Library Namesake Makes Special Visit


Vernetta Smith, an elegant older lady with perfect hair and a kind voice, said she never imagined her name would someday grace the new Chehalis Timberland Library.

But, at Wednesdays ground-breaking ceremony, she wore one of the biggest smiles around.

Im amazed by it, she said. I never imagined my name would be on a building. My name isnt the type youd see on a building.

Smith lived in Chehalis for 25 years. She raised her four children, Orin, Michael, Kevin and Vicki, there. She now lives in Seattle, but made a special trip to Chehalis for Wednesdays ceremony.

The Best Years of My Life Were Here

She recalled the day last year when her family told her she was to be immortalized in one of her favorite places, the Chehalis library.

I was totally shocked, she said. I have wonderful memories of Chehalis. The best years of my life were here, raising my family, my parents being here. I thank God every day for the good life we had here, and the good life we have now.

Vernettas name will grace the yet-to-be-built Vernetta Smith Chehalis Timberland Library. Though fund-raisers have collected about $3.4 million (including Orin Smiths $1 million donation), the goal is to raise $300,000 more to cover any contingencies that might arise during the construction.

The project budget is $3.4 million. Organizers would like to raise $3.7 million before construction is completed next fall.

With a large project like this, we dont want to be caught off guard, said Brian Zylstra, co-chairman of the librarys capital campaign. Its good to have a financial buffer in place.

Fund-Raising Challenge

Orin Smith on Wednesday pledged to match whatever the community contributes to the project, up to $150,000, to help reach this final goal.

If the community raises $150,000, hell match that and get us to our $300,000 goal, explained Zylstra.

If the project stays on budget, that extra money would stay with the library.

Were going to work very hard to make sure the project stays on budget, Zylstra said. If we dont end up using that money, it will go to an endowment fund to pay for childrens programs, seniors programs, all library programs.

To get to the amount raised already, 253 people have contributed, many of them large donors contributing in excess of $50,000 or $100,000. For the new fund-raising push, fund raisers are challenging the rest of Chehalis to contribute what they can.

Helping Build

The old library hosted between 400 and 600 visitors a day, said Librarian Corine Aiken. The new library is expected to see about 900 visitors per day.

There are 7,000 people just in Chehalis and more outside the city limits, said Zylstra. We really want to encourage the rest of Chehalis to contribute, kids, parents, schools, scouts, civic groups and service clubs, everybody.

Special events, including author visits, are expected to take place over the winter to bring more attention to the library. Also, the library is planning an I Built It, Too campaign featuring the slogan on buttons.

Its important to realize that even though Orin helped tremendously, it hasnt been all him, said Aiken. Its taken everyone to contribute and it will take everyone to contribute, and to then to make the library live once its opened.

Drive-Through Book Window

The new 9,000-square-foot library will be built on the hill formerly occupied by the old Chehalis library and City Hall. The original Chehalis library was torn down Aug. 15. Its neighbor, City Hall, was torn down Sept. 10. After much site work since, construction of the new library is set to begin Nov. 1.

Included in the design are a drive-through book window, a 49-person multipurpose room, an expanded computer area, coffee cart, and a reading room with a fireplace.

The Chehalis library first opened in 1910. It was built according to plans approved by Andrew Carnegie, who provided $10,000 for construction. An earthquake in 1949 damaged the building and forced a remodeling of the exterior, which had been relatively untouched since.

Donations to the library project can be sent to the Friends of the Chehalis Library Building Fund, P.O. Box 419, Chehalis, Wash. 98532.

Amanda Haines covers municipal government and health for The Chronicle. She may be reached at 807-8245, or by e-mail at