Foundation Stories

Meet the Author: Matt Stewart.

written by Shelley O’Brien, Executive Director of the Johnson County Library Foundation

There is nothing better than the beginning of the baseball season. When I was a college student at KU, we often went to Opening Day. Usually, I needed a raincoat or my winter jacket, but we braved the cold day as the first major sign of spring. It was always an optimistic day, with nothing but potential and a wonderful summer ahead of us.

Going to see the Royals always reminded me of my grandmother Ruby Wilson from Pittsburg, Kansas. She was the closest thing I knew to a baseball expert. She would listen to at least three games a week on the radio in the 1970s and 1980s. It brought her so much joy, especially the 1985 World Series; she was bursting with pride that year. My grandmother always had strong opinions about the team and the coaching staff. Way before fantasy baseball leagues, she knew exactly what changes the roster needed to be made to make it to October.

If you are a baseball expert or a casual fan, celebrate the beginning of the Royals season with your Johnson County Library.

Matt Stewart, Local Emmy award-winning TV anchor and reporter at Fox 4 News, will be with us on Thursday, March 21st at 6:30 pm to discuss his newest book – The Kansas City Royals: An Illustrated Timeline. In his book containing more than 160 color pictures and insight into the Royals organization, Matt details every big moment and profiles your favorite players through the decades, from George Brett to Bo Jackson to Eric Hosmer to Bobby Witt Jr.

Joining Matt will be Curt Nelson, Director of the Royals Hall of Fame. Nelson has worked in various roles for the Royals organization for the past 25 years.

They will be presenting at the Lenexa City Center Library, in the main room. This event is free, open to the public, and sponsored by the Johnson County Library Foundation. We hope you will join us and think of all the wonderful spring and summer days you have experienced at the K.

Why I Give: Joan Cabell

Growing up in a small town, our trips to the library were a high point. I remember sitting down on the floor amongst the shelves of books and reading until my parents were ready to help me check out my books. Some of my earliest memories involve snuggling in bed with my sister and reading our library books. Our whole family were voracious readers and after the lights were out in the neighborhood our lights still burned bright.

In college, the library became my refuge for researching, studying, and bringing groups together to work on projects. The librarians were knowledgeable, and kind and it always felt like a safe environment.

As an adult, I continued my journey with the Johnson County Library by joining the Library Foundation Board and learning about all the great initiatives that the Foundation and the library provided to the community. I also worked at several of the Friends of the Library book sales and really enjoyed meeting people and watching them fill their sacks full of wonderful books.

Today, I am retired and can now do what I love best. And that is perusing the shelves and taking my time in picking out all my favorites which include suspense and historical fiction novels. I am currently reading The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict. 

I cannot imagine my life without libraries and the joy, excitement, and knowledge that they have brought me. Please support the Johnson County Library Foundation and bring that joy of reading to everyone in our community.

I Heart Libby!

written by Shelley O’Brien, Executive Director of the Johnson County Library Foundation

A couple of years ago, I visited a public library just southwest of Topeka on a rainy afternoon. As I was walking in, it hit me. The smell of my childhood library. I don’t know if it was the paper alone, or the moisture in the air; but this was the smell I loved as a child. A smell that brought me so much happiness.

Sometimes I see library patrons walking into Cornith or Cedar Roe with that same look on their face. The happy smell of books waiting to be checked out. The rows and rows of interesting stories. The nostalgia of hours as a child in the library.

I say all of this, and yet, I’m one of the people who never check out physical books anymore. Yes, I’m exclusively a digital book reader now. I even Marie Kondo’d my book collection before moving back to Kansas. I only buy books at Rainy Day Books for gifts.

My Kindle and the Libby application gets used single every day. The font is on a larger, pleasing setting. Most of the time it is connected to my Wi-Fi, but occasionally, I have to go to airplane mode to finish an expired book. Most days you will find my Kindle on my nightstand or sitting quietly on a pillow. Patiently waiting for me to get home to travel to our next adventure. This past week we were in Jamaica with Safiya Sinclair and “How to Say Babylon”. This week with Curtis Chin and “Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant.”

Many of you are digital readers or listeners, too. In fact, the Johnson County Library had over 1 million digital checkouts in 2023. This was the first year for our library to go over the one million mark. I bet it will only be a couple years till we start moving in on 2 million. Why? Because we love our computers, and we love convenience.

