Distinguished Service Award Recipients

Brenda Brant (2019)

Brenda Brant’s service to Eau Claire’s downtown library began in her teen years when she worked as a page. Later on in college, she worked at both the McIntyre and L.E. Phillips Memorial Public libraries, preparing (and repairing) books for circulation. From there, Brant’s relationship with the library flourished as she actively participated in countless library events and programs. Ten years ago, Brant joined the Friends of the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, an organization built to enhance and support the library through fundraising and volunteer efforts, helping to provide the Eau Claire community with additional equipment, programs. and services.

Over the years, Brant has served the Friends of the Library as board Secretary, Vice President, and President. In that time, she harnessed her technical and professional skills to create a crucial donation database. She has also advised on ways to modernize and make the organization more efficient so even more can be given back to the library. Her work has truly moved the library forward, helping countless individuals along the way.

In addition to her time with the Friends organization, Brant has also served on the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library Board of Directors, advocating for the library (and libraries in general) in a myriad of ways, such as traveling to Madison and speaking with legislators about the importance of libraries to Wisconsin’s communities.

Of her work, Brant says, “I’m proud of the volunteer work I’ve done so far because not only has it helped me grow professionally and personally, but I believe I really have made a difference for something I’m passionate about. The library is so much more than a building. It’s a vibrant, ever changing and evolving space. I’m so lucky to have this library in my life, and I hope to continue to work with others to make it even better.”

Nancy Sowls

Nancy Sowls (2018)

Nancy Sowls has served with distinction as a library volunteer for fifteen years. She has successfully coordinated the Give A Kid A Book program for many years through the Friends of the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library.  This program, which goes beyond the borders of downtown Eau Claire, has brought significant attention to literacy and the library.  Nancy is on her second term as President of the Friends of the Library group and continues to be an advocate for the library and its mission.  Nancy genuinely cares about the volunteers and friends that support the library year-round.  Nancy’s ability to fund-raise through the Friends, which directly impacts the library, has been phenomenal.  She continually looks for ways to make processes more efficient and continues to help library staff in her role as President of the Friends of the Library by helping fill volunteer shifts personally, and with help from our volunteers through Friends.

Karen Overhulser (2017)

Karen Overhulser has served with distinction as a library volunteer for over five years. She has worked to secure significant grant support for the “Give a Kid a Book” program, which distributes books to children in the community who might not otherwise have books to call their own. Her reliable and generous contributions of time, creativity, and dedication to support the Friends of the Library book sale programs have contributed significantly to sustaining and expanding this valuable source of revenue. Through Overhulser’s inspiration and contagious enthusiasm, she has attracted many people and organizations into the Friends’ community of givers, and has been and continues to be an ardent supporter of the library.

Karen Peters (2016)

Karen has served with distinction as a library volunteer for over 15 years. As a driver for the Home Delivery Service (HDS), she provides valuable resources to those who would not otherwise receive them. HDS serves people confined at home or in a health-care facility due to illness, physical handicap, disability or lack of transportation. As a volunteer, Peters is compassionate and caring, and builds important relationships with those she serves. She is a shining example of diligence, dedication and reliability who has been, and continues to be, an ardent supporter of the library community.

Dr. Grace Rich (2015)

Dr. Grace Rich has served as the volunteer book sale manager for Friends of the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library since January 2014.  She has implemented several changes that resulted in increased revenue and improved overall event aesthetics at Friends of the Library book sales. She instituted debit and credit card payments at the book sales to make it easier for customers to buy books, and she started an online book store.

In addition, Dr. Rich has brought the library into the community in a positive way. She coordinates a program with the Chippewa Valley Technical College that allows selected student interns to earn credit by volunteering as members of the book sale team.  Each student completes a special project that aids in the success of the book sales.

When Dr. Rich began her work as book sale manager, she wanted to put books into the hands of as many people as possible. She and her team began selling worn paperback books at very affordable prices at the Festival Foods farmers market and began donating a selection of unsold books from Friends of the Library book sales to a local food pantry for people to take free of charge.

Susan Bruce (2014)

Susan Bruce was a member of the Library Board of Trustees from 2008-2015, serving as President for one year. She also served a term as the Library Board Vice-President and chaired the Development and Endowment Committee, which is concerned with building a library endowment, through donations, to assure long-term financial assistance through annual distribution of interest and income on the principle.
Mrs. Bruce has a sense for projects that are of long-term usefulness. She was one of the founding members of Friends of the L. E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in 1987. Since then, that non-profit organization has raised and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars and provided thousands of hours of volunteer service to the library. While a member of the Friends, she has volunteered for the Home Delivery Service, which serves people confined at home or in a health-care facility due to illness, physical handicap, disability or lack of transportation. Mrs. Bruce has assisted with book sales and ArtsWest receptions, helped prepare newsletters for mailing and worked on securing book bags, all the while encouraging friends and acquaintances to join the organization.

