Reminder Assistant Editor
WESTFIELD Dressed in a 1880s frock coat and top hat, an animated Chris Lindquist, director of the Westfield Athenaeum, slipped into the character of a Westfield aristocrat as he welcomed all in celebration of the Athenaeum's 140th birthday.
Last Saturday marked the celebration of Founders Day and solidified 140 years of service by the Athenaeum to the Westfield community. City and state officials and members of the community gathered in the Jasper Rand Art Museum Jan. 19 to pay homage to this historic day.
Originally opened in 1868 at 26 Main St. before moving to its current location on Elm Street in 1899, Lindquist explained that the Athenaeum was established with a post-Civil War mission to educate, enrich and better all those within the community.
"This is a great day to celebrate the [Athenaeum's] service and mission to the community," Lindquist said, adding that the Athenaeum is a reflection of the rich, diverse community it serves. "We are like the community center of Westfield."
He explained that unlike libraries, the Athenaeum has been enriching the lives of the Westfield community not just through books but also through exhibits at the Jasper Rand Art Museum and the Edwin Smith Historical Museum.
Mayor Michael Boulanger was also in attendance to present his first official proclamation as mayor to Lindquist declaring Jan. 19 Founders Day.
"The Athenaeum is one of the many gems of Westfield," Boulanger said.
The mayor praised the Athenaeum's service to over 200,000 people annually and the effect this institution has had on his own family. He explained that one of the first things they did upon moving to this city in 1977 was join the Athenaeum.
Many public officials recalled their own personal experiences with the Athenaeum and explained the strong impact it has had on their education and moral development from childhood to adulthood.
At the ceremony, State Rep. Donald Humason Jr. addressed each child in the audience asking them to recall their first experience signing up for a library card.
"This card is the key to imagination, journeying and knowledge," he said. "The more you know the farther you can go. Don't just keep your card in your wallet, use it."
City Councilor Mary O'Connell also described her impressions of the Athenaeum as her warm safe haven during her youth; a place that she hopes others will take advantage of while growing up in this city.
Humason, O'Connell and other city officials at the celebration stressed the importance of increased funding for this institution. They noted, however, that a tight state and city budget has inhibited a large increase in funding.
Lindquist said that the Athenaeum has seen an unfortunate decrease in private donations over the past year. He explained that 60 percent of their budget is funded by the city of Westfield (between $700,000 and $800,000) and the remaining 40 percent ($400,000) is funded through private donations, fines and fees, the Friends of the Westfield Athenaeum, grants and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.
"We depend on the support of the community," Lindquist said. "[The] city [government's financial] support is critical." He added that he is hopeful that with the help of the new mayor and others in city government the Athenaeum will be able to increase their operating budget next year as their "unique mission" is vital to downtown and community development.
For more information about the Westfield Athenaeum, including the Boys and Girls Library, the adult library, the Jasper Rand Art Museum and the Edwin Smith Historical Museum, go to their Web site at www.westath.org.