It’s the end of an era for Fuquay-Varina Community Library members. After 33 years in the Wake County Library System, head librarian Cindy McConnell will retire at the end of March.
Originally hired as a clerk in April 1980 by Rachel W. Lewter, McConnell was tasked with handling circulation, creating displays and shelving books at the Apex library, occasionally using fax forms from other library locations.
“That was cutting edge technology at the time,” McConnell said.
Children’s programming was offered only one day a week in Apex by Benjie Hester, a librarian from another location. As the need for more programming grew, McConnell offered to help and quickly learned she had a passion for working with children.
“This new facet of my job quickly became my favorite activity,” she said.
Ron I. Jones, the WCPL youth services coordinator, quickly snapped up McConnell as a member of the Wake County Children’s Services staff. Although based out of the Olivia Raney Library in downtown Raleigh, McConnell covered a lot of ground, traveling to different libraries each day to provide programming and maintain the children’s book collections.
She worked in many libraries such as Fuquay-Varina, Apex, Cary, Athens Drive and Wake Forest.
It was during that time that McConnell met former Apex resident and Fuquay resident since 1988 Pat Barker. McConnell helped Barker’s son with projects at the Apex library while he was in the magnet program.
Barker was delighted to see Cindy again in Fuquay-Varina.
“She’s a very warm and friendly person as well as very knowledgeable,” Barker said of McConnell.
McConnell set down roots at the Fuquay-Varina library in the mid ‘80s, when it was located on Woodrow Street. Tilley Bailey was the branch manager at the time and McConnell became the children’s librarian.
“So many children attended the programs in the tiny building that other patrons would often open the door and decide to come back later, as they were unable to enter the building,” McConnell said.
But the lack of room didn’t stop McConnell from instilling a love of reading in the children she met.
“Some of my fondest memories of that time are thank you hugs, wilted bouquets and gifts made by little hands.”
Senior Library Manager of Communications and Community Relations for WCPL Dale Cousins said it was while McConnell was a roaming librarian that she really began to shine.
“The children especially just flocked to her,” Cousins said of McConnell.
Selected as manager of the Apex Community Library in 1990, McConnell served there until the library relocated to what is now the Eva Perry Regional Library in January 1996. She felt fortunate to have the opportunity to work with county staff, Apex officials and architects from Cherry Huffman to help in the planning of the library.
Once at the Eva Perry Regional Library, McConnell worked as a children’s librarian and continued to provide programs for Fuquay-Varina children at the facility that moved to South Fuquay Avenue.
When the Fuquay-Varina Library manager position opened up in 1997, McConnell jumped at the opportunity.
“Although my home is in Apex, I have always had a special place in my heart for Fuquay-Varina, the warm and friendly community that made me feel so welcome,” she said.
Cousins said McConnell has embraced Fuquay much the same as she did Apex. Her positive attitude and influence on readers has made the Fuquay-Varina Community Library a welcoming place.
“When the Independent announced that I was chosen for the position, I received quite a few cards and calls from individuals and local business owners to offer their congratulations and assistance,” McConnell said.
Some of the first community partners to jump in and offer help were the Fuquay-Varina Woman’s Club and Junior Woman’s Club.
“Their generous book and monetary donations, along with their popular special event presentations, continue to enhance the library’s ability to meet the interests of our community,” McConnell said.
The Woman’s Club adopted the Fuquay-Varina Community Library officially in March 2011. The group has given books, a rocking chair, bike rack, artwork and the amazing habitat for Sunny the bunny.
“The Woman’s Club always saw the library as our baby because we started it,” Shirley Simmons said.
In fact, the Woman’s Club began with a “little shelf of books” at the high school in 1950, growing to the Jackson House in 1954 and eventually to the Woodrow Street location in 1960 and the library became part of the Olivia Raney system.
Simmons, Fuquay-Varina Woman’s Club Education Committee Chairwoman, said every time she goes into the library, she is greeted by a smiling McConnell who tells everyone about the local organization’s generosity.
“It just felt like it was home,” Simmons said of the library under McConnell’s direction.
The Woman’s Club members will miss McConnell dearly.
“She’s just been vivacious and lively, and we’ve loved to see her,” Simmons said.
For the last 16 years, McConnell has loved her job in Fuquay.
“I feel so blessed to have had such a rewarding experience,” she said, “working with the talented and dedicated staff and doing something that I absolutely love for the community that embraced me as one of their own.”
Former Senior Manager at the Southeast Regional Library in Garner Gail Harrell was McConnell’s supervisor until about two years ago. Harrell has known McConnell for nearly 25 years. In that time, Harrell has seen McConnell make each employee and library member feel like a priority.
“She and her staff just establish such a good rapport with every patron that comes in,” Harrell said.
And McConnell has displayed a true passion for her work.
“It is my belief that Cindy really committed herself to that job and the community for every day that she was there,” Harrell said. “She’s going to be missed.”
Youth Services Manager at the East Regional Library in Knightdale Susan Adams said it’s that passion for the job that has made McConnell such a gift to the community.
“Cindy – she just lives it,” Adams said. “She has been the gift that keeps on giving and giving and giving.”
Harrell hopes to see that same drive and commitment from the next branch manager.
“I’m sure that when a new manager is hired, they will enjoy the same warm welcome (I received),” McConnell said.
The library staff has a display up this month to bid farewell to their beloved McConnell and Sunny the bunny.
“We’re having fun with it,” McConnell said.
Part of the display is a “Where’s Waldo” photo from the 1980s. Members can try to pick out Cindy from her early days in the WCPL system.
The hard part, McConnell anticipates, will be members saying goodbye to Sunny the bunny. Since Cloud, the library’s first bunny, and Flash, the Britannia Petite rabbit, Fuquay-Varina members have been very generous in giving monetary donations to the animals’ care.
“Everybody’s felt like the bunnies were theirs,” McConnell said.
There will be a retirement party for Sunny on March 28 at 4:30 p.m. Children can write a poem or draw a picture in a scrapbook for Sunny as well.
McConnell might be leaving her position as the branch manager of the library, but she’s positive she’ll be back to visit.
“I plan to visit the library frequently and to remain a loyal customer of my favorite Fuquay-Varina shops and restaurants,” she said.
That has made many patrons and workers within the library system happy, especially Adams who has become close with McConnell since she joined WCPL 16 years ago.
“She’s been a friend to me,” Adams said. “It would be hard to have that spark of light missing from my life.”
Animals are McConnell’s other passion. She even wanted to be a veterinarian when she was a little girl.
And the future looks bright for McConnell. She plans to become a certified dog trainer, working with families and rescue groups in hopes of helping dogs stay in their homes or become better candidates for adoption.
McConnell will be taking online classes from the Animal Behavior College and working with a trainer to become certified. Most likely, it will take about a year and a half.
“I really think I can do some good,” she said.
Cousins said she’s sure McConnell will find a pet for every home in Fuquay-Varina.
“I think (McConnell is) still going to be out there in the community and she’ll be a force to be reckoned with,” Cousins said.
Contact Kelly Griffith at email@example.com or 919-552-5675.