Despite digitization and ongoing technological advancements, Betsy Brown is adamant: Libraries hold just as important a role today as they did decades ago before the internet.
Brown, who has long been known as a champion of libraries, was honored Saturday during the Kenosha Public Library’s inaugural gala at Simmons Library.
Her late husband, Howard, also was recognized posthumously for the many contributions he made over the years.
“Howard and I are humbled by this award,” Betsy said on a cool evening outside the Simmons Library. Many of the attendees wore 1920s-era garb in a nod to “The Great Gatsby” theme for the evening.
While Howard, former owner and publisher of the Kenosha News, has since passed on, Betsy said she is pleased to keep her late husband’s memory alive — and alive it was Saturday as she made note of his contributions to the local library system over the years.
Early in her speech, Betsy described Kenosha’s libraries as “granite.” Later on, she said Howard was her “rock” throughout her pursuits to breathe new life into the city’s libraries.
“Howard would be pleased to see so many dear friends here,” Betsy said. “He never questioned my judgment. He loved the library — especially the reference department.”
Since the early 1960s, the Browns became synonymous with the Kenosha Public Library when they moved into the community.
Betsy holds a degree in library service, which was the forerunner to today’s library science degrees. Betsy said the “service” part of the degree is a key word she always kept close to her heart as she advocated for the roles libraries should play in the community.
Howard, for his part, also played a direct role in the library system. For example, he paid for the exterior lighting outside the Simmons Library. After working at the News each evening, Betsy said her husband would drive by the facility each evening, wishing its beauty and stature could be illuminated before the entire community.
During her message to the crowd on Saturday evening, Betsy recounted changes within the Kenosha Public Library over the past half-century, and the journey she and her husband embarked upon during that evolution.
It was not always smooth sailing. Betsy led an effort to change the format of the library system after noticing storefront libraries struggled with organization, and the main facility was overcrowded.
Initially, Betsy said she and her husband advocated for one main library — a proposal that was not supported in several referendum questions and did not receive widespread support from the City Council.
“Gathering at what once was Kenosha’s only library is important,” Betsy said of the evening venue. “This is where it all started.”
Although she said the attention is gratifying, Betsy also used the recognition to pay tribute to several people and organizations who played an important role in bringing the Kenosha Public Library into the neighborhood-centered organization it is today.
The Kenosha Public Library Foundation and its early predecessor, the Friends of the Library, were a pivotal part of raising funds and awareness to see through the growth envisioned.
Betsy said Pat Johnson, former Friends board member, and Ginnie Cooper, library director from 1977-1981, were especially instrumental in shepherding the local system into what it is today.
Several leaders of other organizations said Betsy and Howard were worthy first-time honorees for the foundation’s gala.
“Betsy and Howard — we’re very proud of what they’ve done for this community,” said Ken Fellman, president of the Kenosha Community Foundation.