GORDON – Two Gordon septuagenarians have pooled their experiences and passion for books to ensure that southwestern Palo Pinto County will have the opportunity to be well read, smarter and more culturally savvy.
Lillie Petty and Betty Allison are in their 70s and had similar pasts, working with show horses. But they lived in different regions of Texas, and didn’t know each anything about each other until they met after Allison moved to Gordon in March. Once they met, their passion for reading and their dream to open a community library and museum brought their skills, abilities, vision and fortitude together.
Thanks to their guidance and ability to beg and rally volunteers, the Gordon Community Library and Museum now exists in one of Gordon’s oldest buildings and will open for business on Tuesday.
Petty and her husband, Dwaine, have lived permanently in Gordon since 1996. The couple were from Southlake, Texas, where they had owned and managed a horse-boarding facility, specializing in showing quarter horses. They visited the Gordon area in 1988 and, “on a fluke,” Petty said they bought land south of Gordon.
She said they would visit and retreat to Gordon and eventually moved there. Since then, Petty has been active in the Methodist church and teaches quilting and sewing classes there. She also serves on Gordon City Council and is planning to run for mayor this spring.
Offer her a new idea and her eyes widen and sparks seem to ignite behind them.
“The preacher says if you want to get busy come to me,” she said with a smile.
Newcomer Allison wasted no time getting involved in the community after moving to Gordon from Midland, Texas, in March. She is widowed and has no children, but has a niece living in Mesquite with whom she is close. So, to be closer, physically, to her niece, Allison split the difference along Interstate 20 and moved to Gordon.
She said she knew two people in Gordon, Max and Imogene Wheeler, from when she and her deceased husband, Guy, worked in the Appaloosa horse breeding and showing business. In the ‘60s, they managed Carl Miles’ C-Bar Ranch horses, including the famous stallion Joker B. Later, the Allisons and Wheelers had neighboring horse farms in Potosi, Texas, south of Abilene.
After the Wheelers moved to Gordon, Betty Allison said she would visit them every time she drove eastward on Interstate 20. The former school teacher thought the Gordon area would be a nice transition from Midland. To find a home, she said she googled the words “Gordon” and “real estate” and, on a Saturday, she found a three-bedroom house with extras, including a large added-on game room, which she arranged to see on Sunday and made an offer.
In a matter of days, she not only purchased the house in Gordon, but sold her Midland townhouse to a couple she saw standing in her courtyard who saw the house the day she listed it.
“Everything just fell into place and it seemed like it was the thing to do,” she said. “I just think the Lord sent me here.”
Within a few months of moving to Gordon, Allison met Petty and learned of the library/museum project. She hopped on board. Today, Petty serves as board president and Allison as vice president.
“I wanted a library for selfish reasons,” added Petty of her love for books.
Allison, having taught mostly elementary school children during her teaching career, had also volunteered in libraries in Midland and Alpine, Texas. But she discovered her new community had no summer reading program for its children.
“I can’t imagine summer going by without books to read,” she said, adding, “reading is so relaxing and important and can take you where you want to go.”
“You just look around,” Allison said of Gordon and the area. “We just wanted to see this town revitalized.”
Building a library and museum
Who would have thought in just over six months the Gordon Community Library and Museum would be opening. Certainly not some of the librarians they met through the course of their late 2009 journey.
They said the library in Saint Jo, Texas, helped them the most. “Two times we got loads of books and information,” said Allison, adding that the Saint Jo librarian told them it took the town three years to open their library. “It’s taken us six months.”
They also received books from libraries in Springtown, Weatherford and Dublin. Allison visited the library in Kearns, Texas, which started from scratch, to “pick their brains.”
Along the way there were naysayers – those who thought it couldn’t be done because of past experiences. Petty, who serves as a Gordon councilwoman, asked city council if they wanted a library last summer. She said one of the members commented, “Nobody reads anymore.”
“This town needs a library and they voted it down,” she said. The nearest and only other public library in the county is in Mineral Wells – 30 miles away.
She broached the subject again to council members the next month, asking for the crumbling late 1800s building that the family of banker Robert Barton gave the city, designating it as a museum.
