The History of the Port Neches Library
In 1929 the Commisoner's Court was petitioned requesting Library service to county residents outside the cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur, which had libraries. Under the direction of the Tyrell Public Library of Beaumont, a bookmobile stop was established in Port Neches in 1930.
During the 1932-1934 period, the Lion's Club sponsored the building of a one room Library building in the cities of Port Neches and Nederland as an established branch of the Jefferson County Library System. The Lion's Club furnished all the materials and labor. The book collection and service was provided by the County. A third sub-branch opened in the Groves in 1934 sponsored by the Home Demonstration Club. Lucy Fuller Gross was County Librarian in October, 1935. Mrs. Pauline Mullins was in charge of the Library then. This building served the people of Port Neches for 30 plus years.
A newspaper article (name and date unknown) stated five times as many books circulated in March, 1942 - 2100 - compared to 402 the previous March. The City of Port Neches was then paying $30.00 per month to increase the hours the Library was open each week. Mrs. O.W. Clark was Librarian at Port Neches at that time.
In July, 1943, The Chronicle stated Port Neches citizens read four times as many books as they did in 1942, and its Librarian complained of the shortage of new books for the increased readership.
During World War II there was a population explosion as workers brought their families when the first synthetic rubber plants in the world were constructed to combat the shortage of natural rubber due to the war.
Rev. W.E. Hessler met with the County representatives several times to secure an increased number of books for its new Port Neches readers.
On the first page of The Chronicle on December 10, 1943, Mrs. E.M. Bradham, Librarian from 1943-196?, stated the Port Neches Library had received only one new book during the last two months and that there were 37 new readers and only one new book.
In the middle sixties a committee of citizens led by Mrs. Margaret Ezzell and including Geneva Jones, Mrs. Robertson and others spearheaded a drive to build a larger building. City Council approved a new building in 1964, and designated it to be named in memory of George Travis Boyd, a former city employee. The city contributed $10,000 towards the $75,000 project. Personal donations and a matching Federal Grant fund completed the $75,000. The building was completed in 1966, and was built across the street from City Hall on Avenue C. The George Boyd Memorial Library continued service as a circulation-only branch of the Jefferson County Library System.
Beginning in 1974 the City Fathers, led by Mayor G.C. Fells, Mayor Pro-Tem Purvis Nugent, Councilmen Severin Doebele, Calvin Davis, Herb Lee, and Harris Dorsey, City Attorney E.B. Cochran, City Judge H.P. Wright, and our third City Manager Jim Davis envisioned the need for a City Library managed and directed by the City for the people of Port Neches. The vision became a reality with fiscal year beginning in October, 1975.
During the winter a Library Board of Directors was chosen to represent the citizens in an advisory capacity. The first board members were Mrs. Ezzell, E.B. Cochran, Mrs. Pat Reiss, Miss Celeste Kitchen and W.B. Killebrew. Mrs. Mavis Davis and Mrs. Lillian Andrus, both Librarians, were advisors.
At the same time a volunteer group of Friends of the Library were formed led by Mrs. Mary Wright and others, including but not limited to Mrs. J.J. Shook, Mrs. Jack Smith, Miss Thelma Tidwell, Miss Patsy Moore, Mrs. Emmy Lou Scott, and Mrs. Maybelle Boyd.
This was a good decision, and the Library Board and Friends group had a very active part in the development of the Library and Library services. The children's activities were very popular and one summer their session had to be held across the street in the Council Room of City Hall because the Library Auditorium was too small.
The Friends organized the fundraisers: the very successful Christmas Home Tour, home-baked goods sales, and numerous garage and books sales. Boxes were packed and hauled and unpacked in yards, the mall and festivals in the park. These funds were used for children's activities and Library materials.
The Port Neches Library applied for state accreditation and was accepted as a member of the Houston Area Library System in 1977.
By 1978 the Library had outgrown its building and needed additional space. Mrs. Ezzell met with Texas State Librarian and Historian Dorman Winfrey for an exchange of ideas. Bill Grach, Assistant State Librarian, came to Port Neches to confer and advise on possible alternatives for additional room. David Hennington, Director of Houston Public Library and a consultant for Texas State Library did a study and offered suggestions. The City Fathers, led by Mayor Purvis Nugent, Council Members Calvin Davis, Jimmy Hollier, Chester Little, Robert McCorvey, Harris Dorsey, Herbert Lee and George Mays, working with the Library Board and the Friends of the Library agreed additional space was needed. Mr. Wilton Hebert said he would give the Library a new home.
