Foundation Stories

It would be an understatement to say that the Library’s MakerSpace had humble origins.

Its original home was not much bigger than a closet, said Shelley O’Brien, executive director of the Johnson County Library Foundation. But now the area at the Central Resource Library serves almost as a branch within a branch — offering state-of-the-art capabilities like 3D printing and providing space where creators of all types mingle.

The upgraded surroundings have “really amplified the program and amplified what we can do,” O’Brien said, putting the Library on the cutting edge of the experiential learning that will define the library of the future. “This is not a trend,” she said. “This is not going away.”

And none of that would be possible without the more than $30,000 a year that Overland Park-based Black & Veatch provides as the sponsor of the MakerSpace. The global design and engineering firm’s commitment to the Library extends to serving this year as the presenting sponsor of the Johnson County Library Foundation’s annual fundraiser, Library Lets Loose.

As an international corporation, Black & Veatch has no shortage of potential causes to back, O’Brien said, “and for them to say they want to invest their philanthropic dollars into a local nonprofit like the foundation and a local organization like the Library means a lot to us.”

Outside support is critical to providing a range of services to patrons, and O’Brien said Black & Veatch’s financial commitments play a significant role in allowing the Library “to have innovation and creativity and to provide the community with these great tools.”

There is perhaps no better spokesman for Black & Veatch and its commitment to the Library than Pete Barth, an Illinois native who moved here from Davenport, Iowa, in 2014 with his wife. He is the company’s engineering partnerships leader and serves on the board of the Library foundation.

Barth is also the son of a teacher who preached the value of reading and is an active patron of Olathe’s Indian Creek Library as the father of three kids ages 8 and under.

Barth was not exactly a bookworm as a teen, but it seems his mom’s prodding planted a seed for adulthood because reading is now a welcome stress relief. “It’s a good way for me to escape and displace,” he said.

The parent in him loves that libraries now have playgrounds and cool indoor activities that excite kids to just be at the library as a first step to gaining a love of reading. He knows that is the case with his children.

In his professional role, Barth welcomes the opportunity for the company to support a free public resource that provides equitable access to all members of the community. Black & Veatch is also happy to help students cultivate an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

“I think it’s fair to say that the library is an integral part of every community,” he said. “We are just glad to be a part of it and help to support the growth of both the MakerSpace and the library infrastructure in Johnson County in general.

“We are proud of our community, we want to be a part of the community, want to be visible in the community, and want to give back to all those communities that support our professionals and our business.”

Library Lets Loose provides essential funding for the extras the Library offers, O’Brien said, including the varied programming that keeps people coming back to the branches. Barth said Black & Veatch’s role as the presenting sponsor is a way to help “amplify the event and the importance of the library system in general.”

My most vivid childhood memories are of books and reading. I recall my mom staying up reading almost all night long on the weekends and how I spent time at my local library where I would walk down the aisles of my favorite authors, Judy Blume, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, with my head tilted to the right reading the spines and my neck getting sore. I wanted to work at the library so strongly that it just seemed like the perfect job. I never did get a job at my library once I was old enough, but I definitely applied!

Decades later, I have now been involved with the Johnson County Library my entire adult life. Getting my library card with my new Kansas address was one of the very first things I did when I became a resident. Then a few short years later, I began my journey volunteering for JCL.

I started as a Friends of Johnson County Library bookstore volunteer, working at the Blue Valley Library every other Saturday. Then I became a Friends Board member. A few years later, I became a JCL Foundation volunteer once a week, and now I am a JCL Foundation Board member!

The library is my favorite place to donate my time, talents, and treasure because it’s so easy to SEE the impact you can make at your library and the community surrounding it.

JCL’s partnerships with other organizations ensure that we’re reaching the most people and getting the experts in their fields to help.

As parents, Chris and I have fond memories of browsing the children’s floor at Corinth Library and filling up whole tote bags of books to bring home and read together with our daughter, Abi. I shared some of my favorites with her, like The Poky Little Puppy and the Little Red Hen and Ira Sleeps Over, and then we discovered new ones together like The Gruffalo and If Animals Kissed Good Night. Now Abi reads prize-winning novels like The Goldfinch and The Secret History for fun, and I think sharing our love of reading with her was integral to that.

You can help support this kind of family engagement with reading through the Johnson County Library Foundation. Come to Library Lets Loose and have a ball at one of my favorite places, and support lifelong learning and literacy at the same time.

I remember going to the local library in my hometown in Ohio, with my mom, when I was probably 3 or 4 years old. I always loved the Curious George books. Ever since, libraries have been a place of adventure and exploration in my personal life. I enjoy the miles and miles of endless opportunities for learning and discovery you have when you walk into a library.

Libraries continue to be the heart of many communities. Libraries are places to communicate, share information and gain knowledge. Libraries have evolved over the years and will continue to do so for years to come.

I love to read, yet I have to admit that Cleveland Guardians baseball is just about all I’m watching on TV and my phone. When the season is over – we’ll see.

