Note: All photos are shared by Coupeville Library staff.
As someone who created a lasting legacy of public service, Coupeville Library Manager Leslie Franzen plans to retire at the end of the month. You are invited to join her at the library’s celebration in her honor Feb. 23 from 1 to 4 PM.
Coincidentally, Langley Library Manager Vicky Welfare is also retiring at the end of the month and her story appears in This is Whidbey in the above link. She wrote in a recent email:
“You can’t think of Coupeville without thinking of Leslie Franzen! The community has always been at the heart of how she delivers library service, and in turn she is as integral to the community as the waterfront and the hospital. It flows in her veins.”
“Leslie has been an inspiration to me in how she has always been able to build those great relationships, and maximize the mutual benefits that sprang from them,” VIcky added. “Years ago when the libraries were encouraged to provide more adult programming, it was to Leslie I turned for advice and suggestions. Some of the performing contacts she led me to are still providing programs for us today.”
Another of Leslie’s long-time colleagues is Freeland Library Manager Betsy Arand.
“I started working for Sno-Isle Libraries in October, 1990 as a roving librarian, visiting the Coupeville Library every Tuesday afternoon,” Betsy wrote in a recent email. “Leslie’s knowledge of the Coupeville community was quite impressive even then! Part of my job was planning teen and adult programs, and every time I had an idea, Leslie knew just who to contact to make the program a success.
“Leslie has a reputation in the library system of being a strong advocate for the needs of Coupeville. When Sno-Isle started the Issues that Matter series in 2010, Leslie stressed the importance of bringing these programs to Whidbey and suggested local experts on numerous topics. After a 2018 Issues that Matter program on mental health was held at WICA, Leslie nominated the Whidbey libraries for the Linda Lee Martens Community Health Hero Award. We all felt humbled and honored to receive it. Leslie knew Linda and had worked with her on several committees.
“Leslie has been a genuine and compassionate colleague and, while wishing her the best in retirement, I’m going to miss talking over ideas with her.”
With 43+ years working for Sno-Isle Libraries, Leslie began her library career when she was living in Coupeville and attending high school.
“A high school friend was vacating a page position at Coupeville Library and recommended I apply for the job,” Leslie wrote in a recent text. “Jobs weren’t easy to come by. I was very grateful I was hired. So began a love of community and books that spanned a lifetime of public service.”
Four women are credited as being “key mentors” in shaping Leslie’s public service skills.
“All four taught me how important personal connections and love of community are in a small rural town,” Leslie added. One of her mentors was Carol Dyer, now retired as Coupeville Library’s manager. Carol managed the library 30 years until she tapped Leslie to take over in 1998.
Carol recalled Leslie’s evolution within the library system:
“Leslie started with me as a page when she was in high school and the library was in the city hall building.
“After she graduated and married, she was overseas for a couple of years. When she returned, she was working at the office at the school, but would sub for me once in a while when the library moved to the old post office building. When my assistant at the time moved, Leslie moved in to her spot. She continued in that position when we moved to the new library.
“After I retired, she became the head librarian. During that time she held that spot through a major remodel and a growing library staff.”
While Leslie worked mostly at the Coupeville Library, which Carol Dyer managed for 30 years, Leslie trained as a manager at the Freeland Library for a time and took over when Carol retired in 1998.
Which brings us to another mentor in young Leslie’s life: Grace King, a long-time Coupeville elementary school secretary. Grace passed from life in 2018 and was known for her love of gardening and working with charitable groups such as the Coupeville Lions Club.
“Grace taught me the skills needed to deal with all ages and kinds of people,” Leslie noted. “I worked for 10 years in the school district During that time I also coached girls’ dance/drill for five years at the high school level as a volunteer.”
During the 1970s, Leslie met Derek Franzen, a third generation Coupeville native. After Derek and Leslie married in 1975, they were stationed in Belgium, where he served for two years as an MP with a unit of NATO’s SHAPE— Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. The couple returned to Coupeville where Derek worked in his father’s business, Central Electric, which Derek later inherited, and still runs today. Leslie returned to work at the school and the library.
