*Note: This essay was published in the Pikes Peak Bulletin print edition on October 3, 2019. It can also be found online here, an image of the column is included below, as well as the text of the essay.
When our historic Carnegie library building is finally fixed, I know who my vote is for the first to walk through that newly-accessible front door—Joanne Garrison. I’d wager nobody represents so well the past and future of our little library as she does.
“I first went to our library in 1934,” the 88-year-old Garrison recently told me. She would have been three-years-old back then, and we spoke as my four- and eight-year-old daughters played in the background, a juxtaposition of ages that helped me envision a little Joanne walking up those steps for the first time.
Her family has deep roots in Manitou. Her grandfather, Joseph Albert Meury, brought the family here in the late 19thcentury, in part because it reminded him of his native Switzerland. She spent the first years of her life on Lafayette Road, the winding, mostly-vertical street that connects Lovers Lane to Washington Avenue. As a little girl, she’d walk to the library and school on roughly the same route as my own daughters.
The world was different then. Little Manitou Springs was even littler then, less than one-third the population it is today, so the library building seemed a better fit for the smaller community.
At age 10, Joanne’s family moved to Midland Avenue on the other side of town. She still recalls walking out of Manitou Springs Elementary School, across Duclo Avenue, to the library. The visits paid off. She was the valedictorian of the (28 student) Manitou Springs High School Class of 1949, and went on to Colorado College.
After some time away, in the 1970s, Joanne returned to Manitou. That’s when she met and married Robert (“Bob”) Garrison, who served on the Manitou Springs City Council in the 1980s, as well as on the city’s chamber of commerce and library board.
When we talked about Bob, her demeanor changed. Joanne told me about how eleven years ago, when Bob passed away, one of his great regrets at the end of his life was that he could no longer use the Carnegie library building because it wasn’t (and still isn’t) accessible to those with physical difficulties. The library he had served for so many years—the library his wife had gone to as a child—was no longer one they could use. And as Manitou Springs had more than tripled in size since it was built, it also no longer met the community’s lifelong learning needs. So when Bob passed, the family made a financial contribution they saw as seed money—to inspire others to move forward on fixing the library—to expand it to fit the community’s needs and make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (so it wouldn’t be the only non-compliant library in the Pikes Peak region).
Joanne still seems upset that effort fizzled out. She says back then the effort “wasn’t a matter of the whole community seeing that an accessible library was needed.”
But she’s heartened by the MACH ballot measure initiative (ManitouACH.org), a wider effort to fix the Carnegie library building as well as to address the needs of other Manitou non-profits that have served the community for decades.
Joanne’s such a powerful voice on this vote in part because she’s well-informed, and pointed out that she’s still concerned about the fact that TABOR restrictions don’t allow the MACH ballot measure to explicitly specify the library rehabilitation. I pointed out that an interim agreement struck between the MACH committee and City Council in August and in September should be enough to prioritize the library rehabilitation.
While some might be inclined to think someone like Joanne merely represents the past, in a way, I think she’s uniquely qualified to speak to the city’s future—because she’s already seen it. She saw what Manitou Springs was in 1934, and what it is in 2019, an 85-year span that gives her significant insight into the city’s changes over the better part of a century. With range like that, who better to intuit the community’s needs?
If one of my daughters stays in Manitou Springs as long as Joanne has, their connection with this library and this city will last until into the next century.
And that’s when it hit me. That conversation with Joanne, with my daughters in the background, represented nearly two centuries in Manitou Springs—and the library is the common denominator in this story. From one little girl in 1934, to the next generation, and on to the next.
But it’ll only last if we invest in it. We’re the ones who’ll give Manitou’s past a future, but only if we vote Nov. 5 for the MACH to keep Manitou Springs strong.
And then Joanne may just get to be the first through that newly-rehabilitated Carnegie library building door, nearly 90 years after her first visit. What a great step toward Manitou’s future.