Forever Friends

By on May 8, 2017
Laura Brandt peruses "Old School" at the Ephrata Public Library. The book written by Tobias Wolff, is the centerpiece of The Big Read.

Laura Brandt peruses “Old School” at the Ephrata Public Library. The book written by Tobias Wolff, is the centerpiece of The Big Read.

Friends of the Ephrata Public Library have raised about $881K between 1984-2016 and donated about $50K per year since 2010

By Patrick Burns

Friends of the Ephrata Public Library may be gone but it’s certainly not forgotten.

The group officially disbanded at the end of March when it turned over the reins of the library’s used bookstore to the regular library staff.

Jill Shober Hilt, Friends president since 1997, met with Lorraine Bowman, a fixture with the Friends since it launched in 1983, during the last workday at the bookstore March 30.

Invariably, the discussion led to the Friends’ massive book sale that became a huge fundraiser for the library.

“But it is a lot of work,” said Bowman, who is 70. “Last year during the book sale, I actually hit the wall. I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Bowman tallied about 600 hours as a volunteer in 2016, just as she has done for the last 10 years since she retired from her job. She has plowed on despite shoulder surgery and hip and knee replacements.

“It’s all from lifting books,” said Bowman who was in charge of sorting the thousands of books donated to the library into 43 categories. “I’ve tried over the years to get somebody to help me, to take over some of the responsibility but nobody would do it.”

Hilt arrived after a brief conference with Joy Ashley who took over daily operations of the bookstore April 3.

“I’m going to miss it,” Hilt said. “It’s not something any of us were happy about doing but I think I’m finally over the hump of sadness.”

All of the members of the Friends of Ephrata Public Library, which in its prime totaled more than 300 people, feel that sadness, she said.

Friends have raised about $881,000 between 1984 and 2016 – partial numbers for 2017 are not yet available.

Jill Shober Hilt (left), president of the former Friends of the Ephrata Public Library, and Lorraine Bowman (right), a fixture with the Friends since it launched in 1983.

Jill Shober Hilt (left), president of the former Friends of the Ephrata
Public Library, and Lorraine Bowman (right), a fixture with the
Friends since it launched in 1983.

“Everyone who was an active member of the Friends of the Ephrata Public Library loved books and wanted to be able to help people and children be able to read,” Hilt said. “That was our real passion – to help the people in our community have the best library possible and have lots of books to read and be available to them.”

Phil Eisemann, who wrote a comprehensive history of the Friends, singled out special praise for Hilt, Bowman and Becky Irvine.

“There can be no doubt, under the leadership of these three women, the Friends has been vital to the existence and growth of the Ephrata Public Library,” he wrote.

The Friends history is heavily focused on the book sale, which had become so labor intensive that Hilt arranged to have inmates from Lancaster County Prison help setup.

“They were wonderful,” she said. “I think they really liked to get out and truly appreciated the home cooked meal we served.”

The library board ran the first book sale at Connell Mansion in the early 1980s. It sold about 2,500 books and netted $250. Since then, book sales were held on Fulton Street, at the Ephrata Fair, and at the Pioneer Fire Company, along with entertainment and other sales of food, flowers and other items.

Later book sales were held at the railroad station and all three library locations, including when it was in the Pretty Colonial Box on Fulton Street.

As in previous years, Friends’ members fear there will be space problem.

“The book sales process has been an exercise including social interaction, pleasant chaos and learning,” Eisemann wrote.

He remembers sorting books stored in banana boxes while setting up the book sale at the Fulton Street library.

“The books were transported by the borough to Ephrata Manufacturing where they were stored in basement of the office building,” he said. “When it was time for the sale, the Friends used paper contributed by Science Press to cover all of the shelves in the (closed) library.”

Book sales grew to $2,735 in 1987 and $4,200 when it first moved to a multi-day event at the banquet room at the Pioneer Fire Company in 1990.

“Thursday was preview day,” he said. “Persons willing to pay a $5 fee got first choice.”

The book sale became a year-round activity based on three workers collecting, sorting and storing books donated daily at the library. The Friends estimate that 10 percent of books are junk &tstr;outdated, bad quality or encyclopedias, which are not accepted &tstr; 30 percent are prime material that go to the bookstore.

The other 60 percent are divided into 43 categories, packed in banana boxes and stored in the back of the building behind the library until the day of the book sale.

By 2010, the book sale had become the dominant funding source for the Friends, when it put $30,000 in the library’s coffers. Since 2011, Friends have raised close to $50,000 per year on average.

Becky Irvine, who was president of Friends in the late 80s and early 90s, fondly remembers Christmastime and the Ephrata Fair fundraisers during the years leading up the book sale moving to its current location at the library.

“My children were still young and enjoyed the treats that Santa, Nevin Brugger, distributed,” she said. “This was a time we could socialize and enjoy time with the staff and the board. I remember the food stand we set up at the library along the Ephrata Fair Parade route. My family thought the only place we could sit was at the library since I participated in this fundraiser. Hot dogs with kraut, barbecue on buns, sodas, chips and, of course homemade desserts.”

Bowman remembers holding many fundraising projects such as “Gems and Junk” sales for six years beginning in 1984 at the Fulton Street location, as well as participating in the Turkey Hill Ice Cream Festival in Lancaster in the 1990s.

“For many years we had well attended open houses with lots of entertainment,” she said. “We had guest speakers including the state librarian, story tellers, string quartets, art shows, jugglers, magicians, barbershop quartets, and more. We also had fun making elaborate refreshments for those events.”

Friends pledged $25,000 to the Library capital fund, sold a Friends cookbook, and gifted the library with a Bradford pear tree, display case, reference books, typewriters, desk chairs, cameras, easels, and more.

Friends members, Audrey Witman, Cindy Colton, and Anita Atilano also shared their memories.

Witman said she became involved after have back surgery and couldn’t work. The work allowed her to stand and sit as needed.

“I loved meeting new people,” she said. “Some asked when I’d be there next so they’d come back (as well). Kids loved that I taught them to ‘feed the dinosaur’ with change as donations. Between the other volunteers and customers it was a family.”

Atilano said it’s hard to believe Friends would ever end.

“It was perennial and I could not imagine having to think of how much the library did mean to me (and) to the community,” she said. “On a personal level, I was relatively new to the area and becoming a member helped me discover and learn about my community.”

Atilano said she met dedicated and hard-working women whose common goal was help the library. She marveled at the variety of people she encountered working at the library bookstore.

“Sometimes they would just start sharing a personal story or just talked,” she said. “And I learned a lot about books.”

Colton said she joined the Friends to give back to the community while getting a break from raising the kids at home all day. While she wasn’t able to offer large financial donations, Colton could help by donating her time.

While the work wasn’t always easy, it was rewarding watching the bookstore grow, she said.

“With the larger store came larger monthly income and more time to stock the store which we were able to do,” she said.

Colton saw how the bulging fall book sale now takes a week to set up and has grown so much that a portion is held outside. The success of the sale forced the Friends to have a spring “Mystery Book Sale” to reduce inventory for the fall sale.

The Friends group goes beyond helping the library; it helps each other, she said.

“We do manage to have fun and are there to support each other in any way we can,” Colton said. “I can remember the group surprising me with a baby shower, helping others while sick and even attending funerals of fellow members. We truly are a great group of friends.”

Patrick Burns is social media editor and staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at or at 721-4455.

About Patrick Burns

Social media editor and staff writer for Ephrata Review and Lititz Record Express.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *