Foundation Stories

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.

Johnson County Library welcomes new County Librarian Tricia Suellentrop

Story from Johnson County Library

Outgoing County Librarian Sean Casserley retiring June 30, Deputy County Librarian Tricia Suellentrop to assume role July 1

Johnson County Library welcomes Tricia Suellentrop as the new county librarian beginning July 1. The Library Board of Directors confirmed Suellentrop’s appointment at their June board meeting. Suellentrop succeeds Sean Casserley who announced his retirement earlier this year after a decade at the helm of one of Kansas’ largest public library systems.

Suellentrop brings a wealth of experience to the position, having served as the deputy county librarian since 2008. She acted as interim county librarian for six months in 2012, during the national search for a new county librarian that resulted in Casserley’s hiring. Suellentrop has also held the positions of systemwide services manager, youth services manager and teen services coordinator with Johnson County Library.

As deputy county librarian, Suellentrop helped lead the Library through budget reductions stemming from the 2008 Great Recession and worked to develop and implement Library strategic plans. As part of her work in youth and teen services, she planned and developed programming and services across the Library system. In 2005, Suellentrop was recognized as one of Library Journal’s Movers and Shakers for her work serving teens in the juvenile justice system. She is the co-author of “Connecting Young Adults and Libraries,” a manual to help public and school libraries serve teen populations in their communities.

When she assumes the role of county librarian, Suellentrop is interested in maintaining the Library’s reputation as a top service in Johnson County. In the 2022 Community Survey, in which Johnson County residents were asked to rate their satisfaction with County services, 88% of respondents said they were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with Library services, putting it at number two among all County departments and agencies.

Suellentrop attributes that success to diverse, knowledgeable employees and a supportive internal culture, which is described by staff as creative, positive and welcoming.

“Our culture is the foundation of what we do,” she said. “It underlies all of our work so no matter what project we’re doing, the results for the community are going to reflect that.”

The organization is in the middle of several projects that will continue after July 1.

  • The design process is underway for a new building on the Merriam Community Center campus; the new library, anticipated to open in 2024, will replace the Antioch location which opened off Shawnee Mission Parkway in 1956.
  • A recent survey of De Soto, Edgerton and Spring Hill residents kicked off a project to refresh the libraries in those communities in the coming years.
  • Johnson County Library also continues to explore new service lines aimed at increasing access in a world altered by the pandemic, including hybrid and on-demand programming, expansion of eLibrary resources and enhanced community outreach and partnerships.

Casserley, a 25+ year library and technology veteran, joined the Johnson County, KS library system in 2012 after extensive service at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Casserley was awarded his undergraduate and graduate degrees – in Mathematics and Library Information Science respectively – from Indiana’s Purdue University.

During his tenure at Johnson County Library, Casserley oversaw the creation of and significant progress on the Comprehensive Library Master Plan—a framework established in 2015 to guide the organization’s sustainable growth of services, operations, and facilities over a 20-year period. In 2018, the Library expanded into a new geographic area for the first time in over 20 years with the opening of the Monticello branch in western Shawnee. The spacious, modern Lenexa City Center branch opened in 2019 as the successor to the former Lackman branch, incorporating LEED Silver certification and an award-winning public art installation.

Casserley also presided over the Central Building Upgrade, a two-stage overhaul of Overland Park’s Central Resource Library in 2015 and 2021 that modernized the building and optimized service across all 14 Johnson County Library locations. Central Resource Library is home to the system’s administrative and support staff, as well as the Friends of Johnson County Library, the Johnson County Library Foundation, the Black & Veatch MakerSpace and the Johnson County Genealogical Society.

“Johnson County is an exceptional community of readers and learners who value knowledge,” said Casserley. “It has been a privilege to serve in this position over the last decade, and to work alongside such gifted, dedicated Library staff and volunteers.”

Upon his retirement Casserley plans to stay in the Kansas City area. He looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Susie, traveling, and making progress on his reading list.

1952 Society Special Event

Recently, the Foundation hosted an exclusive appreciation event for our 1952 Society members featuring special guest Arthur Muir, who at 75 became the oldest American to reach the summit of Mount Everest, May 2021.

We were inspired by his program “It’s not about the Summit;  it’s about the Effort.” Art is a retired corporate finance lawyer from Northbrook, Ill who began mountaineering at age 68.  Art says, “If you just have a dream, set out with a plan, and work toward it.”

Guests included Library lovers who have demonstrated their support as a longtime volunteer, Friend of the Library or donor to the Foundation.  This event was to show appreciation for those who have made annual gifts, attend events, added the endowment, pledged planned gifts and been an advocate for all we do.

To view the presentation alongside Mr. Muir’s slides, view here.

Interested in becoming a valued member of the 1952 Society? More info can be found here.

Meet JCLF Donor Bert Berkley

Meet Bert Berkley!

Bert and his wife Joan started the Johnson County Library Foundation’s Joan Berkley Writers Fund. Bert and Joan were married for 62 years, until her passing in 2012. Their service to the KC community is immeasurable – and we thank them for their generosity!

