SOUTH HAVEN — It’s not every day you receive $500,000 from someone you’ve never met.
So one can imagine what was going through South Haven Memorial Library Director Jim France’s mind when he received word the library had been designated the recipient of a half-million dollars from a deceased couple.
“I was on vacation and when I got back I had a phone message and an email about the donation,” France said. “My first thought was ‘somebody’s trying to scam us.’ We’re used to getting donations but when I double-counted the zeroes, I thought, ‘I don’t know about this.’”
The email and phone call came from Tom McCully, a representative from Wheaton College Trust Company in Wheaton, Ill., indicating the library is a recipient of a $500,000 donation from the Harley Wood and Kay Piron Wood trust.
France began to look into the matter to see if the news is legit and came to the pleasant conclusion that it indeed is.
“Everything checked out,” he said. “We got the check. It was a big surprise.”
What was almost as surprising is how little library staff and board members know about Harley Wood and Kay Piron Wood.
“We didn’t have them in our records, not even a record of them ever having a library card,” France said. “At the time they passed their address was listed in Florida.”
Library board member Jean Stein, who’s lived in the South Haven area for quite awhile, told library staff that she had heard of the Woods, but knew very little about them.
“She said years ago they had a blueberry farm,” France said. “Most people who knew Harley knew him by his nickname, ‘Tubby.’”
France researched the matter through the South Haven library’s digitized versions of the South Haven Tribune. He found several brief articles written about “Tubby” in the community section of several editions in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
“There’s a little article from 1949 that he was on vacation for the past week and went as far as Cincinnati,” France said. “One from 1954 said he was living in Lacota and had a number of things for sale.”
Not much help there. But one thing appears to be certain – the Woods valued libraries.
Their trust not only gave the South Haven library $500,000, it also gave an equal amount to a library in Florida.
The trust fund representative told France he didn’t know much about the Woods either.
“They said their best guess was they (the Woods) were snowbirds,” France said. “They said the library in Florida who received a like amount were just as surprised.”
The Wood trust only put one stipulation on the donation given to South Haven library – $100,000 has to be spent on books geared for adults, rather than youth.
The $100,000 windfall alone is considerably more than what the library spends annually on its entire book budget.
“Our annual collections budget is $29,000, which includes children’s and adult books, audiobooks, periodicals and digital purchases,” France said.
Of that amount, nearly half goes toward adult books.