Foundation Stories

Honorary co-chairs Cindy Wallis-Lage and Kent Lage greeted people from their home

Johnson County Library Foundation President Vickie Trott summed up one craving in 2020 as she addressed attendees at this year’s annual Library gala: “In these unusual times,” Trott said, “we need to let loose however we can until we can let loose in person again.”

And that’s exactly what happened Sept. 12, with the “virtual” Library Lets Loose celebration and fund-raiser. Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, this year’s event could not be held in-person and pivoted to online. Using the On24 platform, the Foundation hosted an event that still featured fun activities, capped off by a virtual dance club where people were encouraged to get their groove on from the comfort of their own homes.

“I am truly amazed at the ingenuity and willingness of so many people to look at the possibility to keep our Library Lets Loose event an ongoing tradition,” Trott told participants.

Honorary co-chairs Cindy Wallis-Lage and Kent Lage greeted people from their home. “Even in this time where we are sheltered in place a lot and we don’t get to go out to the places that we like to go, the Library is still there as a great resource,” Wallis-Lage said. “We hope you have a fantastic night and really remember how much the Library means to all of us.”  

In past years, the gala has attracted 44 sponsors and about 500 participants. This year, the event still garnered 44 sponsors and more than 500 attendees.  Feedback was very positive. The event was free to register but many people and companies still made generous donations. “As a Foundation, we are grateful for the brave Library Lovers who were willing to try an online fundraising event,” said Foundation Executive Director Stephanie Stollsteimer. “We are thrilled with the outpouring of financial support as well.”

The event, moderated by DJ Stann Tate, began with a reception and music by local acoustic guitarist and singer/songwriter Sean McNown. Andrew Olsen, beverage director with the J. Rieger and Co., demonstrated how to mix the “Library Lets Loose” cocktail. Participants could choose from a variety of experiences including a behind-the-scenes introduction to Library staff, activities for kids, and Trivia games. Some people had trouble finding the breakout rooms at first but tech support was quickly available.

The MakerSpace staff demonstrated the fascinating process of creating a wood block relief print, using an industrial roller and design by artist Shawn Sanem. The celebrity reader room featured local notables reading from favorite books; former Chiefs Hall of Fame offensive lineman Will Shields read from Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom.” “We love Libraries and believe every child should learn to read and have access to books,” Shields’ wife Senia said.

Author Candice Millard shared how, when she was about 10 years old, she got a free book from a small town Library, which she has treasured ever since. She chose the book because of its wonderful title: “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou. “I had never experienced books that could be incredibly moving, that could take you somewhere you have never seen or imagined and are beautifully written,” she said.

With fundraisers like Library Lets Loose, the Foundation continues to help provide Library resources to open people’s eyes, as Millard’s were, to the power of great books to transform lives.

Lynn Horsley

In celebration of Library Lets Loose we proudly present another segment of our “celebrity guests” sharing a Library story special to them. We hope you enjoy their stories, and join us online September 12 for more great fun!

Today’s special guest is Candice Millard, writer, reading an excerpt from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou.

In celebration of Library Lets Loose we proudly present the second of our 8-part video series of our “celebrity guests” sharing a Library story special to them. We hope you enjoy their stories, and join us online September 12 for more great fun!

Today’s special guest is Ben Bliss, tenor with The Metropolitan Opera, reading an excerpt from East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

Join our Honorary Hosts Cindy Wallis-Lage and Kent Lage for our signature fundraising event – this year at the eLibrary!

Since 2016, the Johnson County Library Foundation’s biggest annual event and fundraiser has been “Library Lets Loose,” attracting about 500 people to Central for an evening of games, music, dancing, food and fun. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, it quickly became apparent that such an event couldn’t be held this year. The Foundation briefly considered cancelling, but decided to forge ahead with a virtual event that people can enjoy from home.

“We have found that people want to support the Library and this event is a perfect fit for them,” says Foundation Executive Director Stephanie Stollsteimer. “This year has been so weighted by uncertainty for everyone. If anyone has the capacity to give, we can help them with a way to do that. We want to join everyone to cultivate the community spirit of the Library.”

This year’s event is scheduled for Sept. 12, and planning is well underway. More details will soon be available on the Foundation website.

In the past, participants have bought a $75 ticket. This year’s event will be free, although donations are always welcome and encouraged. Attendees will view a brief presentation, then move to a variety of virtual rooms offering storytelling, trivia, games, musical performances and other entertainment. “We’re hosting interactive activities where people can participate from their home,” Stollsteimer said. “Some of it will be live, some recorded.”

The event also relies on dedicated volunteers. This year the effort is led by honorary hosts Cindy Wallis-Lage and Kent Lage. Stollsteimer praised the hosts, both engineers, for their can-do spirit in the face of the pandemic. In a letter inviting event sponsorships, the hosts urged continued financial support to help sustain Johnson County Library as a vital community resource.

“The current world emergency has highlighted the value of readily available learning resources for our community during a time with so much uncertainty,” they wrote. “As a valued partner in our community, the Library has remained available 24/7 with online resources for education, news, and entertainment.” 

