Chesterton Tribune

25 years of service: Phil Baugher made library a community center

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Direction. Dedication. Organization. Care for the community. A love of books.

Those words come to mind when Michigan City assistant library director Andrew Smith describes his friend, Phil Baugher.

Baugher was honored Thursday night with a surprise party to mark his 25th year as director of Westchester Public Library. It’s a job he almost didn’t seek.

“I was never going to apply here, but my mother-in-law encouraged me,” said Baugher. “I didn’t think I’d get a director’s job right out of school. It was a total surprise.” His mother- and father-in-law, Dolores and Walter Iwan, were both in attendance Thursday as were Baugher’s wife Sue and daughter Kate, 18.

Former Library Board members Tom Wagner and Emily Robertson were on the search committee when Baugher was hired. Said Robertson, “If there’s one thing I did in my public life it’s hire Phil.”

“The committee wanted someone with experience beyond academics,” said Wagner. A Michigan City native, Vietnam veteran and college graduate temporarily working as a mechanic, Baugher fit the bill.

“You had a balanced person in Phil; he demonstrated a coolness,” said Wagner, who asked the director applicants increasingly difficult questions with Baugher faring better than anyone else, even on the trick questions that didn’t have an answer.

Vickie Larson was also on the 1978 Library Board. “I was mildly amazed to see an ex-Marine wanted to be a librarian,” she recalled.

“Phil’s a very good people person because he’s quiet, soft spoken, and because of that he can be underestimated but he accomplishes a great deal.” Larson added. “His predecessors built the building but Phil’s made it the community center it is. One of the best things I’ve ever been involved in was hiring him.”

Michigan City’s Smith said Baugher steered WPL through its roughest waters following Bethlehem Steel’s 2001 bankruptcy that devastated library finances. “A lot can be said about the community joining in but without leadership, a positive attitude, it would never happen,” said Smith. “Phil kept it going. I think Chesterton is a much better place for having him there.”

Smith described his friend of 13 years as “an average Joe. He’s not afraid to show up in blue jeans. He goes with the flow. He differs from the professional world. He doesn’t always care what people think. He’s very confident in his own ability.”

Porter County Library Director Donald Johnson said Baugher’s strength as a director is his computer knowledge in an age where automation is the future of information systems. “I wish him the best. He’s done a very nice job with the system and I hope he stays there.”

WPL’s second director succeeding Joel Robinson, Baugher said he’s never been tempted to move on. “It’s always been a challenge,” he explained. “I don’t feel like I haven’t been challenged. You can build a good program, a good collection, but the job doesn’t end.”

Current Library Board President Vern Odom said perhaps the job continues to interest Baugher because he isn’t content to shuffle papers behind a desk.

Sharing their memories, those present asked what other director would climb on the roof and repair the air conditioner, shovel snow, move an entire department’s furniture to its new location, do paperwork into the night, teach a power squadron boating safety class, cook shrimp alfredo, bring a horse to the library and clean up after it, or repair a converted school bus?

“Where else could you find a director who’s earned the respect of his peers like our director has?” added current Library Board member Rick Hokanson.

Baugher was presented with a gift certificate to a marine supply store, and a plaque bearing a ship’s clock. “Thank you for giving me this privilege,” he told those assembled. “I may have accomplished a few things here, but certainly I’ve always done it with a lot of help from others --- employees, trustees.”

During the Library Board meeting that preceded the reception, Baugher reflected on his tenure. “Thank you for putting up with me for 25 years. It’s been fun, great fun. When all’s said and done, it’s been wonderful.”

 

Posted 8/15/2003