Frothingham Public Library honors $50k donor Jerry Collins

A man with a goatee and glasses in front of books

Fonda resident Jerry Collins, 67, is honored during an event at the Frothingham Free Library on Monday.

FONDA — Throwback to the fall: a man walked in moments before a local library trustees meeting in Fonda village and handed over a $50,000 check, nearly matching the small community institution’s public funding.

And then he left.

Members of the board started crying.

“We didn’t even escort him out the door,” said Linda Bell, associate director of the Frothingham Free Library, at a Monday event commemorating the donation. “We were in such shock that we because we were all like, ‘I can’t believe this just happened to us.'”

The out-of-the-blue figure was village resident Jerry Collins, a retired Frontier Communications worker who had long thought about making a donation to the library. His 94-year-old mother is an active patron, picking up two to three books at a time about every two weeks.

“I had my pension from work and [said] I wanted to give back to the community, do something positive where a lot of people could benefit,” Collins said. “And whether it was locally or far and wide, having them come to the library and see the experience and enjoy it.”

FFL is mainly funded through contributions from neighboring municipalities and the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District tax levy per state education law. Fines, sales, grants and donations historically have made up a smaller portion of the pie.

In August, the library netted nearly $10,000 in individual endowments, about $7,000 away from yearly projections — but ultimately exceeded annual expectations by $60,452. Collins’ donation represented 70.04% of all revenue accrued in September and October, and 30.5% for all of 2022.

With the vast majority of donations ranging from $1 to $250, Bell was thankful for the unusually handsome gift. Due to scheduling conflicts, it took library stakeholders about five months to put together an honorary event for Collins.

“We have a lot going on and we’re moving forward quickly here,” Bell said. “So it just took us a bit to get this organized well.”

FFL Director John Sullivan in prepared remarks  described Collins as a quiet, motivating force.

“Because of his incredible generosity, the Board of Trustees and library employees have been encouraged, inspired to start the long journey toward our dream of building a new library in Fonda,” he said. “We have been blessed to be a part of this community.

The donation was put forward the same year FFL began exploring the possibility of building a new facility. Portions of Collins’ contributions, Bell said, could be used to finance architectural expenses, equipment and purchasing costs.

Currently, the small 28 West Main Street building is too small for programming needs, has a limited parking capacity and remains vulnerable to severe weather. Some services were briefly postponed in 2017 after flood waters from a creek running below the building ripped through the facility.

Bell hopes that a new facility will steer clear of the floodplain, but also understands “if we end up having to do that, it would be worked into the budget for the building.” Any new site would have to be within the current jurisdiction in accordance with Rev. Washington Frothingham’s bequest.

The library opened 28 years after the titular journalist and pastor died in 1914. FFL in 1960 joined the four-county Mohawk Valley Library System, allowing assistance in marketing, interlibrary loans and later, eBook loans.

Out of 14 libraries in MVLS, association director Eric Trahan ranked FFL as “smaller than average.”

While encompassing a service area of 7,000 residents, the 28 West Main Street non-profit is manned by a handful of staffers and volunteers.

“If we have a big library, we’ll have to have a bigger staff,” said Bell.

The project could take upwards of a decade.

FFL plans to host a number of community outreach events this year in an effort to gauge public opinion on potential investments ahead.

“We’d like to be able to have more resources for the community here,” said Bell. “So sure, that’s meeting rooms, all kinds of things, whatever the community feels we could do for you — and that’s where the community outreach is coming in.”

Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-527-7659 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TylerAMcNeil. 

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News

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