Kent Lage is an urban services manager with Johnson County Public Works. Cindy Wallis-Lage is a top executive with Black & Veatch, which is the lead corporate sponsor of Central’s MakerSpace. Both Black & Veatch and MakerSpace epitomize innovation, creativity and productivity — qualities needed now more than ever.

Cindy Wallis-Lage said that growing up in Topeka, she visited the Library every week and it instilled in her a lifelong love of reading. “That was my place to go, all through high school, it was that sanctuary,” she said. As she and her husband raised three children in Johnson County, libraries were a big part of their lives and learning.

She said continuing the Library Lets Loose event this year is worthwhile, “to show how the Library is very agile,” and an important resource for information about different cultures in our world. “We can continue to support the community, whether it’s walking in in person or doing it virtually,” she said.

Additional sponsors are welcome and can contact Stollsteimer at [email protected].

While COVID-19 poses unique challenges, Stollsteimer knows that the Foundation’s supporters, like the Library they love, are resilient and adaptable, and this year’s event will illustrate that. “We are all finding our way together,” she said. “Libraries and communities need each other, and we’ll persevere.”

The Johnson County Library Foundation had planned to gather April 19 at Central to thank members of the 1952 Society, who make planned bequests, and Readers Circle, the Library’s most generous donors.

Featured speaker was to be Dr. Schuyler Jones, a renowned explorer and retired Oxford professor who is said to be the inspiration for Hollywood hero Indiana Jones.

With the pandemic, it looked as if the appreciation event would have to be canceled. But the Foundation was undaunted and created a “virtual” gathering, with Jones present via “Zoom” from his Sedgwick County home.

“He’s an adventurer,” said Foundation Executive Director Stephanie Stollsteimer, adding that Jones, 90, was eager to try something new.

Jones described growing up on a Kansas farm without electricity or indoor plumbing but with wonderful parents and a love of reading. At age 20 he began his travels, which took him to Africa, Afghanistan and countless exotic ports of call.

“I’ve been extraordinarily lucky,” he told participants. Travel in the 1950s and 1960s was cheap and safe. Even in the remotest villages he was treated as an honored guest. He learned multiple languages and had amazing escapades, including tiger hunting with the King of Nepal. He eventually ran one of Britain’s most esteemed museums, the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford.

The “Zoom” presentation also featured Jones’ stunning photographs of the people, architecture and scenery he encountered.

For anyone wanting more about his story, Jones’ most recent book is “A Stranger Abroad: A Memoir.”

-By Lynn Horsley

Maker Angelica Sandoval

Black & Veatch MakerSpace makers are doing some amazing work producing CDC approved masks for front-line workers. They’ve assembled sewing kits from donated fabric from a company called Twirl Connect. In addition, they are making face shields from laser cut plastic and 3D printer plastic with supplies purchased by Black & Veatch.

Makers Angelica Sandoval and Nick Ward-Bopp are leading the cloth mask production effort.

“We knew that many Library  staff know how to sew, but we were not sure which materials to use, which mask styles were approved by hospitals, or how to identify hospitals in need,” Ward-Bopp said.

After connecting with Johnson County Emergency Management Services, the makers found that 100 percent cotton fabric is preferred, and the County is accepting donations at their Med-Act station.

With Twirl Connect’s donation of 150 yards of cotton fabric, he and Sandoval put together kits for staff that include fabric, patterns, and thread. Library Adult Services Manager Kinsley Riggs, with help from her mother, spent an entire weekend cutting the fabric for the kits.

As of April 7, more than 35 staff had sewn 517 masks.

“It’s not often we get to have that sort of direct community impact,” Ward-Bopp said. “I’m thankful to everyone who has stepped up to help.”

Donated masks are being delivered through EMS to Johnson County Developmental Supports and will be used for staff who continue to do residential visits.

“We want to help get masks into the hands of medical professionals, first responders, and anyone on the front lines who are treating or working in proximity with COVID-19 patients or public,” Ward-Bopp said. “Making a mask may not seem like a big act, but it could save a life.”

In addition to cloth masks, Makers Thomas Mailloux and Brian Oertel are coordinating the production of 3D printed parts for face shields. Six 3D printers run day and night in the MakerSpace, printing the headbands used on the shields with materials purchased by Black & Veatch. Several printers are on loan from the MakerLab at Johnson County Community College, and other community partners are pitching in with material and hardware to help the effort.

The machines can print two headbands at a time, and each print job takes seven hours, Riggs said. She estimates that the makers are making 18 face shields per day. Black and Veatch has provided most of the materials however, the team needs more supplies.

“Supplies for making masks and shields are starting to become scarce,” said MakerSpace Facilitator Brian Oertel. “It has forced us to be a little more creative in finding materials.”

Filament for 3D printing is becoming hard to find, as well as acetate inserts. Elastic has also been in short supply. Makers are prototyping creative solutions, like using Avery plastic dividers as inserts and pipe cleaners to create a moldable nose piece for the cloth masks.

“The goal is to provide products that can lengthen the life of medical grade PPE or provide people some barrier to infection,” Oertel said. “If we can’t be physically near others, we can still offer something to the community.”

