By Jonathan Turner, WHBF, OurQuadCities.com
The East Moline Public Library held a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday September 12 for the new Louis E. Woodworth Public Library, downtown at 740 16th Ave., culminating a 13-year process.
Director Laura Long said the renovated bank building (completed at a cost of $7.3 million) opened this past spring, but working with supply-chain issues, they weren’t ready to have a big public ceremony until Monday.
For the project — getting a new library downtown, planned since 2009 — the retired accountant and East Moline native Woodworth gave $1.4 million.
That was a total surprise, Long said Monday, since Woodworth has not lived in the area since his 1951 graduation from United Township High School. Former Mayor Bill Ward is a longtime friend and a huge library supporter, Long said.
“He connected us with Mr. Woodworth and that was very exciting,” she said. “We couldn’t have done it without his help.”
“He just has really fond memories of growing up in East Moline and coming here,” Long said of the former library.
The new building has more than doubled the square footage of the previous library building, with almost 22,000 square feet.
“The community’s generosity has been overwhelming,” Long (director of the library for seven years) said. “This is a true holistic endeavor, with support from the state, city, foundations, and most importantly our local philanthropists.”
“I hope it can be a model for other cities around the area,” she said of the public-private partnership needed to implement the project. The city committed staff time and $350,000 for the renovation.
The library has not increased its staff and is in the process of expanding its collections, the director said. “The big thing for me is that we have more space for people to meet,” Long said. “We have chairs and tables and study rooms and meeting rooms, and all that wasn’t available at the old building. We’re really excited for the community to come see us.”
‘It takes a village’
Library board president James Hoffman on Monday thanked many people for the project, including TBK Bank president John DeDoncker, who decided to donate the former bank building, “which was the key to our success,” Hoffman said. The two-story building (which was added onto) dates from the 1950s.
Long also was instrumental for realizing the building plans, dealing with all the contractors on a daily basis, he said. “The board had a lot of say in it, but let’s face it, she was the one day to day swinging the bat, making people toe the line,” he said.
Hoffman noted four board members passed away during the long process.
“It takes a village to do anything, especially when you’ve got a big public works project like this,” he said, also crediting the library staff and Friends of the East Moline Public Library volunteer group.
The Illinois State Library gave $2 million toward the project, which also raised $3 million in private donations.
Illinois State Rep. Mike Halpin (D-Rock Island) has kids ages 8 and 10, and even in this digital age of screens, his family values libraries and reading.
“This building is going to allow generations of children to discover that love,” he said Monday. “I’m proud to say the state of Illinois was able to contribute $2.1 million from the state library construction grant program. And that combined with the efforts of the city and all the private donations, helped make this possible. It’s truly what public-private partnerships are about.
“It’s working at all levels of government and with the community, to put important public projects together like this,” Halpin said. “I’m glad the state of Illinois could be part of that and this community has something very much to be proud of in the years going forward.”
Remembering a generous benefactor
Bill Ward, now 88, was high school classmates with Woodworth, and they were caddies together at Short Hills Country Club.
“He had nothing. The family had nothing,” Ward recalled. “They lived on 15th Avenue and 10th Street, East Moline, above a business.”
Woodworth got a caddy scholarship from Short Hills and went to Northwestern, majoring in accounting and business. He first joined an accounting firm in Cleveland and became very successful, Ward said. When Woodworth was in East Moline, he had three homes — his residence, Short Hills and the public library, the former mayor said.
“That’s where he spent all his time. He came to the library to get warm each night,” Ward said, noting his house was two blocks from the old library.
He recommended Woodworth donate to the new library project, though he has no known relatives still in the area. The only times he’s visited were in 2019 and 1979, Ward said.
“He’s still probably on another continent tonight,” he said, noting he’s still in regular contact with Woodworth — who still has three literal homes — in Seattle, Palm Springs, Calif., and Paris (“a five-iron away from the Notre Dame Cathedral”).
“He’s a very caring individual,” Ward said. “Besides the $1,465,000 he donated to this library, that has his name on the top of the building, he was a short, cocky, determined, a mover and shaker in high school, and he’s still that way today.”
Woodworth also invested in two East Moline churches, including Ward’s, in recent years.
He was Ward’s first boss at Short Hills, and still donates “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to the Chick Evans Caddy Scholarship Fund at Short Hills, Ward said.
“He still remembers everything here and he was a local boy that made good,” Ward said. “He’s donated his heart and his time and his money to East Moline. I appreciate that and I’m sure the community does. He doesn’t ask for any favors.”
A view of the new 22,000-square-foot East Moline library, twice the size of the old building.
Ward was on the library fundraising committee.
“This is a beautiful facility; it’s gorgeous,” he said of the renovated building. “It’s one of the best in the Quad Cities. It’s a place to come to, relax.”
It’s also important to restore and re-use a key building downtown, which went through many bank iterations, Ward said.
“It’s a connection for downtown. I’d like to see more small businesses established here,” he said. “I hope East Moline becomes a destination point. We have a lot to offer — we’re a blue-collar community and we always will be. But we also need people to come see us, come visit us.”
The new library should help attract new development downtown, Ward said. “It’s an uptick for downtown East Moline and I think it’s a great accomplishment,” he said.
The East Moline Public Library hosts over 100,000 patrons per year, and the additions made (including the literal 6,000-square-foot addition to the former 16,000-square-foot bank) created new space that is expected to increase annual attendance by an additional 25 percent.
TBK Bank replaced its old downtown location, with a new $1.5-million bank just next door, at 717 16th Ave., East Moline.