Donor Profile: Miriam Simmons & James Cain
Editor's Note: This story was written in September 2016. James Cain passed away in January 2017.
Libraries play a leading role in the lives of Miriam Simmons and James Cain, so it’s only natural that they’ve become Loyal Friends contributors to Madison Public Library Foundation, giving for more than 10 consecutive years. And the message that resonated the most in a recent interview with the couple in their east side home came from Cain, but was certainly suggested by Simmons as well: “Having a library card is an amazing privilege.”
Simmons, who spent most of her childhood living in Sun Prairie, recalls biking to her old downtown library. “Being able to take out any book I could is quite exciting when you’re 9,” she said, laughing about the dark Grimm Fairy Tales on the shelves and their “quite awful endings.” James, who grew up in northern Illinois, had a family friend who was a librarian, and his brother chose a career in library science. As a child, Cain lived just down the block from the local library. “It was tiny — an old house that had been converted to a library. When they got around to replacing it, they built a nice big one front of it. It always struck me that there were hundreds of people in the library all the time — it was always busy.”
In 2004, the couple decided to re-examine their charitable giving. “We started rethinking how we were distributing our donations and began to make more of a plan of it: Where do we want to be giving money?” Cain said. “All of a sudden, the library became an important issue.
“Libraries are a critical factor in the fabric of society, and we (as a society) have not prioritized them in recent years.”
The couple support Madison Public Library through the foundation’s fundraising events, including Ex Libris and Lunch for Libraries. Simmons not only gives financially but commits her time, serving on the foundation’s Donor Development Committee and belonging to Friends of the Pinney Library.
Simmons, who earned her doctoral degree in educational leadership and policy analysis at UW-Madison, worked in UW’s Office of the Provost beginning in 1993, then served as an assistant dean in the Graduate School from 2000 until her retirement in 2012. She serves on the board for Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and is a member of First United Methodist Church.
Cain studied history but ultimately chose a career in planning. He worked for the energy extension office at Iowa State University and as an energy planner for the State of Wisconsin for many years before his retirement. He served on the Madison Savoyards board for about seven years, and the group met at Sequoya Library often.
Simmons said she’s been in a neighborhood book club since the 1980s and is now in two. She enjoys checking out large-print books to read during her daily treadmill workouts. Pinney is her primary library, followed by Hawthorne.
“The Pinney Library is busy no matter what time I am there," she said. "I was delighted when I learned a new library was in the works."
“Just the whole idea of doubling that space is marvelous; it’ll be able to serve a lot more people. There are a number of new programs they’ve been waiting to implement. It is an impressive community resource right now, and that will only be enhanced. The city is doing a wonderful job of designing the new entrance off of Cottage Grove Road.”
Both Simmons and Cain are frequent library patrons. They enjoy attending film nights at Pinney, taking advantage of hold requests and using the newspapers/magazines collection. Cain said he appreciates checking out books and videos he is considering buying.
In addition to the libraries, Simmon and Cains support Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio and the League of Women Voters of Dane County.
Simmons and Cain value the library for its accessibility and leveling of the playing field. “It is one of the few places where everyone has the same opportunity,” Simmons said.
Madison’s libraries are just “handy,” Cain said. “You have branches in all major parts of town. They’re getting to be nicer, newer. All the services are at every branch. It’s quite an impressive system, and so accessible.”
Cain said that while Madison schools are quite good, the libraries complement what is taught in the academic setting. “I think at times, libraries can offer an opportunity for learning that’s outside of a structured school setting. Libraries reach younger readers, they offer cultural programs, film fests.”
But what really keeps Simmons and Cain coming back to Madison Public Library and supporting it is the impact it has on the quality of life for all Madisonians.
“A community that prioritizes libraries tells a lot about what people value,” Cain said.
The best way to become a Loyal Friends contributor is to become a foundation Sustainer. This automated program allows you to make a monthly gift directly from your bank account or charge it to a credit card. Call 608.266.6318 to learn more.