9 years in the making: Big Sandy's Jeff Reichelt Memorial Library
February 10, 2017
For nine years, the Jeff Reichelt Memorial Library in Big Sandy was no more than a concept, born of a local who gave away a building and asked that a library be built in its place to commemorate her son, an avid reader who died in a drunk driving crash.
The doors officially opened Jan. 24.
Marla Ray, Deloris Pribyl and Ann Quinn have been an integral part of the project since a steering committee was formed in 2011 culminating in the creation of the library on Main Street.
Jeff Reichelt was a student at University of Montana in Missioula, on his way home for Thanksgiving sometime in the mid-80s, when he was killed by a drunk driver, Ray said.
Janis Kaiser, formerly Janis Reichelt, donated the Kaste building, where the library now rests, in August of 2007 with a request that the library be named after her son.
A library in Big Sandy on the other side of the railroad tracks already existed. But it was small and the location was bad, Quinn said.
Ray said the Kaste building - Kaiser's family name was Kaste - was built as a veterans club and it was a restaurant and a bar - side by side - in the early '50s.
"It was a popular spot for a long time," she said.
But by the time it was donated, it was in bad shape.
"Even when she first donated it and we came into this building you can really smell the mold," Pribyl said.
A timeline of the building's history starting in 2005 shows that for years after its donation in 2007, the building was tied up by legalities, renovation questions and various types of uncertainty.
April 2008: "Discussion of Janis signing over building to whom? - County or Foundation?"
November 2008: "Janis signs a quit claim deed, paid current taxes and offered to pay them in May 2009 - if taxes were assessed. Clerk and Recorder said no taxes would be assessed as the building would be a county building. Janis indicated she had set no timeline herself for the renovation of the Kaste."
February 2009: "Foundation is offered $4700.00 for remaining inventory. Bid for roof: $28,891.00 – Possible mold and or asbestos issue mentioned."
"For several years, not much happened," Quinn said.
"I thought what it (was) lack of funds and lack of motivation on the county, their interest on moving forward with the project," Ray said. "They got a lot of other things on their plate. Nothing moved forward with it."
The steering committee was formed in 2011.
"(The commissioners) pretty much asked the question, 'What are we going to do?' We said, 'Isn't there supposed to be a library in the plans somewhere?'" Ray said. "And they kind of went, 'Umm, would you like to work on one?'
"'Yeah, we'd like to see this project get started, at least,'" she recounted.
The women touted their connection to the town and to the land as reasons to have a better library in the town they love and live in.
"We all are married to farmers" Ray said. "There's no moving after that. We're married to the land."
Over time, the steering committee met several times and after multiple assessments, it was determined January 2014 it was not practical and cost efficient to renovate the Kaste building. In addition to the mold, asbestos and lead were found to be present in the building.
"The original plan was to fix it, but when the building was unusable or cost way too much to fix, we just said scrap it and start over," Ray said.
The ladies said construction of the new library began in December 2015, and without the help of so many, it would have never been completed. And, unsurprisingly, they said, at nearly $750,000, the construction cost went far beyond the accepted bid.
"It is our extreme gratitude to each and every donor: from individuals, to families, numerous alumni, clubs, businesses, school classes, organizations, foundations offering grants (including several local ones), and even strangers who learned about our project and sent a donation," Ray said in an email.
Among the many helping parties, the women listed Bear Paw Development Corp., architect Keith Ballantyne, the local Rotary Club, Robinson Construction, the Chouteau County Library Foundation, Wells Fargo, Farm Credit Services, Triangle Communications, BNSF Railway and Debra Clark, who wrote many grants.
And, they said, yes, there was doubt along the way.
Quinn said that when the building was a shell and it had been abated, "we didn't know where it was going then."
But now that it's finished and reeks of "newness," there are big plans for the new building, they gleefully agreed.
"We're very happy that we have a meeting room, which wasn't in the original plan. We think that's going to get a lot of use. Our book club is going to meet here," Pribyl said.
Once a week, Fridays at 10:15 a.m. a story hour is held in the children's room, where anyone can come with their children, Quinn added.
"We're going to have a Lego club that's going to meet every other Friday. Kids will be playing with Legos, building stuff," Pribyl said.
There's also a "teenager room," complete with a white keyboard and headphones, Ray said, adding that free Wi-Fi is available in the building.
Ray said she has some "long-range" ideas for the new library.
"I see a stage in the back where you can have puppet shows, you can have any kind of a performance, you can have piano recitals," she said. "I am so for this library that I could do cartwheels through the whole thing."
Stephanie Overbay is the librarian at the Jeff Reichelt Memorial Library. She was working last Friday, putting up and organizing books. She said she has seen far more people visit the library since it's opened. When working at the old location, she said, days would go by without anyone coming in.
"It's been great. I've been able to open several more accounts for people who've never been in the library," she said.
Overbay said she had always wanted to be a librarian.
"There's so many skills you can learn just by reading a book," she said.
She, too, is married to the land, to a farmer, who works for Quinn's husband.
The ladies discussed books by western writers and the importance of reading.
"I think the library is so key to early childhood development," Quinn said, "but not only just the skill of reading, but what it does for a family - mom and dad with the kids. The time spent together reading is just invaluable."
In April, during National Library Week, an open house for the library is being planned.
Quinn said the library is more than just a place for books - it may be an integral part of preserving Big Sandy.
"Just having a new building on Main Street, we have to keep our rural towns vital because we are losing population," she said. "We have a lot of young families coming back, and this offers them something that wasn't here before."
Pribyl added, "It makes the draw to come back here better because we're all married to farmers, we're married to the ground. But do your kids want to come here? Does the woman that they chose to marry, or the husband that they chose to marry - do they want to live in a town this size? If there are not certain types of opportunities, no thank you. And this is at least one thing. If I can't do something to better my community, we're losing ground."