On Thursday, October 15, 1981, ground breaking was held for the first building phase of the Effie & Wilton Hebert Public Library. A large flat bed truck, decorated with red, white and blue skirting, held the folding chairs for invited guests. Dr. Winfrey came from Austin, as did Waggoner Carr. Jim Betson, Bob Hope's road manager, was among the guests. The groundbreaking team included Mr. & Mrs. Wilton Hebert, Mayor G.C. Graham, and Library Board President Mrs. Pat Reiss. Gilded shovels were used to turn the ground. A pot of gold was at the end of the rainbow.
Later, Bob Hope and Bum Phillips did come to the Library. They gifted the Library with an autobiography and a cavalry hat and boots. The hat and boots are now on loan to the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur.
There were three full-time employees of the Library at that time: Library Director Virginia Rhone was assisted by Shirley Gay and Johnnie Scott.
The grand opening of the Effie and Wilton Hebert Public Library was held at 10:30 a.m. on November 12, 1982. City Judge Morris McCall was emcee at the ribbon cutting ceremony. Our City Administration was present: Mayor Gary Graham, Mayor Pro-Tem Ron White, our fourth City Manager Charles Norwood, City Attorney H.P. Wright, Councilmen Darrell Commander, Dennis Dunlap, and Matt Mathis and our first Councilwoman Frances Monk. The Library Board Members were: Chairman Pat Reiss, Russell Brittain, W. I. Carpenter, Celeste Kitchen and Mary Wright. Charlene Hebert was President of the Friends of the Library. The vision had taken form thanks to the generosity of Mr. & Mrs. Wilton Hebert. The Friends of the Library furnished the auditorium with $10,000 worth of media and sound equipment.
Beginning with the Texas Sesquicentennial happy but hectic activities, it became apparent we did not have enough space for the future. The children's section needed more space and adult patrons desired a quieter area. Patron and usage increased. Again, to the vision and drawing board.
In December, 1990, the Hebert Foundation gave $60,000 to the Library to fund membership in the Houston Area Library Automated Network. This would make circulation, inventory, and related reports accurate and speedier. The Library Board had been trying to join the system since 1976, but the $120,000 cost was prohibitive.
During March, 1995, our fifth City Manager Jim Harrington announced that the latest Hebert Foundation Grant to the Library would enable an expansion and renovation to the Library. Also attending the announcement were the Library Director Mary Ann Carrier, Hebert Foundation Director Pauline Womack and Library Board Chair Mary Wright, according to the Port Arthur News. Plans included a separate children's area for Pre-K through Grade 6 of 4,194 square feet, and a separate 3,356 square feet adult reading and reference area. Also included were additional storage and maintenance areas.
The grand opening occurred on Thursday, April 16, 1998 beginning at 4:00 p.m. and the Dedication Ceremony from 5:00 - 6:00 p.m. Guests of honor were the Library Board of Directors Chairwoman Mrs. Mary Wright, Mr. Harold Brown, Mrs. Shirley Conner, Sandy Womack, and Joe Romberg. City Administration was represented by Mayor Frances Monk, City Councilmembers Don Anglin, James Hollier, Gary Shearer, Glenn Johnson and Ed Perkins and our sixth City Manager Randy Kimler. Additional guests of honor were members of the Board of Directors of the Wilton P. and Effie Mae Hebert Foundation. Rev. Donald J. Hebert, Cajun Genealogist, was also present. James Brown was the Master of Ceremonies.
Today the Library is a busy, visible, vibrant, dynamic, state-of-the-art, electronic, informational, educational and recreational resource asset for the citizens of Port Neches. All are welcomed!
Current, full-time permanent employees include Library Director Mark Durham, Technical Services Librarian Assistant Lisa Wappler, Reference Librarian Patti Ogden, Children's Librarian Assistant Carolyn Bedwell, and Circulation Librarian Assistant Shelby Hutcheson.
Library Directors for the City of Port Neches:
Mark Durham, 2010 to present
Coleen Molden, 2004 to 2010
Mary Ann Carrier, 1993 to 2004
Virginia Rhone, 1975 to 1994
Mrs. E.M. Bradham
Mrs. O.W. Clark