangements with the school to open both the elementary and high school libraries to the public. It was well received, with 1,322 books circulated, most of them going to children. Sadly, the next summer, the program barely had a visitor.

When the regional bookmobile was established, it visited Pelican Rapids once a week. As word spread and people tried it, it became used more and more.

Then the Women’s Civic Club thought Pelican Rapids should have a dedicated library, and so it began. But that would take money… a lot of money.

A library board, with Pat Krekelberg as the chair, was formed to coordinate the planning activities. Countless meetings were held to discuss what the future library should be like. 

The building design and estimated cost were the first steps. Sources of funding for the estimated $250,000 project also had to be sought. The Minnesota Department of Education was willing to provide grant money for a portion, and the Pelican Rapids City Council made a commitment of $60,000. But still, nearly half of the required money would have to be raised through fundraising and donations.  

And so the fundraising began. Another group of like-minded people formed the “Friends of the Library” committee to raise more money.

Pelican school alumni were contributors to library drive

One of their ideas was to solicit donations from the Pelican Rapids High School alumni, one class at a time. Volunteers sifted through old yearbooks, found the names and addresses, and then sent letters asking for donations. 

It was a monumental task to do just one graduating class, but most Pelican Rapids alumni were contacted. A local alumnus of the class year would often be asked to sign the letters. It was worth the effort, and many alumni contributed. 

The library volunteers would meet at what was then KT’s Pizza (today’s Brown Eyed Susan’s) for coffee and spend their time folding letters, addressing, and stuffing envelopes. It took a lot of time.

Individual contributions poured in, sometimes as little as only $1 from a child’s piggy bank. Numerous people were happy to donate $5, $10 or $20. Many local businesses kicked in $1,000 or more each. The Pelican Rapids Fire Department also gave more than $30,000 raised through charitable gambling.

The money was beginning to come in.   

Volunteers also went to the annual township meetings in the area to ask for commitments. More money was raised, but more money was still needed.

The youth also got involved in fundraising. Carnivals were held to raise money with the late Roger Hildebrand’s Midway Show helping put on the fair. It raised additional money for the library fund, but at the end of the day, it didn’t meet the expenses. Roger wrote it off and donated everything.

Local and regional singers and musicians performed numerous concerts in the high school fine arts auditorium with the proceeds going to the library.

Some of us may remember the goal thermometer on the corner by Pelican Drug. It was there for several years in the late 1980s and rarely seemed to change. But once in a while, I would notice it getting closer to the goal of $250,000. 

1988 was year library campaign heated up

In the summer of 1988, the bidding process started, and in early September, the official groundbreaking ceremony was held.

Dan Elton’s architectural plans had been selected, and Minko Construction of Fargo began the foundation work a short time later. By December, the building had been erected, and under budget. The library was ready to open the following spring.

On May 7, 1989, the Pelican Rapids Library officially opened. Pelican Rapids had now lost the dubious distinction of being the largest city in Minnesota without a library. 

None of it would’ve happened without the Women’s Civic Club, the dozens of volunteers like Joan Ellison and Pat Krekelberg, and everyone donating to the betterment of our community.

“The library has consumed me for 30-some years,” said Joan. 

Author Ellison has penned numerous books 

Her dedication to the library is not the only thing Joan is involved in. Readers have no doubt read many of her articles in the Pelican Press.

Joan is also a writer of many books, mostly written about her insights to raising sheep and converting her wool into yarn. Her book, Shepherdess: Notes from the Field, won her the prestigious Minnesota Book Award in 1996. From Sheep to Shawl, My Sheep Can Dance, and How to Paint a Sheep are other of her books related to sheep and wool.

But not all of her writing has been about sheep husbandry and converting wool into yarn. She has also written several other children’s books, many of them unpublished as they were written as gifts for her grandchildren.  

New book on Refugee experience taking form online

Over the years, Joan has also been instrumental in welcoming newly arrived immigrants to town, as well as being involved with the multicultural committee and the Pelican Rapids Friendship Festival. 

Her nonfiction book, Faces of Change, is a distinctively Pelican Rapids book, featuring the profiles of immigrants and refugees when Pelican was becoming increasingly ethnically diverse.

Her most recent endeavor is a sequel to Faces of Change, titled Refugee. Through interviews, she explores the lives of immigrants ten, fifteen, twenty years after arriving in Pelican Rapids and establishing themselves here. 

“They came with high expectations and high hopes,” said Ellison.  “Have they found refuge?  Have they found what they wanted in America?”

Refugee is not in print but is available on her website

Many of Joan’s books are available in the Pelican Rapids Library. Check them out. I mean literally… check them out.