'So much in return' Conway woman's mission is to find a need, then fill itREAD ONLINE
Director of regional library system to retire after 34 yearsOriginally Published December 2, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated November 30, 2012 at 12:12 p.m.
CONWAY Ruth Voss never intended to be a librarian. Yet now, after some 34 years as one, she is retiring from what she says is a job she dearly loves every day.
“There are times I think, ‘I can’t retire. There’s so much to do.’ That’s what is called circular reasoning, I think,” she said with a smile as she talked with visitors in her office at the Faulkner County Library in Conway. “It’s nice to be busy, but someone once told me, ‘You will know when it is time to retire.’ And that time is now. It’s time for someone younger with more energy to come aboard.”
Voss, 65, will officially retire Dec. 31
as director of the Faulkner-Van Buren
Regional Library System, although
she will work part time until her replacement is hired. A reception will be held
for Voss from 3:30-6 p.m. Thursday, with a presentation at 5, at the main library, 1900 Tyler St. in Conway.
While she has no immediate plans for after her retirement, she said, “I could be happy just spending my life reading.
“I read all the time. I also like crossword puzzles, and I love to take photographs. I’m an armchair birder, and I love to be outdoors working in the garden.
“I also have about 20 years of home repairs that I need to do, and I may do a little traveling, although I really am a homebody.”
Voss is the daughter of the late Vern and Lela Chronister. Voss said she was “hatched” near Alton, Mo., deep in the Mark Twain National Forest.
“I was a home birth,” she said quietly. “My [maternal] grandmother, the late Nora Parrott, was a highly esteemed midwife, and she delivered me. All of us — my older sister and my younger sister — except my brother, who was born in a hospital in Colorado, were born at home. It was very rural where we lived.”
Voss said her father was a farmer.
“We would have probably stayed [in Missouri] except my father got sick,” she said. “He was a volunteer fireman and worked on forest fires. He contracted TB, and they sent him to a hospital near Springfield, Mo. When he came out, he wasn’t able to farm.
“He became an office-repair person and was offered a job in either Scottsbluff, Neb., or Conway. When he found out there were three colleges in Conway, he said, ‘That’s where we are going. I want my children to graduate college.’”
Voss moved with her family to Conway in 1957 when she was 10 and the town’s population was 8,000, she said.
“I graduated from Conway High School in 1965,” she said. “I attended the University of Central Arkansas, known then as Arkansas State Teachers College and then State College of Arkansas. I actually think my diploma says SCA.”
After graduating in 1969, Voss taught seventh-grade reading and eighth- and ninth-grade English at Conway Middle School, where she would remain for five years.
“I loved, I dearly loved teaching,” she said, “but I found teaching the same thing over and over again too restraining, too confining. I loved the children. They were like my surrogate children, but I left teaching and found myself in need of a job.”
Voss said a neighbor of hers at that time told her the Conway librarian, Dula Reid, was retiring and that she should apply for the job.
“I was just so dumb; I did just that,” she said, laughing. “And the library board hired me.
“I worked as Mrs. Reid’s assistant from 1978 to 1980, when she retired,” Voss said, noting that Reid was the first and only librarian until her retirement. (Information found on the Internet said Reid was hired in 1943.)
“I always meant to be a teacher,” Voss said. “I never meant to be a librarian, but I found the job as a librarian one challenge after another, so I stayed.”
Voss would go on to receive a master’s degree in library science from Texas Woman’s University.
“That kept me busy for a while,” she said, “and then the Friends of the Library said, ‘We need a new building,’ and that campaign really kept me busy.”
The library was once housed in the old jail on the courthouse square.
“The county had just approved a 1-cent sales tax to build a new jail, and there we were, being squeezed, with no place to park,” Voss said. “Patrons were asking, ‘Why do the prisoners get a new building and we get nothing?’”
With the help of the Friends organization and other community leaders, a 1-cent sales tax for one year was passed in 1992, and the library moved into its current location at 1900 Tyler St. in 1995.
“Our first day of business was March 27, 1995,” Voss recalled. “That’s my birthday. That was quite a present.”
That 1-cent sales tax was earmarked not only for construction of the Conway library, which was to be the headquarters of the Faulkner-Van Buren Regional Library System, but also for the construction of three library branches — Greenbrier, Mayflower and Vilonia. The Twin Groves branch was added in 1998, and the library in Mount Vernon became part of the system two or three years ago. The public library in Clinton is also part of the regional system, which now oversees the library in Damascus as well, bringing the total number of libraries in the regional system to eight.
“I don’t see how we can help from growing in the future,” Voss said. “I realize this is certainly a more complicated political time, but I really think the next person who fills this job will see the needs that must be filled.
“Our smallest branch is Mayflower, which is a 2,000-square-foot building with little parking,” she said. “And it served 2,000 people last year. There’s also talk about building another branch here in Conway. There is a lot of room for growth.”
Being a librarian for 34 years has been “absolutely wonderful,” Voss said. “It’s a combination of everything that I am passionate about: reading and books, and the education of all — children and adults alike. It’s about community service, too. I really think the library should be an integral part of the community.”
Voss said she has had little time to become involved in civic or community organizations, and she hopes to get more involved.
“I plan to volunteer with the Friends of the Libraries, the Faulkner County Historical Society and the Bookcase for Every Child program,” she said. “I’m not quitting. I’m not shutting down. I’m just changing gears.”