For those of you who are digital users with me, consider what your local library is giving you. No driving to the library, checking out is a breeze, thousands and thousands of choices in the palm of your hand, fairly short waiting times, and a book with larger font that is backlit to not strain your eyes.

Thank you, Johnson County Library, for embracing the Libby app and loving digital AND physical books. We are grateful for the library staff in the collections department who make the selections, do purchasing, catalog the titles, and make all these wonderful digital materials possible.

We Need Taylor and Travis - written by Shelley O'Brien

written by Shelley O’Brien, Executive Director of the Johnson County Library Foundation

I’ve been fundraising for a couple of years. I’ve seen lots of fundraising events and trends come and go. But one comment that always comes up is the philanthropic rich person of the moment.

“We need Taylor and Travis! They should give to Library Lets Loose.”

“Why can’t you ask Makenzie Scott to support our library?”

There is this fantasy of the philanthropic wealthy person who is on Instagram or on the cover of US Weekly who is going to come to save the day. In reality, it almost never happens.

And yes, I know Travis Kelce has a home in Leawood, just minutes away from our Leawood Pioneer Branch. And yes, if I run into him at Trader Joe’s, I promise I will tell him about our amazing public libraries. I will take selfies, I promise.

But who really makes a difference by giving to the Johnson County Library Foundation?

You do.

You are the donor who sends a donation to the Johnson County Library every year.

You are the library supporter who buys two tickets to Library Lets Loose every year.

You are the employee who asks their boss to make a bigger gift to the library this year.

You are the library patron who leaves the library foundation in your will or trust.


Because the Johnson County Library means a lot to you. You love to drop by and browse the new books section. You remember when your kids were little and loved story time at the library. You see people every day who access computers and meeting rooms to get jobs and make our community better.

We don’t need Oprah to support the Johnson County Library. We need you.

Thank you for all your support now and in the future. Johnson County Library Foundation is a great place to invest in our community and in lifelong learning for everyone.

Why I Give by Mike Sherry

Have you ever heard of Harmon Killebrew? What about Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean?

No? That’s OK. It takes a pretty in-depth knowledge of baseball to know those men are legends enshrined in Cooperstown.

For me, those names bring back childhood memories of a storefront in a south Kansas City strip shopping center. The space sat between a large hardware store and a veterinary clinic. It had rectangular fluorescent lights in the drop ceiling, thin gray carpeting, and rolling step stools with squeaky wheels.

This was the Mid-Continent Library’s Red Bridge branch, where I cemented my love of reading by checking out books about baseball immortals. My interests have broadened since then, but my appreciation for libraries is why I serve on the Johnson County Library Foundation board.

My parents’ volunteerism taught me the importance of giving back to the community. As a teen, a friend of mine and I spent part of our summer sprucing up the youth lounge of our synagogue. My volunteer activities as an adult have included walking dogs at an animal shelter (with my mom), delivering groceries to home-bound individuals, and working at fundraising events.

Community service is always rewarding. I sought a seat on the foundation board because it helps fund the library’s array of programming. The library is so much more than books and magazines.

The branches provide essential access to computers for patrons who don’t have one at home, and if you can’t find an activity that interests you, then you just aren’t trying. Offerings range from an intro to soldering, to book discussions and homework help for elementary students.

Libraries also exude calmness. It seems as if my anxieties drain away when I enter a branch.

It has been that way even before my time at the Red Bridge branch. I still remember filing down metal stairs in the boiler room of my elementary school to reach the library. Dinosaurs were my special interest back then.

Baseball chapter books came a little later, and just to fill you in:

Killebrew was a slugger for the Minnesota Twins in the 1960s, and Dean was a strikeout king while pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930s.

Why I Give: Vicki Denk

My love of the library goes back many years.  It started when I paid my way through college by working at the KCK Public Library.   Then I volunteered at the Gardner branch of the Johnson County Library, and recently I served two terms as a member of the Friends of the Johnson County Library Board of Directors.  Beginning this January, I will be serving on the Board of the Library’s Foundation.

Ironically, as I was planning to write this, I saw a lady reading a book, and someone walked by her and said, “I saw that movie.”  Her response was, “Books are better,” and she encapsulated why I give in one succinct phrase.

It is so important that books are available to everyone in the community.  Multiple, uncensored sources of information and points of view are essential, especially in our world today.  Books educate us, expand our world and ideas, and bring us so much joy.  I cannot imagine a world without all that books and reading have brought to me and others.

