After 25 years as manager of Sno-Isle’s Langley Library, Vicky Welfare will retire at the end of February. The community is invited to drop by Feb. 17 from 6 to 8 PM to wish her well on the next leg of her journey.
I was hired by Vicky as a library assistant from 2014-2016, and worked at Langley before then as a substitute from 2009-2013. The staff I worked with felt like a second family and we all were a good fit, thanks to Vicky’s talent for hiring the right people. That talent extends to now, where the library’s team is A+.
It was Vicky who encouraged Jamie Whitaker and I to start the Food for Thought book club, though Jamie and I have since retired. Our collaboration ignited interest within the community. Every third Thursday of the month we met and paired a novel and a related cookbook with cooking classes and book discussion. After I retired in 2016, Karen Achabal was hired and has taken the book group to new heights with her talent for introducing innovative cooking techniques.
You may not know it, but our current Langley Library manager loves rock and roll. She says it’s what saved her as a middle school girl. You’ll learn more about that later in the story.
Meanwhile, music flows through her veins. Sometimes we would be lucky enough when the mood was right, and Vicky would sing while we were working.
“One of my favorite memories of working with Vicky was when she got up to sing Yesterday totally unrehearsed with Bryan Stratton (another Sno-Isle branch manager), who was doing an evening program on the Beatles,” recalled Jamie Whitaker, who worked at the Langley Library for 30 years. “I was sitting in the far back and had tears in my eyes from how brave and beautiful I thought Vicky was. And even though I had heard her break out here and there in song bites, I had never heard her sing a full out song. If she weren’t such a good branch manager, she could have had a singing career.”
“Bryan later approached me and asked if I’d sing the Streisand part of the Neil Diamond duet, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers at an upcoming Neil Diamond event we were doing,” Vicky added. “I was extremely flattered. We practiced quite a bit on that one.”
Besides music, the Langley Library regularly hosts classes such as memoir writing, mindful arts, Celtic mythology, online author talks, Online Craft and Chat for Night Owls with Karen Achabal, and more.
“The other Vicky memories I have,” Jamie added, “are about her being so good at finding interesting, thought-provoking, entertaining and edifying programs. And of course, she gave us free rein on Food for Thought, which continues on.”
A library manager with rock and roll roots and good at creating community. Ah, it feels like an end of an era nowadays with the retirement of three of the Fab 4 library managers: Debby Colfer was the first to retire as Clinton’s manager in June 2021. Betsy Arand continues to manage the Freeland Library. Coupeville’s manager Leslie Franzen, like Vicky, will retire at the end of February 2023. I will feature Leslie in another story in February.
“Great minds plan alike, Vicky,” Leslie Franzen noted in a recent email. “As one of the ‘Fabulous Four’ on Whidbey Island, you have accomplished so much for Langley Library! I will always have fond memories of the early morning road trips and ferry rides together—sharing stories and the problem solving we accomplished as a tight knit team. Thirty-eight years of working with Sno-Isle Libraries is a testament to your dedication of building community through connected customer service and fabulous programs.”
The remaining ‘Fab Four’ library manager Betsy Arand emailed her comments: “Vicky and I had the opportunity to serve on several work teams for Sno-Isle Libraries over the years. One of the ones that was the most fun was ‘Prepare Training,’ which was a system designed to foster a culture of respect, service, and safety at work. As Prepare Trainers, Vicky and I eventually instructed every staff person in the system and then provided training to new employees for several years. Vicky’s ability to combine seriousness with levity on this team made it enjoyable and hardly at all like work. I will miss carpooling to meetings and the camaraderie we shared.”
Vicky has worked with Sno-Isle Libraries for 38 years, beginning as a page at the mainland Edmonds Library in1984. While she and friends followed local bands, Vicky did not yet know her destiny.
“When I was younger, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up,” Vicky said. “The future seemed far away. After high school graduation we went to concerts. I got involved in the local music scene. The main band I followed in college was The Heats, who eventually morphed into The Rangehoods, (who once opened for Tom Petty). I tried to find work. I was in a Catch 22 with no experience, and not being able to find work because I had no experience. I worked at my mom’s office a while, which helped me get a reference. She suggested I work at the Edmonds Library. I interviewed, and didn’t get it. The second time I applied, I was hired, I worked by the book, followed every rule.”
