Bequest deepens public appreciation for Shorewood Public Library

File this under nonfiction: The Shorewood Public Library recently received an extraordinary seven-figure gift from a generous local couple and chose to partner with the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to ensure the most enduring impact.

The late Larry and Elaine (Hafemeister) Lange, longtime Shorewood residents and avid patrons of Shorewood Public Library, left the library the largest bequest in its history – a $5.5 million gift that has since grown to $6.1 million, which is now being managed by the Foundation.

“The library board will be forever grateful to the Langes for this gift that will enrich library services and the learning opportunities available to library patrons of all ages,” said Alex Handelsman, president of the Shorewood Library Board of Trustees.

In 2018, the library served 192,037 visitors and checked out 309,794 physical items. The generosity of the Langes will help the library realize goals outlined in its 2019-2024 strategic plan and expand integral services to foster lifelong learning and strengthen social connections.

Fostering lifelong learning

The Langes were dedicated library users, regularly checking out books and volunteering as tutors in the library’s long-running English Language Learner sessions. Elaine’s sister, Beverly Hafemeister of Cincinnati, said Elaine strongly believed in the library as an institution “where everyone could learn (and) move forward in life.”

Library patron Francis Vogel shares the same belief.

Vogel has been attending the library for over 30 years and frequently visits with his daughters and wife, often looking for new books, a new DVD for a casual evening with his family, and even CDs and magazines from time to time.

“It’s been a very familiar and welcoming place for my family for years, even before we moved to Shorewood. Now that we’re within walking distance, it’s an extension of our own study in our home,” Vogel said. “My daughter’s class also goes to the library, and I love the close working relationship between the school district and the library.”

Strengthening community connections

In addition to connecting people to information, the library has long served as a convener for kids, teens, parents, educators and the general public to share with and learn from each other.

McKenzie Edmonds, a mother of a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old, says she and her kids spend a lot of time in the Early Learning Center.

“I appreciate the diversity in our library,” Edmonds said. “In the Early Learning Center, there are so many languages spoken, which I think is so important for kids to be around.”

Additionally, the library supports community efforts to find and explore common ground by providing opportunities for productive conversation and problem solving.

Initiatives like Reading Race: Community Conversations, a collaboration between Shorewood Public Library, the Shorewood School District and the YWCA of Southeast Wisconsin, have provided a space for patrons to engage with neighbors in crucial conversations about race and racism while studying different books to frame the conversation.

“When it comes to equity and social justice issues, the library is the leader to provide spaces to learn more,” Edmonds said. “I appreciate being in a room with other people who may not think like me because I get to hear their perspectives on the different topics.”

Ensuring long-term impact

The Langes were both professional engineers and lived on North Sheffield Avenue for many years. Elaine passed away in January 2018 followed by Larry in July 2018, but their legacy will live on through the library.

“We are humbled and honored that the Langes thought of the Shorewood Public Library for their lasting legacy,” said Library Director Rachel Collins. “They understood the positive impact the library makes in our community and wanted to ensure that positive impact for future generations.”

The library’s partnership with the Foundation includes establishment of three separate, philanthropic funds that support distinct library activities.

The 2040 Fund

  • This fund is intended to be used toward a major capital campaign for a new library building or major renovations of the current library space projected for 2040 or thereafter.

Board Directed Reserve Fund

  • This fund is intended to provide a long-term source of funds for larger, one-time projects and special opportunities that improve the library environment and experience, support Shorewood community collaborative initiatives, support library operational efficiencies, and help sustainability efforts through energy efficiency and conservation projects.

Permanent Endowment Fund

  • This fund is intended to support ongoing library projects and initiatives and enhance the services the library has been able to provide through operating budget tax levy support.

“We are proud to have a role in this incredible story of personal generosity,” said Ellen Gilligan, Foundation president and CEO. “We are committed to making sure the Langes’ gift remains a source of inspiration and provides growing resources for the Shorewood Public Library that they loved.”