The makers continue to search for creative solutions to supply shortages and will be reaching out to the private businesses for help. They will also keep doing what they do best – creating solutions where it seems like none exist.

“We are investigating printing other things beside face masks,” Oertel said. “There are designs out there for ventilation splitters, to allow multiple patients to use one ventilator.

“If we as makers can do anything to help those people dealing with the pandemic head on, we have to try,” Oertel said.

– Laura Hunt, JCL Internal Communications Manager

Every now and then, in the life of a non-profit organization, individuals become involved who hold that organization in such high esteem, they go above and beyond to lend their support. The Johnson County Library is fortunate to have two such individuals: Carol and Fred Logan.

Carol and Fred have given decades of dedication and support to the Library and in 2019 they took it one more step. They asked if they could make a lead gift to establish a fund to benefit the Library well into the future. The result of their interest is the establishment of a new fund, The Johnson County Library Leadership Fund.

This fund will provide financial support to enhance leadership development opportunities for Johnson County Library staff. The Logans believe that the Johnson County Library staff is the finest in the United States and leadership development is essential for growth into the future.

Carol and Fred’s lead gift will do just that. Lead the way for other donors to join in this significant philanthropic initiative. In fact, the JCL Foundation board of directors voted to match the lead gift one-to-one and so the total of the fund to date is $120,000. The Johnson County Library Leadership Fund will be an endowed fund to last in perpetuity. To make a donation to add to the fund, please contact Teresea Simpson, [email protected].

As I reflect back, the Library has been an ongoing integral part of all stages of my life.

As a young child, my first trip to a library was a bookshelf in our local bank that my own mother and one of her friends started for other mothers to swap books with one another. Those books fed my curiosity of a world that I couldn’t have imagined without stories of adventuresome heroes. As an Iowa farm girl, books and newspapers at our local library kept me up to date on world news when I was living in a relatively isolated area. Oh how we looked forward to these trips into town to explore what was new on these bookshelves!

As a young single mother, the Library gave me a respite – a quiet place from a hectic lifestyle that created hours of self guided entertainment for my children, that was educational, free of charge, and most importantly, quiet and safe. My kids loved exploring the shelves and escaping into great books and children’s magazines – I could not have afforded these books or magazines otherwise.

As an entrepreneur, the meeting rooms at the Library became an office and the librarians were great market researchers. Their vast knowledge of business, based on experience, and the questions from thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs with questions before me, provided me with in-library resources that answered questions that I hadn’t even thought to ask. The result was a multi-million-dollar business venture that made headline news in The Wall Street Journal.

As an aspiring business leader, I attracted the attention of the business community when The Kansas City Star published a front page photo of me with First Lady Laura Bush and then- County Librarian Mona Carmack, when I was asked as a patron to accept an award honoring Johnson County Library as one of our country’s Best Libraries. We had a delightful morning, including brunch, with the First Lady in the State Dining Room where international leaders and celebrities are typically wined and dined. Priceless!

As a business leader today, various community conversations the Library has hosted on climate change, race relations, literacy in our community and root causes of poverty have been insightful. Inviting community leaders to come together to discuss current events in an open forum to educate one another and to share different viewpoints has been eye opening and insightful.

As a curious continuous learner, the Black and Veatch MakerSpace green room and video production center has given me the opportunity to experiment with producing promotional videos and voice-overs. Renting a professional recording studio would have been cost-prohibitive and yet the Library offers it for free and when the early tapings were less than perfect, I didn’t feel like I wasted a lot of money on studio costs. Glass etching is next on my “to-do” list in the MakerSpace. I want to personalize wine glasses for a wedding gift for my niece. I can’t wait to try it.

And, as a grandparent, hearing the squeal of delight from my granddaughter when she learned that she could take Library books home with her still brings a smile to my face. The joy of the Library keeps on giving. So, as you can see, the Library has been an integral resource all throughout my life. And continues to be.

Why do I give? Because I’m so grateful for the many services and resources the Library has provided me and how invaluable it is to our community. The legacy of the Library is one I hope to pass on to other young children exploring places and connecting with characters that books create in their imagination; to other young parents who have great aspirations for their children and want them to have access to books they can’t afford; to other aspiring business owners who will benefit from Johnson County librarians’ experience and vast knowledge of business research; to DIY crafters who want to experiment in the MakerSpace and perhaps discover a newfound hobby; and for grandparents like myself who love to see the joy on our grandchildren’s faces when they learn they get to take the books home with them. That’s why I give! To give back for all that I’ve received.

It’s time for the Foundation’s annual appeal and your year-end gift will have a profound impact on our community. The Foundation funds Library books, and educational programs that encourage curiosity, spark imagination and bring dreams to life.

Your contribution will help secure resources to support the Library’s lifelong learning programs including:

• 6 by 6 Ready To Read
• Summer Reading
• Homework Help
• Genealogy
• elementia Teen Literary Program
• Black & Veatch MakerSpace
• Civic Engagement
• Joan Berkley Writers Fund

Your contribution to the Foundation will go toward resources for Library programs, services, and the growth of the collection of more than 1 million items. Did you know you can also support the JCL Foundation through your IRA?

Thank you for your continued support!

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