A former Madisonian whose mother was a Sequoya Library staff member in the 1960s and 1970s has joined Madison Public Library Foundation’s Epilogue Circle by leaving a percentage of his estate to the organization.
Keith White, who lives in Port Townsend, Wash., says he wanted to memorialize his mother, Zenoba White, with a gift to the institution she treasured for many years of her life.
Zenoba was the oldest child of nine, her son says. She graduated from high school early, then completed a two-year teaching program and taught school in a rural community for a couple years. During the Great Depression, she moved to Madison; at the time, she was in her mid- to late 20s. After the move, she took some typing courses and eventually became a library assistant, although Keith isn’t sure what drove her to make that career choice.
In 1958, Zenoba accepted a position in the children’s area at Madison Public Library’s downtown location on Carroll Street, spending about two years there before moving to another assistant position at Sequoya Library, where she remained until she retired.
“She loved working there,” White recalls. “She was an avid reader, and it was probably the ideal job for her. She constantly brought books home that would stimulate me and help me make something of my life.”
Just as it remains today, the library was a place for kids to go after school and in the evening to study, White says. “Some of them would not always be as quiet or respectful of the surroundings as they should have been,” he says. “Mom was tasked with getting them to comply. Many of those she shunned from the premises became friends of mine. They all respected her.”
He recalled one day after a big snowfall, when a group of kids made a giant snowball and rolled it into the parking lot, then rolled it into the library through the front door. “She put her
foot down and stopped them,” he says. “There are probably still people in the [Madison] area who she kicked out of the library.”
White remembers some specific titles his mom checked out for him that piqued his interest in two important subjects: Paul de Kruif’s Microbe Hunters: The Classic Book on the Major Discoveries of the Microscopic World, an international best-seller that tells the story of scientists, bacteriologists, and doctors who discovered microbes and invented vaccines to counter them; and Matthew Josephson’s The Robber Barons: The Classic Account of the Influential Capitalists Who Transformed America’s Future, which examined the careers of American finance and industry moguls, such as Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller, at the turn of the 20th century. These books influenced White’s decision to earn degrees in history and zoology from UW-Madison, and he says he’s indebted to her for that. For most of his adult life, he worked at UW-Madison’s Admissions office, where he led new student admission and recruitment.
His mom also shared books about Scandinavian design and furnishings, which became a personal interest for him. “She encouraged me to look at things with a more artistic eye,” he says.
Zenoba continued to work at the library through the late 1970s. When she died in 1998, White directed her friends and family to send a gift in her memory to Sequoya Library. “Noting the utter enjoyment that the library job brought to her and the effect her work had on me, it just seems it would’ve been remiss not to consider a gift to the library,” White says of his legacy gift to the foundation.
White, who moved away from Madison about 20 years ago, continues to be a regular library user, he says. “We have a wonderful county library system in Jefferson County, Washington. I’m there every other day checking out books, DVDs, or other material. Frankly, that was one of the reasons why we picked this particular spot. We would not have picked it if it were not a well-supported and extremely well-run library.”