Velma Jones Stroetker Library Service Award

Traci Siebert and William “Bill” Schwab, center, hold the Velma Jones Stroetker Library Service Award while surrounded by past winners and friends of the library May 5 outside the Washington Public Library. 

Traci Siebert and William “Bill” Schwab received the Velma Jones Stroetker Library Service Award for volunteer service to the Washington Public Library. They were selected in 2020, but due to COVID-19, they received the awards in a small ceremony this May.

The award is not given out annually but when staff want to recognize an exceptional volunteer, library director Nelson Appell said. The last time the award was given was in 2014, when the nonprofit support group Friends of the Washington Public Library received it. Appell said this year’s two winners were easy to pick.

“This was a slam dunk decision,” Appell said. “Everyone (at the library) knows them and knows their work.”

Siebert has spent 11 years as treasurer for Friends of the Library, joining the organization a few months after it began. Appell said that in addition to her helping the library apply for grant funding over the years, Siebert’s management of the group’s money has helped the library purchase computers, copiers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and activities for kids — things he said wouldn’t have happened without Friends.

“What people don’t understand is that the library offers so much more than just books,” Siebert said. “It’s almost like a media center. You can make copies, we do passport photos. Before the pandemic they were doing computer classes for people. And now they have what they’re calling their ‘little box of oddities.’ That’s really exciting to me, that you can go to the library and rent a fishing pole.”

Siebert said the Washington Library has been important to her throughout her life. As a child living on the west side of town, she remembers walking to City Hall and climbing up the steps to the top floor — the library’s former home.

“I remember distinctly when I was little doing the summer reading program,” said Siebert, who works as a bookbinder at Enduro Binders in Washington. “They had a tree on the wall, and if you read so many books you got to add a paper leaf. I put so many leaves on the tree that I made my mom and dad come look to see how many had my name on it.”

As a lifelong patron, Siebert remembers well the namesake of the award. Velma Jones Stroetker was the longest-serving librarian in Washington’s history with 44 years at the post, 26 of them as head librarian. She died in 2003 at the age of 88 after overseeing the library’s move from the top floor of City Hall to the municipal center. At the time of her death, fellow librarian Carolyn Witt wrote that Stroetker “was the Washington Public Library.”

Schwab also remembers seeing Stroetker behind the librarian desk when he brought his children to the library when they were young. Growing up in Cincinnati, Schwab frequented its city library as a child too, most enjoying the never-ending selection of books. Today, he said he most enjoys the conversations that lectures and speaker nights can facilitate at the library. For around 14 years, he has been the main person contacting authors and organizing those events, as well as biannual foreign policy discussions. His guests have included an NPR journalist, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports editor and a photographer from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

“I always say, people want a place to have civil discourse, and that’s hard to find in our current situation, in our current society,” he said. “I think the library is a really good place to engage in that. There are so many points of view in the books in the library.”

Schwab was the pastor at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ for 24 years, and as a retiree he joined the book club and is a past president of the Friends of the Library board. He said the news of the award came as a surprise.

“I’ve been a lifelong learner, and I’ve always found I very much like to share the love of learning,” he said. “I’m not planning to win awards, I’m just going about my business trying to create more interest in the library and provide opportunities.”