By Nancy McGill
Deshler Mayor Naomi Grupe was first on the program to dedicate the Jennifer Reinke Public Library June 17.
“This is a new chapter in Deshler,” Grupe told the crowd that gathered for the dedication inside the library’s airy, all-inclusive space. “It should inspire all of us to make changes for the better.”
Library board member and past president, Sharon Baden said before the dedication that originally, the board had envisioned a long fundraising project for the new building.
“It wasn’t. We’ve been blessed by Jennifer and her family, and many other individuals in the community,” Baden said. “Lois Struve Petersen and the Struve Foundation also helped and now we have this beautiful facility.
Indeed, the open, airy main room caters to readers, young and old, with its sitting area and fireplace in the Casual Corner, the children’s alcove against the south wall that shows an animated handpainted mural by Artists Cindy Chinn and Jamie Luttrell, the geneaology section that will house newspapers and information on microfish, and books and more books.
Reinke, the 1967 National Spelling Bee champion, is pleased.
“I just want to say thank you to everyone who helped make this library a dream come true for the community,” she said.
She, her sister Pat Schardt and brother, Robert Reinke, hatched the idea of giving a building of words to the Deshler community. The former library was showing signs of age after over 60 years of serving readers.
“The library board had already started to plan,” Schardt said of the meeting between the three in her living room. “They were not handicapped accessible, so it was a major remodel or build. The remodel was close in price to a new building.”
In order to come into the present, the former library would have needed a complete overdo, a new wiring system and an elevator.
And, it was built before the technological rush.
“The infrastructure couldn’t handle the technology and the building wasn’t energy efficient,” Schardt said.
Back to the words.
Reinke said she had watched Sharon Gerdes, who also attended Peace Lutheran School in Deshler with her, walk away with the Midwest Spelling Bee title in 1964. If Gerdes could do it, Reinke thought she could, too.
“I thought if I studied hard, I could do that,” she said. “I studied year round.”
She wore her Eaton’s True Blue Speller to tatters.
“The cover was worn off!” she wrote in an article about her bee experience.
Reinke credits her teacher at Peace Lutheran, Marvin Engel, who fed her lists of words to spell.
“We had spelldowns every week in seventh and eighth grades, which really helped me,” she wrote.
Reinke was 14 when she topped 72 spellers at the national bee in Washington D.C.
“It was a little nerve-racking when there were two contestants left,” she said.
The magic word for the bee trophy cup was “chihuahua,” one of the words above the fireplace in the library’s Casual Corner. Most of them are words Reinke spelled at nationals.
A bee official said she was most deserving of the award because she never asked questions and simply spelled every word presented to her.
The alcove mural is next to Casual Corner, and once she was commissioned to design and paint the mural, Chinn worked from a few guidelines set by the library board, and settled on a classic storybook theme.
“I wanted to have a focal point with the bear reading and all the characters listening,” she said of the animated wall painting. It was the first time Chinn had taken animation on and her first mural for a library.
Luttrell worked by day and Chinn at night.
“We had trouble getting our sleep hours coordinated,” Luttrell chuckled. “We would come in and see what each other had done.”
Chinn said she drew pieces and parts of the mural to begin. The characters were painted a solid white to pop the next layers of color. She also wanted to blend the mural’s colors in with the hues in the library.
Then, there was that eye on the tree.
“I changed it like five times. Everyday, I would go look at it and work on the tree. On the fifth time, I was like, ‘I think I like it,’” she said.
Her art students even lent a brush to the blue and yellow bluebirds.
“That was class for the week,” Chinn said.
Chinn said it isn’t the largest mural she’s ever painted, but it is one she’ll get to see anytime she wants.
“Most of the time, I paint them and never see them again, so it’s kind of fun doing the local murals,” Chinn said.
She didn’t stop with the mural. Chinn had a surprise for Reinke — a coloring book featuring the mural and word search of Reinke’s winning spelling words.
“I wanted to do something special for the opening,” she said. “The community means something to me and Thayer County means something to me.”
The building packed full of words is what Jim Gustafon of the Nebraska Community Foundation called “turning up the dream switch.”
Gustafon, who gave the keynote address at the dedication, assisted Reinke with her donation.
Reinke flipped the switch twice, he said. She used the dream switch to win the bee and she used it again to raise the library.
“A good book is a good companion,” she said.