Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Heart of It

I would tell Mary Jo Johnston (MJ as I fondly called her in my emails) that I hope I never have to plan library programs without her – she was one of the main people at the Kankakee Public Library who makes work…well, not work. Mary was the tireless Program Coordinator for the Friends of the Library and also a Library Trustee. In her Program Coordinator role, she and I worked closely together to ensure that the Friends programs were well marketed and publicized. Mary was the brains behind many of the well-known authors and speakers (Luis Urrea, Richard Peck, Lois Lowry, and a Tuskegee Airman, to name a few). She helped put the City of Kankakee and the Library back on the map. She and I certainly fed off of one another's energy. When I would feel drained and tired (and there were times I have), she'd give me one of her patented "you can do anything!" motivational emails or talks and I'd be as good as new. I need one of her talks right now more than ever. During a program at the Library at the end of July, she suffered a severe stroke that left her comatose. Mary died last night.

As I sit here and type this, there's a mixture of disbelief, overwhelming sadness, and anger that she's gone. They say that mourning is really about the survivors – the departed feel no hurt. And there is a citywide hurt with Mary's passing.

I miss MJ in big ways and I miss her in small ways. Her very presence in the Library and the City was so large that the sadness of her death looms over everything. But then there are small things like when I re-read an email the other day that she had sent me months ago enticing a "big city" author to visit Kankakee. She was trying to tell him to check out the KPL podcasts and vodcasts but she mistakenly typed "check out the KPL podcasts and vodkas at" I laughed out loud and instinctively hit "reply" to chide her about luring authors to KPL with vodka. But then I stopped.

I honestly can't imagine her not being here for the Library and for me. If KPL were a body – she'd be its heart.

But that, of course, is all the more reason to ensure that Mary's work was not in vain. The legacy of hope and pride that she has instilled in this community will be continued by those of us she's left behind. It has to. And it will.

I miss you so much, MJ.



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