The couple raised two children. Kelsi and Garrett, who still live and work in the community.
Meanwhile, two other women mentors who deeply influenced Leslie are former Coupeville mayor Nancy Conard, and former Coupeville city council member and Sno-Isle employee Emily Ramsey.
“They were key in setting excellent examples for a deep commitment to our community through public service,” Leslie recalled.
Carol Dyer’s mention above of the major library remodel was no small feat, given that 2008 was a year that experienced a global financial crisis. Many local businesses closed and some folks lost their homes.
The previous library building—built in in 1987 on NW Alexander Street—had few windows and limited views of Penn Cove. Rusting vertical fuel tanks—now gone—once stood between the library and its view of the water. The building had grown too small to serve the growing needs of the community. Yet, would the people agree to tax themselves in bleak economic times?
Leslie described the period of planning and raising funds for the remodel as “hard fun.” She has often said without the planning, research, preparation and community outreach, the $2.3 million bond may not have passed.
Janet Wodjenski who once worked as a secretary and administrative assistant for the Coupeville School District, was one of the key players in advising Leslie on how to generate community interest.
“We go way, way back as friends,” Leslie noted. “Janet had worked consistently to get school levies passed, and was one of many strategic partners in focusing on passing our bond and finding yes voters.”
In 2008, former Sno-Isle Libraries Director Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory and then Mayor Nancy Conard met with the library board and staff to determine how to proceed with placing two different measures— the Coupeville Library Capital Facilities District and the $2.3 million bond on the August ballot. The measures each required a 60 percent yes vote to pass.
Formation of the special district was necessary to oversee spending of the bond, which would pay for the acquisition of the Coupeville Library from the Town of Coupeville. The district’s board members also would administer the funding for remodeling, expansion, furnishing and equipping the renovated building.
Having the people’s support and belief in the importance of their library still continues to amaze Leslie. She recalled the focus of 2008:
“The community kicked into high gear, just as they had done in 1987,” Leslie added. “Sno-Isle Libraries staff, the Town of Coupeville staff, and Friends of the Coupeville Library came together to do an eight month educational campaign regarding the needs for a new library and meeting room space. Over 300 people helped with education in every way we could: at the farmers market, the grocery store, on street corners and more.”
Then came the nail-biting August evening following the vote, in which the funding district and the $2.3 million bond measure narrowly won.
“All the planning and hard work came together in a big way! “ Leslie added. “I was watching the numbers with my son Garrett pop up on the IC Voters website. I was so excited to see we had passed both measures—65% for the LCFA and 60.28% for the $2.3 million bond. That was just 27 votes over what we needed! I nearly knocked Garrett off his chair. Then I had a brief thought—can the voting trend reverse itself? It did not—it continued to go up! This fantastic community had done it!”
Appointed to work with the building committee and working closely with Leslie at the time was Rebecca Loney, who is now Director of Sno-Isle Library’s Public Services.
“It was so wonderful of the community to commit to that kind of support and tax itself to expand and improve the library,” Rebecca said in a phone call. “When I think about Leslie Franzen, the word connection comes to mind. She is so deeply embedded in the Coupeville community. She cares so deeply for it. That comes through time and again. I can’t think of anything more important than a library manager whose focus is a public library as the key part of the community. She is an amazing woman. I will personally miss her when she retires.”
With the passage of the bond and the ongoing remodel, the Coupeville Library moved for more than a year to a small building out on the prairie of the Pacific Rim Institute, where staff, plus library books, movies, music and media were housed on a smaller scale until spring 2010.
Before the library’s remodel and until the COVID pandemic hit, it was the library’s tradition to celebrate its many volunteers with an annual Friends of the Coupeville Library tea party.
Jana McAnally has worked as the library’s Page the past 14 years. In thinking of Leslie, she recalled the tea parties and being part of the team who worked together to host the annual fete to Friends of the Coupeville Library.
“One of my best memories is the tea parties over the years with Friends of the Library,” Jana recalled. “They were an important part of what Leslie did. We haven’t done those since COVID. The tea parties were some of our favorite times. Leslie thought it was important to recognize volunteers. The parties were so much fun to plan. We would have entertainment and play games.”