Vicky’s concert-going friends teased her about working in a library, because the role seemingly contrasted with the 80s club scene personae she enjoyed being. Yet the library was a fit. Vicky had grown up enjoying reading and learning. She worked at the Edmonds Library for 13 years, earning promotions from Page to Public Service Assistant (PSA) to Page Supervisor.
“One of my favorite memories, was when the (then Edmonds) Branch Manager Kathy Turner—who was very precise, dressed in little business suits and had a stern countenance—came running up to me at top speed. I thought, what did I do wrong? She told me someone had retired and asked if I wanted to be a PSA.”
In the mean time Vicky’s mother Peggy Foster had moved to her parents’ property in Freeland. Vicky would drive up to Whidbey weekends to visit her mom. She would pass by the Langley Library, imagining she would manage that library one day.
That day happened in 1998 with a changing of the guard similar to what we are experiencing now.
“When I was first hired as the Langley Library manager, the Freeland manager had retired,” Vicky recalled while we met for lunch on Jan. 27. “ Nancy Lindholdt (who managed Langley from 1977-1998) retired. Carol Dyer (manager from 1968-1998) from Coupeville had retired.”
Arriving in 1998 Vicky inherited a staff already in place, including Jamie Whittaker, and Gwen Goodbee as its Page. Gwen went on to work as a PSA with Debby Colfer, and the two opened the new Clinton Library in 2000. Langley native Rob Noble was commuting as a Page to Edmonds at the time. Vicky offered him a job in 2000 and he’s worked at the Langley Library as a Page ever since.
In 1998 the Internet was new and Vicky recalled the lack of filters, when x-rated sites would show up following an innocent—or not-so innocent search and be difficult to exit. A grant soon provided filters that prevented the occurrence for patrons 18 and under. Primitive email provided lists to libraries letting them know which books to pull for holds. Each book contained a pocket with a removable card that was stamped with a return date.
Managing the Langley Library, Vicky trusted her people instincts and hired staff who were a good fit. When Debby Colfer applied for a PSA position, Vicky recalled saying at the time, “I want her.” Debby’s introduction to working with Sno-Isle Libraries was such a positive experience that she later became the first manager of the Clinton Library.
Later Vicky hired people who complimented the existing staff when others moved on. Cynthia Kaul brought her experience of travel, music and art to her job as PSA. Her book, Harbors of Enchantment: a Yachtsman’s Anthology, is available within the Sno-Isle library system.
Recalling working with Vicky, Cynthia texted:
“Vicky is always one to support women-and a good cause, so it was no surprise when she asked us to join her in the suffragette march in 2013.“
“Vicky had a flair for drama and showed up in creative costumes at Halloween. She had a really good relationship with some of the city, leaders and historians, and became very good at finding and hosting local programming. But no story about Vicky would be complete without mentioning her years-long devotion to her friend, the musician, Constantine Maroulis. Her many trips to his concerts developed into an amazing circle of friends, with whom Vicky traveled extensively. Vicky loves to read biographies and always amazed me with her phenomenal recall of historical figures and events. I can’t wait to read her memoir!”
Robin Obata was another great addition to the Langley Library team.
“I worked at Langley Library for 16 years and was fortunate to have Vicky as the branch manager for the entire time,” Robin wrote in an email. “I knew I was going to love working with Vicky after the first staff meeting, which says a lot since I don’t like meetings. She had a clear written agenda, elicited input from every person, and encouraged collaboration. Plus, there was frequent laughter and good snacks, and we finished on time! I enjoyed going to work every day, loved my coworkers, and appreciated the supportive environment.”
A notable memory Vicky recalled was influencing a young woman to find her way in life.
Ivy Henderson once worked as a page at the Langley Library while she was in high school and then went on to college. While commuting to meetings from Langley, Vicky would chat with Ivy’s father Stan, who sold tickets at the ferry booth. He would update Vicky on Ivy’s progress at school, noting Ivy hadn’t found her niche at first.
Later on Stan thanked Vicky and said Ivy had found her path in libraries.
“One day this stunning young woman walked into the library and it was Ivy,” Vicky said. “Her father’s gone now. Since then, Ivy and I have become Facebook friends.”
…Here is where we travel back in time to learn how music shaped Vicky’s life and discover her ongoing connection with singer/performer Constantine Maroulis.
“The short version is I was born in Seattle and adopted,” Vicky recalled. “When I was two, my family moved to Southern California. I was raised in Costa Mesa/Huntington Beach. My parents broke up. Mom wanted to be closer to family and we moved back to Washington.”