A long-term aesthetic addition that Mrs. Bruce initiated was the acquisition of the “Circle of Friends” sculpture installed outside the library on the corner of Dewey and Eau Claire Streets. After seeing the sculpture during the community’s sculpture tour, she felt strongly that the sculpture belonged at the library. She established an account with the Eau Claire Community Foundation to handle donations and independently began fund raising to purchase it. She found that a quite a number of people also thought that the library should have that sculpture. Tens of thousands of dollars later, the sculpture was installed. Her success inspired another group to raise money to purchase the “Jack’s Story Time” sculpture located inside the library at the entrance to Youth Services the following year.

Kathy Schneider

Dr. Katherine Schneider (2013)

Through voluntary leadership opportunities at the library, Dr. Katherine Schneider has heightened awareness of service to customers with disabilities and is a strong advocate for library access for the blind and those with other disabilities. Dr. Schneider, a retired Senior Psychologist from UW-Eau Claire, served six years as a member of the library’s Board of Trustees, including two years as president. Under her leadership, the library completed its first strategic plan. With donations of time and money, she supported the library’s capital campaign and led the Board through the largest renovation since 1976. She also has been actively involved with the Friends of the Library, serving as its president and then as the Library Board liaison for several years. She encouraged community involvement by spearheading writing contests that included essays on the topic of “Why I Love the Library” and library-related Haiku poetry. She continues to be a strong advocate for the library’s successful home delivery service.

Dr. Schneider’s advocacy efforts extend beyond the walls of the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library. In 2010, she was named Wisconsin Library Association Trustee of the Year. Each year during Library Legislative Day, she and her service dog visit state legislators in Madison, bringing them cookies she has baked and reminding them that libraries can be more accessible for persons with disabilities if sufficient funding is maintained. She has written two books, To the Left of Inspiration: Adventures in Living with Disabilities, a story about her own adventures in living with a disability, and Your Treasure Hunt: Disabilities and Finding Your Gold, a warm, honest portrayal of the treasure hunt that faces children when they have disabilities. She originated the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Awards for children’s books with disability content and, through a gift to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, she established the annual Schneider Disability Issues Forum, a speaker series designed to increase understanding of accessibility issues for people with disabilities.

Mildred Larson

Mildred Larson (2012)

Former Associate Library Director and continuing library supporter Mildred Larson contributed 27 years of service to the library.

When the library moved into its present location and had space on the mezzanine to display art, Larson implemented a program of rotating art exhibits. She initiated the idea for ArtsWest and worked with the library’s Visual Arts Committee to coordinate this annual juried show for regional artists. ArtsWest is now in its 33rd year and has spurred the growth of the arts community in and around Eau Claire, providing a place for people to view art in all its various formats.

Due to Mildred Larson’s interest in providing educational programs, the library began holding many more free programs on such topics as fiction, poetry, gardening, movies, music, and wild birds. She wrote, and was awarded, numerous grants to fund such activities. As an off-shoot from one of these programs, a group formed the library’s first book discussion group, and that inspired the formation of additional book groups, then a writers’ group. So many of the activities taken for granted at the library today grew from Mildred Larson’s initial idea about the broader educational environment she felt a library should foster.

While working for the library and after she retired, Larson served the community and the State of Wisconsin in other ways. She served on the Arts Committee for Luther Hospital and the Arts Committee for the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and she was a member of the Chippewa Valley Montessori Charter School Board of Directors. Larson served as President of the Wisconsin Library Association, President of the Wisconsin Center for the Book and Chairman of the Wisconsin Humanities Council and she helped start the Chippewa Valley Book Festival, for which she currently serves as coordinator. In yet another facet of her public service interests, Larson was President of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. Her involvement and leadership in major organizations at the city and state levels enhanced the visibility and prestige of Eau Claire and the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library.

Joan Schnagl

Joan Schnagl (2010)

Joan Schnagl has served as a library volunteer in many capacities, having been especially active in the Give-A-Kid-A-Book (GAKAB) program.

She started as a member of the committee in 2002 and served as co-chair for many years. She recruited other volunteers (including her husband of 50 years, Norm) and helped with sorting, shopping, and sending thank-you letters to donors. She delivered books to agencies and worked with the Salvation Army for distribution. She was also eager to work in other areas of the library where needed – tallying MORE surveys, serving refreshments at receptions, assisting with book sales and helping with the endowment campaign. She served as chairperson for the Book Marks Remembrance committee.