Following the opening of the new library building in spring 2010 and its new meeting room, many programs from book clubs, to art classes, movie nights, author lectures and children’s story times took place.
Sherry Southard, a current Library Assistant, who hosts children’s programs at the Coupeville Library, mentioned Leslie’s talent with hosting interesting events, and encouraging staff to plan their own.
“Leslie brought in a flute player,” Sherry recalled of Gary Stroutsos, an international recording artist who plays traditional music. “I’ve been here over 6 years and Leslie got me off and running with children’s programming. She has incredible networks in the community. I was never without ideas or people I could contact who had done past programs or ideas for new programs with different community partners. She was always very supportive of us. She is good at building community partnerships and showcasing them here at the library.”
During the COVID pandemic, which closed the library for several months, the staff worked with Sno-Isle Library guidelines to safely re-open. At first, contact was limited to return and delivery of books through a window. Eventually staff began hosting on-line programs. Coupeville’s first in-building program was held last summer.
“Leslie was very instrumental after COVID in pushing our building to be open,” Sherry added. She pushed for a return to programming as soon as possible. As soon as we got the green light to that, she wanted us to start full steam ahead. We did a lot of things outdoors last summer. I appreciated her giving us meaningful work during the pandemic.”
As the library community continued to grow, Brian Haight was tapped from his library management job at the Marysville Library and was hired as Library Circulation Supervisor in Coupeville. He has served as Leslie’s right-hand man in assisting her with scheduling and technology.
“My main function is helping with scheduling and keeping work and desk schedules sorted out,” Brian noted. “My work lets Leslie focus on community outreach and programming. Leslie never missed a beat when it came to connecting our library to the community. First and foremost to her is how we connect what we do, like with the Boys and Girls Club, and getting them to our programs. Joining our chamber. Or she might say, ‘We haven’t seen that elderly customer, do they need a bookmobile visit?’ I would definitely praise her for that. An amazing legacy she’s left, with the all the connections she’s made. Personally I remember her tendency to bring flowers from her garden. Her raspberries. Her eggs when she had an abundance. Always willing to share the abundance of her rural life on the island. They are much appreciated. While it is 22 years for me with Sno-Isle, my jaw drops at 43 years for Leslie. Hers is a lifetime of dedication.”
“My favorite Leslie memory is of her saying, ‘You look like you need a squash.’ She gave me a big Hubbard squash. She said, ‘Don’t try cutting it with a knife. Drop it on the driveway. It breaks.’ It works. I’ve done it that way ever since.”
Now that she will retire from managing the library, Leslie can spend more time with her grandchildren Maddy and Clark. She can add to her awesome collection of agates, which she is talented at spotting on beach walks. She and Derek enjoy hiking the local trails and plan to do more camping. She will remain active with the Friends of the Coupeville Library and, no doubt, you will see her at Coupeville’s many festivals.
Leslie McMahon, current president of Friends of the Coupeville Library has volunteered with the group for years.
“They are a tremendous group,” Leslie McMahon said. “I volunteered a long while for their book sales. I was recently asked to be the president. It’s been a good thing for me. Good to get me off the hill and taking care of my chickens. For Leslie Franzen—this will be a whole new exciting phase of her life. She does have her lifetime membership with the Friends. We look forward to her being a valuable member of our organization.”
As we sat at a table at Coupeville’s Sunshine Drip Coffee Shop recently, Leslie Franzen had a steady stream of folks stopping by, wishing her well and telling her retirement would be great.
For me, working at the Coupeville Library with Leslie taught me how to create and run teen programs and other fun community events, a favorite being a star-gazing evening late one July night. Leslie helped me fall in love with Coupeville and its people. We have remained good friends since my retirement in 2016. Mostly, I recall Leslie’s talent for getting me to expand my skills, even when I didn’t believe I could do what she asked of me. I often dream I am still working there and when I wake up, it takes a bit to realize I’m not there still. My heart is there always.
“The future is full of possibilities and I am waiting to see how it all works out,” Leslie said. “I have two sweet grandkids that are a big part of my world.”