That is why the work of the Foundation is so important.  It supports early literacy initiatives and service programs that are dedicated to the library and are intended to benefit all ages and interests in our community.  It is so fulfilling to give to a cause that does so much good and that I believe in so passionately.

As for what I’m reading, I just finished reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid and now I’m reading Horse by Geraldine Brooks.

JCLF 2023 Year In Review

written by Shelley O’Brien, Executive Director of the Johnson County Library Foundation

2023 was a year of change for the Johnson County Library Foundation. In January, Executive Director Stephanie Stollsteimer retired after five years working with the Library and the Foundation. She led the organization to new heights, and we are so grateful for her leadership.

In March, I started as the new Executive Director. As a consultant with the Northeast Kansas Library System, I had worked with the Johnson County team previously on their strategic road map, and I knew this was a great opportunity. Every day, I am grateful to work for Johnson County Library. It is truly an honor.

April 2023 brought lots of activities, including the volunteer appreciation luncheon, honoring over 800 volunteers who keep the Johnson County Library and Friends of Johnson County Library running. We appreciate all of your hard work and dedication.

Additionally, the 1952 Society event was in April with award-winning audiobook narrator Edoardo Ballerini. He was interviewed by Deputy County Librarian Kinsley Riggs. The afternoon was endlessly fascinating with Edo’s stories. A huge thank you to Caroline McKnight for coordinating this event.

As more legislation was passed in other states that prohibited some books in libraries, the more we learned about the right to read from Johnson County Library’s own Lacie Griffin. She gave many presentations this spring and summer locally and regionally explaining the importance of intellectual freedom. It truly is the basis of our democracy and our libraries.

The end of the summer means planning for Library Lets Loose in September. It was our best attendance ever with over 600 guests. It was such a fun evening and a great way to celebrate our library system. A BIG thank you to Black & Veatch for being the Library Lets Loose Presenting Sponsor and Julie Steiner and Stann Tate for co-chairing the event.

In October, the Writer’s Conference took place at the Central Resource Library. We want to thank the Berkley Family for sponsoring the conference in memory of the late Joan Berkley, another Johnson County Library lover and advocate.

Here at the end of the year we want to thank Foundation President Leigh Anne Neal for all of her hard work. It has been a true pleasure to work with Leigh Anne. Additionally, Vickie Trott, Ava Christie, and Ben Struby are leaving the board in 2023. We thank all three of you for your dedication and service. You have made a big difference in our library system.

We are not to the end of the year yet for final impact numbers, but I want to thank everyone who donated to the Johnson County Library Foundation this year. It means a lot to me. We are on track to give another $225,000 to the library this year from our donors and grantors. In addition, we extend gratitude to wonderful people like the late Marjorie Sams, who contributed estate gifts to the library foundation endowment. This year, we are adding over $80,000 to the library endowment fund.

Shelley’s Book Recommendations

At the end of every year, I make book recommendations for my family and friends.
(Once a librarian, always a librarian.)

Book of Charlie cover

For 2023, I loved the non-fiction book “The Book of Charlie: Wisdom from the Remarkable American Life of a 109-Year-Old-Man” by David von Drehle. Dr. Charlie White was a fascinating member of the Prairie Village and Kansas City community. Though until this book few knew his name. Von Drehle shares Charlie’s life lessons and a life of resilience.

A fiction book that I loved this year was “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin. Two friends grow up to become video game co-creators. From the outside, it looks like the perfect life; your game becoming internationally popular and then comes wealth and fame. But the reality is that life is complex for the two friends and reaching your professional goals may not solve all of your problems.

At the end of 2023, I wish for you and the world more peace and prosperity. Thank you for continuing to support the Johnson County Library and the library foundation. We appreciate everyone who is a part of our community.

Why I Give: Anjali Pandya

The word Library conjures up wonderful memories of when I was a little girl and how impactful the library was for me. I loved to read and even before I could actually read words, I read picture books making up the stories! For me it was a form of escapism from the harshness of the real world. My family immigrated to the U.K. when I was about five years old. My parents didn’t speak too much English, and both worked long hours. My brother and I were thrust into a new world not speaking or reading English.

The library became an outlet for my imagination, and through reading, I traveled the world, visiting magical places.  In England, the libraries were old, stately, almost gothic buildings, often with little daylight from small windows and dim lights. The furniture, old wooden desks and chairs dotted around, and one could always find a nook or cranny to sit and read a book or do homework and study for a test. My school library, in particular, resembled what we have all seen in movies like Harry Potter – a place that stirs the imagination for all.