As one of the Friends of the Library stated, “If Joan believes in something, she will wholeheartedly give it her all. And she has done so for the library.” A long-established Eau Claire resident, Schnagl taught at the Chippewa Valley Technical College in the Medical Records field until her retirement. She graduated from St. Scholastica College in Duluth, Minnesota. She was also a volunteer at Meadow View School (where she started a book drive for the Give-a-Kid-A-Book program) and a Board Member of Bolton Refuge House.

Mary Jurmain

Mary Jurmain (2009)

Library advocate and ardent supporter Mary Jurmain served on the Library Board of Trustees from 2002 through 2008, the last two years as President of the Board.  She served as Co-Chair of the Library’s Capital Campaign and provided steadfast day-to-day support to the Campaign through which nearly one million dollars in public pledges were raised. She articulately and effectively presented the library’s accomplishments, plans and financial needs to the Eau Claire community. Former Library Board President, Katherine Schneider, remarked that what she appreciated most in Mary’s leadership of the board was “Mary’s sustained commitment, her energetic championing of all library causes and her interest in learning about library needs and issues. She is the kind of leader who won’t ask anyone to do something that she wouldn’t be willing to do herself – she led by example.”

Jurmain said that the award meant a lot to her “because the library means a lot to me. It’s one of my most favorite places on Earth.” Jurmain said she would not have been able to accomplish as much as she had for the library without the generous support of fellow board and committee members, library volunteers and her husband, Rick.

Jurmain is CEO and President of Realityworks in Eau Claire. The National Association of Women Business Owners named Jurmain the 2001 Wisconsin Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year.

Emily Moore

Emily Moore (2008)

Emily Moore served as the first administrative coordinator of the Friends of the L. E. Phillips Memorial Public Library from 1991 through 1995, setting a high standard for future incumbents. She served in a significant and important role in the creation of Library Links (the Friends of the

Library newsletter) and served as its first editor. Moore oversaw a three-fold increase in the membership of the Friends of the Library and helped create programs including Give-A-Kid-A-Book and Junior Volunteers.Moore served with distinction on the Library Board of Trustees from 1997 to 2004. She served as Secretary of the Library Board from 1998 through 1999 and again from 2000 through 2002; Vice-President from 1999 through 2000; and President from 2002 thorugh 2004. As President, Moore oversaw the establishment of the Endowment Fund for the library and under her leadership over $200,000 was raised for the Endowment. In her role as Board President, she articulately and effectively presented the library’s accomplishments, plans and financial needs to the Eau Claire City Council and worked vigorously to promote the library in the community. She has also served in important leadership roles in no fewer than fifteen other programs and organizations in the Eau Claire community. Moore is currently the Executive Director of Feed My People Food Bank | Wisconsin Food Bank in Eau Claire.

Robert Fraser

Robert Fraser (2007)

Experienced advocate Robert (Bob) Fraser has been a long-serving, staunch library supporter, dedicating immeasurable hours and tireless effort over his many years of service. He served with distinction on the Library Board of Trustees from 1985 to 1991 and 1999 to 2007, holding the office of vice-president from 1988 to 1990 and president from 1990 to 1991. He returned to the Library Board in 2010. He was instrumental in the successful establishment of the library’s endowment fund in 2003 and was also a founding member of the Friends of the Library, serving as that organization’s vice-president, president and past-president.

Past Library Board president, Mary Jurmain, regards Fraser as an invaluable board member. She says, “He has a keen interest in the library, the university, and the city, and a wealth of knowledge about all of them. He’s been an articulate spokesperson for the library customers, a careful steward of the taxpayer’s money and a kind and caring friend.”

Dr. Fraser joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 1967 as an Assistant Professor. Dr. Fraser has a BA and MA from the University of Rochester, New York, and a Ph.D. from Cornell University; his specialty was British History. He retired as a professor in 1995.

Cleo Powers

Cleo Powers (2006)

Longtime book sale chairperson Cleo Powers was the first recipient of the Library Board’s Distinguished Service Award (DSA).

Powers has organized and coordinated the library’s book sales since 1999. She has contributed countless hours and inspirational leadership to the success of dozens of events. Volunteers repeatedly return to assist with the sales, remarking that Powers has exceptional group leadership skills and a knack for treating them with great appreciation and grace. During her tenure, profits generated by the event have increased dramatically. Proceeds from the sales are used to fund special purchases and projects provided by the library to the community.

Powers credits the hard work and dedication of volunteers for the success of the library’s book sales. “It’s been amazing to watch the sales expand,” she says. “I’ve met a lot of neat people.” An Eau Claire resident for many years, Powers retired as an associate professor from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She holds a Masters degree in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.