“They told me if I could do it, they’d be behind me 100 percent,” said Petty.
The physical process to breathe new life into the building started last summer. They worked with community members and formed a board of directors for the new Gordon Community Library and Museum.
“The only way this library got built,” said Petty, “I had to acquaint myself with people who knew more than I did.”
“Betty knew more about running a library, but I wanted to build it,” Petty said about their division of duties.
With funds from the area hotel/motel tax, Petty engaged contractors to restore and update the old building.
They decided, at Petty’s urging, to bar code the books. They heard about Biblionix, a company that specializes in working with small libraries, and Allsion called libraries all over Texas that used the company. They now have an online searchable database.
But there’s more than books and media.
There’s history and architecture beginning with the old, former mercantile building. The first thing that strikes a passerby is the professionally designed sign, new wooden columns and large half-round transom windows adorning the facade of what is thought to be Gordon’s oldest building.
Allison and Petty both seemed eager and gratified to show the building’s before and after pictures while sitting in the new-smelling building. Inside, the library looks more like a Starbucks Coffee store, with its high ceiling, a subtle mural painted by Gordon artist Bonnie Dickson and modern lighting.
The new, warm paint and carpeting along with a refurbished original fireplace in the back of the building – that was once boarded over – help add to the eclectic atmosphere.
“I fought tooth and toenail to get that fireplace,” said Petty. “I said I wanted it restored and they looked at me [with a] ‘huh?’”
The fireplace now has reading chairs, an Amish fireplace insert and regional walnut mantle donated by area rancher Bud Dearing.
“I’m kind of shy,” Petty said. “I’ve gotten over that and I have asked people for donations of time.”
This included church members who helped frame the bathroom, conning her daughter’s boyfriend – an electrician – into wiring the building. James Taft, designer for much of the 7-R Ranch buildings, helped with a concept and initial floor plans for the dilapidated old building.
“James helped me get focused,” said Petty. “He came in and looked at the building and did a floor plan and I went with it from there.”
Additionally, the 7-R Ranch donated shelves, wooden tables and other decorative furniture. Even the school gave some shelves and tables.
“I got to where I’m not shy [when] asking people to help,” said Petty.
“We’re old, but not ready to be planted,” she added of their fortitude.
“Pinch me and make sure this is happening,” said Petty, when asked if she could believe the community library came together like it did and would open next week.
Not only did they help breathe new life into the historic building, they have amassed over 5,000 media – books, videos, DVDs and the like. Allison said they hope for 7,000 books and objects, so they can qualify for some grants.
Both women are quick to point out that the new building and its contents came about through the volunteer efforts of many in the community and some in the Metroplex. Two volunteers, Tavia Tiblets and Jerry Simien, became the director and assistant director, respectively.
Petty and Allison say the board includes “really sharp people” who bring together many talents and experiences.
Since there is still work to be done, the library/museum directors plan a soft opening for Tuesday.
But once this happens, the place will be active, with books, video, DVDs and similar media, photographs – vintage and copies – of Gordon’s early development, computers and programs.
“I wanted people in southern Palo Pinto County to realize that this is their library. It’s for them and their kids. It’s not the city’s library, but the community’s,” Petty said, adding that she hopes kids in the area soon feel a sense of ownership for the center.
On the museum side, Allison said, “It will become a venue for local artisans to display their work.”
They plan to have Sunday afternoon speakers addressing topics like the history of the southwestern Palo Pinto County area. At 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 7, they will begin a speaker’s forum, featuring longtime resident Robert Skeeter Pierce, who will tell of his memories of Gordon.
Allison said that on April 15, they will have a “cornbread and beans” fundraiser dinner at the Gordon School. There will be no charge for the dinner, but they will take donations.
Hours of operation
The Gordon Community Library and Museum will have a soft opening Tuesday. To begin with, hours of operation are: Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sunday noon-2 p.m. (unless there is a program). For more information, call (254) 693-5680 or visit the Web site gordonlibrary.org.
Staff writer Libby Cluett can be reached at (940) 325-4465, ext. 3422, or email@example.com.