The Pat Hazlehurst Endowment for the Hood River County Library is the newest GCF fund. Pat came to Hood River and poured energy and ideas into the library, like the popular Hood River Reads. Pat died at age 74 in 2010. Members of Friends of Library inspired by her started this fund honoring her. These donors are offering a challenge gift of up to $10,000 to match public contributions.
Who was Pat Hazlehurst?
Pat walked into Library Director June Knudson’s office in 2003 and asked what she could do to help. She was 68. She and husband Leighton had moved to Hood River mere weeks before.
The Hood River County Library had just completed an addition almost doubling its size. The years planning and fundraising burned everyone out—the staff, the foundation board, the Friends of the Library. June’s priority was finding someone who could revitalize the Friends, because she promised the county commissioners that she would add no additional staff. To do that she would need volunteers and to find them she needed someone with experience and energy. Pat Hazlehurst arrived at her door.
Pat grew up in California graduating with a degree in sociology from University of California Santa Barbara, where she met Leighton. They married and moved to Berkley where Leighton worked on his PhD in Cultural Anthropology. Pat ran a nursery school for the children of Navy families.
Then Leighton received a research grant to study the merchant castes in a small town in northwest India. Pat responded by signing up for Hindi language lessons and taking the family to Indian restaurants to learn the vegetarian cuisine. In 1962, Pat and Leighton took their two children—Tim 5 and Brian 2—to live in River Town, India for a year.
The only available space was an empty shop in the town’s bazaar. This, their new home, was a 20 by 30 foot room. A courtyard behind the room held their well, a sheltered area for cooking, and off to one side the bathroom—a small brick enclosure with a shallow drain in the cement floor, no flush toilet or running water. Yet the family fell in love with the town and the people. You can read about their life there in the book Leighton wrote: River Town Chronicles, Pleasures and Perils of Life in India.
Leighton spent two years in the army. Then did post doctoral work at University of Chicago. In 1967, the family return to India for a year. Daughter Lori had joined the family by this time. Returning to the U.S., Leighton took a job at Cornell University. For seven years he taught anthropology, but the politics of college life in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s wasn’t for him.
He and Pat bought 30 acres in northeast Vermont. The farm had long before turned back to hardwoods, but the land came with an old farmhouse and barn. Leighton taught occasionally at the Vermont State College. The kids made and sold maple syrup.
Pat got a job as Children’s Librarian and then became the library director at the Cobleigh Public Library in nearby Lyndonville where she worked for 25 years. She was named Vermont Librarian of the Year; became President of the Vermont Library Association.
“Pat transformed the library to a community center, a place where kids could be safe,” Leighton said. “She put on all kinds of summer programs. She went to a junk yard with a mechanic to find an old van that could be a bookmobile. The mechanic fixed it and Pat got a volunteer to drive it on the rural roads, even in snowy weather. Years later she got a real bookmobile. At the summer inaugural event, she had kids put their paint-covered hand prints all over it. That bookmobile finally ran out of steam and neither the library nor the community had money to buy a new one. The story got picked up on Vermont Public Radio. The Trustees of the Manton Foundation heard the story and donated $130,000 to by a new bookmobile and $20,000 to maintain it.”
She oversaw the building of an addition to the library and a renovation of the existing building. She started a community reading program, bought computers. Her work was so exceptional that the University of Washington’s Public Access Computing Project produced a video about her for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. You can see the video on YouTube.
The kids grew up and moved away—one son to Portland, Oregon; another son to Seattle and daughter to Florida. “The kids weren’t coming back east anymore,” Leighton said. “and Pat had accomplished what she could at the library.” The family had been meeting in Hood River every summer to windsurf. The town felt like a good place to live permanently and held a library that needed her. They sold the farm and moved west.
“What I really enjoyed about Pat, especially with the library building project” June says, “is that she would say: ‘You have to take leaps of faith. When you hit a wall in a project like that you have to figure out how to get around or over or through. That’s part of the fun.’ ”
She and June agreed on the role libraries play in society: totally open and accessible to everyone in the community. But June was worried about the Friends’ burnout. She and Pat felt the group needed a new project. Pat thought a program where everyone in the county would read the same book and meet and talk about it was just such a project. She got grants for it. Bought and gave out 400 books. The successful Hood River Reads program that first year read local author Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Bat 6. The program continues today.
Pat died of cancer February 2010. But she left a legacy. We hope you’ll join in the challenge to honor her and the libraries she loved.