My friends and I enjoyed spending a day at library, returning read books and searching for new ones to check out, proudly walking home with our finds. It was a safe place for us to spend time with each other and witness the role it played in the community, with Saturday morning reading clubs for children and different book clubs for adults.

As an adult, I hope that through the Foundation, I can, in a small way, help to support the library system in Johnson County and the many ways it benefits our community.

Today’s libraries are far more complex, providing traditional books and videos and also providing digital formats, technology, groundbreaking interactive spaces like the MakerSpace and genealogy lab, meeting rooms etc. Although well-funded, I see how meaningful the role of the Foundation is in order to continue to develop new features and bring on sponsors to continue to evolve the Library system and ensure it remains a relevant and accessible resource for our community. 

As a newcomer to the Johnson County Library Foundation Board, I fondly recall my earliest encounter with the library during a field trip in elementary school. Throughout my professional journey, libraries have been an invaluable resource for research and discovery.

Today, I see libraries, with their programming and lifelong learning resources, as pillars of our community, offering knowledge and connections. Inspired by their integral role, I am committed to donating my time, skills, and resources to supporting the enrichment they provide. I believe the future of libraries is bright, evolving to meet the diverse needs of our society while retaining their core essence as repositories of knowledge.

Currently, my intellectual curiosities lead me to historical biographies and documentaries, mid-century modern design books – with a soft spot for vintage ones, local history literature, and industrial design, furthering my understanding and love for the stories and designs that shape our world.

Why Libraires are so important by L.D. Johnston.

written by L.D. Johnston

Humankind has long understood the importance of securing, storing, maintaining and making available the viewpoints, understandings, stories, art and actions of those who are able to record their observations. Each snippet of written words, each image, reveals a piece of the story of Humankind.

At Gobekli Tepe, tall standing stones carved some 13,000 years ago by a population we know little about, presented a means of expressing what was meaningful to the people of that time and place. Long buried in the sands of present-day Turkey and only recently discovered, they are the earliest examples found, so far, of people using in symbols to convey what they valued most. It was perhaps an effort to pass down to future generations the collective ideas of a culture: the first library?

It is only through the passed-down, written word and images that we can comprehend the history of our species: the bigger picture of past mistakes and past accomplishments; how far we have progressed, what we have fought for, and what we are capable of, good and bad.

Large cities and small towns began to build libraries for anyone and everyone to have access to whatever interested them. The libraries helped build and improve their communities. The literacy of the citizens became enriched. People began to think about how their community could be better; how the economy could be improved; how the community could be guided into the future and not fall behind and eventually die out.

With the advancement of technology, libraries raced to keep up. They have always depended on the generosity of donations to maintain the public libraries, and the more that the community supports them, the more services they can offer, and thus the community members benefit from their own generosity. Even if the donors don’t use the library often, they benefit by living in a community of well-read, well-informed citizens.

I recently went over to one of our Johnson County Libraries soon after it opened. I felt as if I had walked into a town square: mothers sitting around tables, catching up on news with each other, while their babies slept in strollers beside them; their toddlers busy at other tables working on art projects with paper, scissors and crayons and chatting with each other; children on the floor between book racks, sharing with each other what they’d found in a book they just pulled off the shelf; an older student off by himself, reading a book and taking notes; two men in one of the small meeting rooms, computer between them, discussing something. It was such a wonderful feeling to see the community there, all using the library for different purposes.

When I walk into a library, I am always a bit awed by what it holds: the thoughts, dreams, imaginings, stories, wisdoms, solutions, ideas, experiences, viewpoints, lessons learned, questions asked, wonderings and feelings — of hundreds of thousands of minds throughout history. There is no end to the wonder that lies between those bindings, on those shelves. There’s something there for everyone.

As a genealogist, I can attest that there are many versions of each story passed down through history, and a library allows us to search out all the various versions and decide for ourselves where the truth fits within our own point of view. It is important to review things from as many angles as possible before we decide what feels right. The more sides of an issue we are allowed to explore, the broader our understanding will be of what is right for each of us. And that search across many sides makes it easier to find tolerance for those who chose another version.

If we want our communities to thrive and our citizens to take advantage of the broader education available beyond the limits of our schools, we must support our public libraries, each and every one of us. They are the conservators of all the ideas ever recorded. They hold the key to our history and the lens to our future. They hold our communities together.

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