Foundation Stories

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.

Growing up overseas, Ava Christie learned the value of libraries at a young age. She remembered finding the local library with her family as they moved around to different places. Libraries were special, familiar places filled with books and materials that inspired her.  “All you need is a library card, and the world is your oyster”, remarked Ava as the inspiration is ever-present for her today. 

In college in Douglas County, KS, Ava has fond memories of the library being a strong and important part of the culture and community. The Library would continue to play a significant role in her studies through her master’s degree and PhD programs as she utilized Inter Library Loan resources for her research and thesis.

As a mom, Ava raised her kids with her same love for the Library, which she referred to as “a best friend.”  Frequenting the Corinth and Central branches for books and programs, she noted the Library is a place which extends far beyond books, and is a place to meet people, access media and audio/visual materials, large print materials and travel books. Travel continues to play a key role in Ava’s life both personally and professionally and she visits libraries everywhere she goes.  She has noticed over time that newer libraries seem to be redefined as a focal point, accessible, and transparent with large windows to look in as well as see out.

Entering her 15th year as a volunteer on the Foundation’s board of directors, Ava credits the strengths of the Johnson County Library (JCL) system and its key role in our county and communities for her continued involvement and support.  She believes JCL has always been a place of diversity and inclusivity, citing the teen publication elementia as an example for young people of various ethnic, economic, and cultural backgrounds to be highlighted.  She adds that JCL is and exciting and fulfilling place to be and is reflective of the community it supports. Ava believes the community in turn supports the Library because we build and strengthen literacy and awareness, and to inform people is to empower them.

Looking to the future, Ava sees our Library system continuing to be modern and forward-thinking and to stay relevant and respond with ever-changing community needs. “Johnson County Library is not standing still”, says Ava enthusiastically, “and there isn’t another entity in the world of charitable organizations where you can make such a profound difference.  The Library provides equal access to information to everyone, and everyone is welcome.  Libraries are the key to helping people of all ages open and grow their world. The openness and availability 24/7 are unique to libraries as nothing else exists this way.”

  • Ava Christie

Johnson County Library Foundation Board members presenting a large check for the endowment of the Johnson County Library Collection in the total of $102,864.

At a recent Johnson County Library Board of Directors meeting, Foundation board members were thrilled and honored to present a grant check in the amount of $102,864!  This check represents the 2021 annual disbursement from the endowment for the Library Collection.  This is the largest amount to date! 

Pictured:  Library Board Member David Sims, County Commissioner Janee’ Hanzlick, County Librarian Sean Casserley, Library Board Chair Bethany Griffith, and Foundation Board members, Vickie Trott, Anne Blessing and Ava Christie.

This year’s Library Lets Loose is scheduled for Saturday, September 18. As we finalize all the details for our signature event, we’ve whipped up some fun summer activities as a peek at what’s to come this fall!

Be sure to join us for our Virtual Trivia Nights this summer:

Dates: June 9, July 14, and August 11

Time: 7:00 to 8:30 pm

Get your team together and join us for a fun evening of trivia hosted by none other than our Trivia king, Zeb Raines with Let’s Get Trivial! Have a blast, show off your smarts, & support the Johnson County Library. Winners will receive gift cards to the Golden Scoop ice cream and coffee shop! Registration is $50 for a team with up to six members. There is a maximum of 15 teams for each event. Participants will also be able to bid on two themed gift baskets.

Register for June 9
Register for July 14
Register for August 11

Books and libraries have always been a big part of my life. I remember being 5 or 6 years old and reading Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss all the way through by myself. I have a vivid memory of the joy and empowerment I felt in that moment… I’m a reader! It was a first step in my lifelong love affair with books and reading.  

My grandmother was a church librarian in Hesston, KS. My sister and I loved to hang out with her and browse the library shelves, on Sundays during our summer vacations. My grandparents and my parents were big readers. Their love of reading and books was instilled in me, a legacy my husband Gary and I passed to our children and now to our grandchildren. Storytimes are a must for our oldest grandson. When he could attend in person, we’d hear weekly chants of “Library, Library, Library.” The pandemic virtual programs are fun, but he misses other kids and listening to stories. Soon, we’ll take our 17-month-old granddaughter to Monticello storytime.

The Library has played an important role in my professional life. I do research for clients, and Library study rooms are a perfect landing place between meetings or for a virtual call. I look forward to being back.

As a past Foundation Board member and continuing member of the Fund Development Committee, my passionate belief is that libraries are invaluable in our community. Books and access to information are essential.  I take a great deal of pride and satisfaction in having helped, over the years, to establish the Foundation’s planned giving initiative, The 1952 Society: Writing the Library’s Next Chapter, and the Readers Circle (donors who have given $10,000 or more.)  I’ve had a lot of fun helping with Foundation events including Rare Conversations, the Pinnacle Awards, and now Library Lets Loose. It is more important than ever to ensure our Library’s success in benefitting future generations. That’s why the Library is, and will continue to be, one of my personal philanthropic priorities.

  • Lynne Brown

Be sure to join our Honorary Hosts, Rick and Denise Mills, Saturday, September 18, for an evening of fun and entertainment at our signature event Library Lets Loose!

Library lovers everywhere will enjoy this festive, FREE, family-friendly event.  Better yet, register now! And in the meantime, here’s a look at some of the fun from last year’s event.

Rick and Denise Mills, 2021 Library Lets Loose Honorary Hosts.

Your Sponsorship supports life-long learning resources and programs for patrons of all ages including:

  • Library collection enrichment
  • Youth homework assistance online
  • Art and community engagement programs
  • Early literacy initiatives
  • Summer Reading
  • Youth-at-risk programs
  • Teen literary programs
  • Local writers’ workshops
  • Incarcerated services books and services
  • Race Project KC
  • Online programming for education and entertainment
  • STEM education through the Black & Veatch MakerSpace

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