I enjoy sharing my time and resources with organizations that are paramount to the growth of communities and people. That’s why I have been a member of the Johnson County Library Foundation Board of Directors since January 2022. I’ve volunteered with the Foundation’s signature fundraiser, Library Lets Loose, since 2017. I have to say it is an easy decision to give time and talent to support Library Lets Loose: it’s a fun event that has a lot of high energy and it’s a party! Come and Let Loose with us on September 23!

Libraries need to be supported – they definitely figure prominently in the future of our society. Libraries will continue to grow and evolve to serve as centers of knowledge and information that strive to meet the needs of all communities. I’m proud to be a part of the evolution.

My earliest Library memory is of the Oak Park branch. I loved watching the librarian go through the check-out process, stamping each card, tucking it into the pocket on the cover and sliding the books back to me!

These early moments of wonder encouraged my love of reading and learning. I loved that pile of library books to read and then when I returned them, loved the anticipation of new books I would find and check out.

Later on, in adult life, I was contemplating a career change and a move to another part of the country. The library was so important at this crucial juncture, it’s where I research new opportunities and communities.

I began my “volunteer career” with the library when I was elected to the Friends of Johnson County Library’s board of directors. I joined a passionate and dedicated group of people who work really hard to support our wonderful Library. I especially enjoyed working on the summer book sale. When I concluded my terms on the Friends board, I guess I wasn’t done supporting Johnson County Library, because I was recruited to join the board of the Library’s Foundation. I’ve served the Foundation for the past 3-1/2 years.

There hasn’t been a chapter of my life that has not featured libraries, and I want to do what I can to sustain this institution that helps so many people in so many different ways. Serving on the board of an organization I believe in is very fulfilling and has lead to new friendships and an understanding of the many positive and vital ways a library system affects its community.

This is my third year as Library Lets Loose event chairperson. The Foundation supports early literacy initiatives and other innovative learning programs, all designed to enhance the community and keep the Library strong for generations. I hope we’ll see you there, it’s the best party in town!

Because it’s about the library, I should tell you what I’m reading. I recently finished listening to Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.  After narrator Eduardo Ballerini spoke at a Foundation event, I checked out a book he narrated, The Lincoln Highway, also by Amor Towles. So good.

I come from a family of readers of books, magazines, newspapers and in the last many years e-books and compact discs. Yet, I was shocked and captivated when my oldest brother took me by the hand to enter our local public library for the very first time, at age 6.

I was seeing a magical world inside those doors in Minneapolis! How could there be so many books, so many subjects in this wondrous world?!

I have not lost my sense of awe every time I visit what is a sacred space. Where else do all citizens, regardless of income or station in life, have the opportunity to learn, to enjoy, to bask in the pure joy of our wonderful libraries? And they are free! How vital it is to our community to nurture inquisitiveness, improve literacy, and to be part of community.

My wife and I give in order to preserve that child’s sense of awe, that adult’s resource for research, that senior citizen’s place of quiet and safety.  We give because strengthening community means strengthening America.

And we give because we feel good about building Johnson County.

As a young girl – and only child- growing up in Raytown, MO, Saundra Johnson fondly remembers going to her local library, where books were a great companion to her. Among her favorite titles were the Nancy Drew books. As a student going through school, her library was the hub of resources to create term papers and other projects. She recalls how important having that access was for her and how helpful and wonderful the librarians were as well.

Husband Skip reminisces that he had always been a fan of technical articles and materials. Laughing, he added that before the internet, libraries were the place to go for information. The card catalog was our connection to the world – just as the internet is today!  He agreed with Saundra on the importance of libraries growing up.

As adults, they began to look at libraries through different lenses. “Unless people go to libraries, they may not realize all the access libraries provide now,” Skip observed. He added all the amazing resources available to library patrons from art displays, newspapers, magazines, movies, computers, access to Library programs and events, private study room spaces, and more. They have a friend who created a podcast in a library. Another friend goes to the library to attend Zoom calls with friends and family.

“Libraries have grown a great deal over the years!” exclaimed Skip. “And they’ve evolved to grow with the needs of our communities along the way.”

A personal eye-opener for the Johnsons regarding the benefits of a library came when Saundra’s mother, Kay, lived with them for many years. Kay was legally blind; however, she could listen to audiobooks – so they frequented the Library often to check out materials for her. The librarians would recognize the Johnsons, knowing the audiobooks were for Kay, and would inquire as to what she was listening to each time.

Kay could use a tape recorder to listen to the audiobooks which meant she could do that independently. They both recalled many times waking up in the middle of the night hearing Kay, a night owl, laughing out loud while listening to audiobooks. As her health declined and she physically did not feel well all the time, books brought her much joy and greatly improved her mental health.

As longtime Johnson County Library donors, the Johnsons are quick to respond when asked why they give and support our Library system: they choose to give as a way to honor Kay’s memory and theirs too someday. As charter members of the Foundation’s planned giving program the “1952 Society: Writing the Library’s Next Chapter”, Saundra and Skip believe that giving is to help the Library continue far into the future. Leaving a legacy gift is one way to help make that happen.