Excerpt from Anglers Journal

“From the forward seat of a drift boat, Bert Berkley floats a dry fly to a quiet eddy of aquamarine water near the willow-brushed banks of the Beaverhead River. His presentation is close to flawless, and as guide Jeff Lyon invokes the standard incantation to the fish gods in these parts — “Eat it!” — Berkley is handsomely rewarded. A hefty rainbow trout smashes the fly, leaps in a splash of technicolor and zips downstream in a sizzling run that gives Berkley’s 4-weight Sage fly rod a workout.

“Tip up,” Lyon says reflexively — advice that elicits a good-natured response from Berkley. “I believe I’m doing that,” Berkley says as his rod bends in a perfect arc against a pristine Montana morning sky.

After five decades of fly-fishing all over the world and landing everything from trophy bonefish to Atlantic salmon, Berkley knows a thing or two about fighting a trout, even one that’s running “hot” like this one. Or as Lyon, a guide on this river for 21 years, will later tell me: “Bert is probably better than 85 to 90 percent of the people I take.”

Meet Senia & Will Shields

We are so pleased to introduce you to our 2022 Library Lets Loose Honorary Hosts, Senia and Will Shields! Senia and Will are an amazing couple that has made a lasting philanthropic impact in Kansas City. The Shields have made countless contributions throughout the Kansas City community for more than 25 years, including formation of the Will to Succeed Foundation in 1993.

“Once you become a lover of reading and a lover of books you understand the important role libraries play in our lives. Our libraries are constantly creating new opportunities for patrons.” – Will Shields

Will played fourteen years for the Kansas City Chiefs and received accolades, including the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award and induction into the NFL Hall of Fame.

Senia and Will Shields invite you to the newly-renovated Central Resource Library for 2022 Library Lets Loose, on Saturday, September 17. It’s Johnson County Library Foundation’s signature fundraising event and the Shields are this year’s honorary hosts. We close the Library and host a festive fundraiser filled with music, food and libations, all benefiting resources for lifelong learning programs at Johnson County Libraries.

After two years of celebrating virtually, the Shields are excited to welcome the community back for this special event! For more information and to register for Library Lets Loose visit

“Literacy has been an important part of our work and we love the library resources. They open up new opportunities and are paramount for operating successfully in our world.” – Senia Shields

We are betting kids will race to the new Kids area at Central!  One of the featured activity areas is a Burgeon pre-literacy learning space, graciously funded by the Regnier Family Foundation, John W. & Effie E. Speas Memorial Trust, and Johnson County Library Foundation.

These interactive learning units  are designed by educators and librarians to develop the same essential pre-literacy skills as JCL’s signature program, 6 by 6, Ready to Read. The units are colorful and child-sized which draws children to them and introduces the concept of letters as a 3-dimensional game or puzzle. More like a playground to children, Burgeon units are effective teaching tools.  Several JCL branches already have Burgeon structures in their 6 by 6 area and librarians attest to their value.

Special thanks to the funders and the Early Literacy Team!

Why I Give: Leigh Anne and Bill Neal

The library has always been a valued and important place in my life.  My earliest and happiest memories of the library are from childhood when my mother would take me to the Corinth Library to the children’s area in the lower level where we would select as many books as we could carry to take home and share together.  My parents nurtured a love of reading from as early as I can remember.  Inside those books were adventures, places, and lessons that would help shape me as I grew up. They also were the foundation, not just my love of reading, but also set me on a course for success with a strong foundation. On many evenings after dinner all through elementary, middle, and high school, my parents and I would go to the library and seek out the books or materials each of us liked to read – the library was the setting for time spent together.  As I grew up, the library continued to be the place for study and research all through school.  As a working adult, the library has been a place where I could go to research or write to support my work in education and post-graduate studies.  My husband grew up in a small town in Kansas, and his mother, who was an avid reader, shared a passion for reading and the value of the library with their family.  Today, Bill and I enjoy finding great books to read and enjoy at our local Johnson County branch.

Through my lens as an educator, daily I see the value of our Johnson County Library as a place of support for children and families.  The six-by-six program offers families with young children tools and information to encourage early literacy development.  Story times, interactive exhibits and book walks that families can enjoy together are so important to instilling a love of reading in children and helping parents partner in shared literacy with their children.  The Homework Help program along with wonderful youth-focused library initiatives like elementia that allow students leadership experience and a platform through which to hone their creative writing and storytelling talents positively support young people in our community. 

Johnson County Library continues to evolve to support the needs of a changing society and community.  The Library as community hub where people can come to support their needs no matter their age or stage in life is a mission to which our library has been very committed.  Offering access to technology for those who may not have it for workforce needs or to connect with critical resources can be lifechanging.  The Black & Veatch Makerspace provides opportunity for individuals of all ages to explore a hobby, create an invention, or launch a small business concept.  It is the diversity, not only of who the library serves but also what the library offers that makes our Johnson County Library such an important part of our community.  It is not only a love of books and the library and nostalgic memories of special times spent with family, but it is also the valuable programs and services offered that are making a difference in our community that inspire my husband and I to support the Johnson County Library Foundation. 

  • Leigh Anne Neal

Special donors, volunteers, and Friends were invited to a one-of-a-kind, virtual appreciation event for members of the JCL in January.

The Johnson County Library Reader’s Advisory Librarian Gregg Winsor presented a preview of books from the first few months of 2022 that you absolutely need to know about in a variety of different categories, whether you’re looking for something perfect for your book group or just looking for something good to read before bed.

Your investment in Johnson County Library generates a 300% return.