Elton John’s music saved Vicky from drowning in middle school angst. His songs, such as Rocket Man, were a life raft for a shy 12-year-old.
“When I was in middle school, like many kids, I was unhappy, and shy, and I was also a straight-A student,” Vicky said. “In 6th grade I had a core group of friends. In 7th grade it was as if they were possessed. I became their target. I’d get home from school and would crank Elton John. I would dance and sing and get that energy out. It would keep me whole. Those songs are in my soul.”
Vicky’s mom wouldn’t let her daughter, at the age of 12, attend the Elton John concert at Dodger Stadium in 1975. So it was fitting that in 2022, when Vicky learned there was a third row seat available for Elton’s farewell concert in Seattle, she gave herself permission to buy a ticket. While she had attended other Elton John concerts in the past, the farewell concert was a poignant one.
“It was pure heaven,” Vicky noted. “I got to have that closure. I sang his songs along with everyone else. Going to the concert reminded me of the first time I saw Paul McCartney before COVID hit. I saw him at what was then Safeco Field (now T-Mobile Park). I had an aisle seat. All these images of his career were showing on the screens. I got weepy hearing him sing. During certain songs I, was openly crying. You had grandparents, toddlers, teenagers all singing along. Ah, it was so wonderful to be there. I love concerts. Music is transformation.”
Speaking of being transformed by music, it was while watching Constantine Maroulis in 2005 that Vicky discovered another world of musical connection. This experience cemented her ongoing love of New York City.
“Constantine competed on American Idol in 2005,” Vicky noted. “When you watch those shows you root for someone. I thought he was really good. I’d get more invested every week. I looked on the Internet for a community of his fans. There were message board forums then. I connected with people there. When he was voted off the show, it was like Black Wednesday. With talent shows, you never know if it’s the last you’’ll see of a performer. There’s a fierce energy about him that I liked. People continued to follow him. I started meeting people who liked him and we’d see him perform. At first when I met him, I was tongue-tied I couldn’t speak to him.”
A core group of admirers continued attending Constantine’s concerts and Vicky became friends with them. Vicky recalled her relationship moved from fandom to friendship and hanging out. Constantine went on to star on Broadway in popular musicals such as Rock of Ages, which ran for 2,350 shows. She continues her visits to New York when Constantine performs and to visit friends.
“I love the energy of New York,” Vicky said. “I love the diversity. I love all these different people shoved together in a small space. Twelve restaurants and museums on one block. The history.”
Earlier in this story, Vicky mentioned being adopted. She took a deep dive into her ancestry and found that she was born to a 15-year-old teen living in Seattle.
“I wrestled with contacting her and knew she was very young when she had me,”Vicky added. “I worried I’d open up bad memories. I was very gentle with her.”
While her birth mom preferred not meeting in person, the woman informed Vicky who her birth father was. Vicky later connected to a half sister through DNA testing, and they have been in touch, learning they have much in common, Broadway shows, for instance.
Through research, Vicky learned that her birth parents had ancestral connections to the United Kingdom. That she was related to the Spencer and Hamilton families. That her paternal father had deep roots in Scotland.
“I traveled to Glasgow last October and felt like I was home,” Vicky recalled of the visit. “I saw women walking around who looked like me.”
The discovery of her roots helped Vicky realize why she held a lifelong love for England and Scotland and all things Victorian. She has traveled often to England with a friend Barbara from high school days, basking in its culture and history.
Learning that her paternal grandfather once lived in Arkansas and rode Harleys helped her understand her fascination with rock and roll.
“I’ve had an interesting life,” Vicky concluded. “It will be an amazing next chapter. Music was my cure.”
Throughout this interview, I’d hoped to hear Vicky break into song as she has on past occasions. I mentioned picturing her on retirement day, riding off on a motorcycle with a scarf flowing out behind her. She sang the opening lines to Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild: Get your motor runnin’/Head out on the highway./Looking for adventure…
Wow! I told her about hoping to hear her sing. And we laughed. But she confessed she did not like riding motorcycles. Looking for adventure. That, I imagine she will be doing.
Thanks, Vicky, for all your help, thoughtfulness, civic responsiveness and good humor the years I lived in Langley, and for all the good memories since
Thank you, Guy, for your well wishes.
What a wonderful story! Thanx
I wanted to share the flow we had in conversation during the interview along with comments from Vicky’s peeps. Thanks for writing, Fred!