Progress-Index – Published March 24, 2013
To the Editor:
Ann Lyons died last August. She and her late sisters, Maury Leigh Lyons and Julia Lyons, spent their adult lives teaching children in the Petersburg schools.
When Ann died, we decided to give $75,000 from her estate to the Petersburg Library Foundation, in order to name the Cafe in the new library in memory of all three of them. The library is one of Petersburg’s most important educational institutions, and it’s close to our hearts because of long personal association with libraries and the library profession.
Also, the “Lyons girls” were very sociable, as we were constantly reminded whenever we went out in public with any of them. It wouldn’t be long before someone would come over to say, “Miss Lyons, you probably don’t remember me, but you taught me in …” whatever grade, and that would lead to a long conversation in which the Lyonses would catch up on every detail of what that former student had done since then. We think the Cafe, where people will gather to socialize, would be the Lyonses’ favorite part of the new library.
We live in Wooster, Ohio, a city about half the size of Petersburg. Wooster and Petersburg have a lot in common. Both were manufacturing centers that saw major industries move away, taking both jobs and corporate civic engagement with them. Like many American cities, both lost population downtown, as more people moved out to the country and started patronizing new shopping centers and malls. But Wooster saw the problem coming early and seized the opportunity to reverse the deterioration. The big downtown department stores closed, but local developers renovated the properties for smaller specialty shops at street level, with loft apartments above. New locally-owned and operated restaurants opened, offering both quality and variety.
But the biggest boost to downtown development came from a new public library, anchoring the business district and linking with the nearby Arts Center, created several years before in a former school building. Our leading citizens got out their checkbooks, and the voters approved a bond issue, to build the new library, because they knew it would be good for the community and absolutely essential to downtown revitalization.
With Petersburg’s redevelopment of Old Towne, renovation of its older residences, and opening of outstanding new downtown eateries, this beautiful and historic city center is on the same track. With the conversion of the old high school into the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School and the construction nearby of the new public library, the anchors for a sustained downtown renaissance are nearly complete. The library will be so much more than books and computers, providing space for exhibits, learning events, community meetings, educational activities, and opportunities to socialize for citizens of different ages, ethnicities, and economic levels.
Because of dedicated local leadership, something good is already happening in downtown Petersburg, and we’re excited to be a small part of it. The Lyons family used to live downtown. They were invested in it, literally. Their father was a city councilman and businessman. Now they will be part of its redevelopment through the Lyons Cafe in the new library.
So far, library supporters have given $10,331,523 for the new building, with a little over $2.4 million to go. We’re reasonably sure there are people in Petersburg who can make up that difference easily, but who haven’t come forward yet. We understand the discouragement that older residents of the city may feel when they remember how downtown Petersburg used to look.
But we also know from our experience in Ohio that positive change is happening here in Petersburg now, and that the Public Library is an absolutely essential part of it. We want you to share our faith in Petersburg’s future. Surely, two Yankees from Ohio can’t believe in Petersburg more than you do! So please, if you’re able, write out a check to “Petersburg Library Foundation,” and put down a number with a lot of zeroes after it.
Mary Lyons Temple Hickey
Damon Douglas Hickey