In April 2023, the Johnson County Library Foundation hosted an appreciation event featuring award-winning audiobook narrator and actor Edoardo Ballerini. He read a section from the book “The Angel of Rome” by Jess Walter and was interviewed by Deputy County Librarian, Kinsley Riggs. Guests filled the Carmack Room at Central Resource Library for an Italian-inspired afternoon.

Ballerini charmed the audience with his stories about studying in Italy, about his children – one book reader and one audiobook listener.  He shared a description of his home studio where he records, which he says is smaller than a closet. Ballerini ended the afternoon by thanking everyone for supporting libraries, especially during this time when books are being banned across the country.

See photos of the event and learn more about the 1952 society here.

Annual appreciation events are hosted by the Foundation to thank and celebrate donors, those who give annually and those who have made provisions in their estate plans for a future gift. If you are interested in more information about giving to the library or becoming a member of the 1952 Society, please contact Shelley O’Brien at [email protected].

Meet JCLF Leadership - the 2023 Board of Directors.

As a nonprofit 501(c) 3 organization, the Foundation is governed by a board of directors made up of dedicated community leaders.  Currently, 24 members work to fulfill the mission to build an endowment for the Library’s collection and secure support for lifelong learning programs offered at Johnson County Library.  They are responsible for making key decisions that address the organization’s mission, strategy, policies, finances, and overall goals.

New members in 2022 include Mark Burdolski, Lisa Larson-Bunnell, Lisa Jones and Pete Barth.

Officers for 2023 are Leigh Anne Neal, President; Ava Christie, Past President; Julie Steiner, President-Elect; Ken Eaton, Treasurer; Tricia Suellentrop, Secretary.

Why I Give: Chris Anderson and Lyn Buckley

Growing up on the west side of Chicago – and in walking distance to a library nearby, Foundation board member Chris Anderson cannot remember a time when he didn’t go to the library.

“The library was always a safe place to go,” he recalled, and by age 11 he could walk there on his own to check out books, which was a great sense of independence.  

Chris’s wife, Lyn smiled broadly as she remembered her mom taking her to the library when she was a little girl to check out books.  It quickly became her favorite place, and she has loved books ever since, noting that reading is her favorite pastime. Out of her siblings, she was definitely the bibliophile and still is. She affectionately refers to books now as “the beauty of the universe.”

As parents to two sons, it was part of the daily routine to read bedtime stories every evening. Their sons now read nightly to their kids continuing the tradition. Chris and Lyn now share their love of libraries and reading with their grandchildren and noting their oldest granddaughter in fourth grade has her very own library card. Lyn added that for people of all ages, library programs are key to engagement as they are centered around access and exploration. From early literacy story times to author visits and beyond, sharing information that is open to everyone is unique to libraries and a wonderful resource.

A fun shared experience Chris and Lyn have enjoyed for over 25 years is being part of a book group, sharing that they have read lots of books they would otherwise not have been exposed to or read. Chris added that reading a variety of literature is the spice of life.

As a Foundation board member for many years, Chris believes the library is a worthwhile organization to support on different levels. He remembered when he first came on board being amazed at the breadth of all the things the library offered, including online resources, and programming for all ages. He added he believes that many of the library’s programs are able to offer additional resources that exist due to extra funding provided by the Foundation.

Lyn shared her vision of the future of libraries to include more e-readers, a source for continued access to materials and programming for everyone, and a place in particular for students to access technology centered around gaining knowledge.

“Librarians are the most wonderful people on earth!”  Lyn exclaimed.  “They are always happy to help with anything—be it finding a book, research materials, and connecting people with the resources they are looking for!”


Growing up in India, Shamita Mahajan did not have a structured library system run by cities or the government. Her world of libraries consisted of small neighborhood libraries on each block, often in someone’s home. She remembers spending a great deal of time at these libraries, each of them a comfortable, inviting setting. She and her friends were inspired to create their own small lending libraries as a version of what American kids might have done as putting together a lemonade stand.

Thirty years ago Shamita married Rajiv and they moved to the United States. Here she had her first experience with libraries on a large scale. It was definitely a different experience from that she had growing up.

When she and Rajiv were raising their daughter and son, they utilized many facets of the library. Shamita recalled always having lots of books and videos (the Arthur series in particular) at home when the kids were smaller. It was an important value to instill for their kids early on, the love for reading, and now as adults they both have a strong love of books and reading.

While Shamita loves to physically hold a book, Rajiv is an avid reader of digital books. Working in the information technology field of computer science, once digital books and resources became available, he was hooked.

Both Shamita and Rajiv believe that literacy is vital for children and that libraries offer a healthy space to spend time, engage and come together in a community. Supporting the library is something near and dear to their hearts. One of their missions is to bring kids back to books and away from screens, video games and social media.

Shamita knows the impact libraries can have on a career path, and she’s working on a second MA in psychology to support others in their academic journeys. She wants to help young people find constructive alternatives through books to counterbalance the various digital distractions.

Shamita concludes, “The more you know, the better choices you can make in life.”

Shamita is a Johnson County Library Foundation board member and she and Rajiv are sponsors of Library Lets Loose, the Foundation’s signature annual fundraiser.

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