Jenie Lahmann has found magical opportunities at Morrisson-Reeves Library throughout her life.
She checked out books and records during childhood visits with family or on her bicycle. As a 15-year-old, shelving books provided the perfect part-time job, which evolved into full-time work and a fun, challenging, rewarding career. Lahmann even found her husband, Frank, while working the library’s front desk.
“I can never remember Morrisson-Reeves Library not being in my life somehow,” she said.
Now, 41 years after shelving her first book, she’s retiring, with Dec. 19 her final day in the library.
Lahmann, who has spent the past 20-plus years sharing her passion for the library as marketing and communications manager, will miss the library and the people, and library director Dena Little says Lahmann will be missed, too.
“Jenie leaves an amazing legacy,” said Little, who came to the library in November 2022 as MRL’s sixth director.
Little said Lahmann is a community connector who introduced her to the area and its key players.
Heather Lerner, secretary for the Friends of Morrisson-Reeves Library volunteer group, said Lahmann provides an element of class.
“Her skills are incredible for relationship building,” Lerner said. “She connects and makes each person feel valued and appreciated. That’s hard to find in a person.”
Lahmann has served more than 20 years as the library’s liaison with the Friends, a group that annually raises money through three book sales to support the library. She has played a major role organizing and promoting more than 50 book sales.
John Martin, who has been the Friends’ board president nearly two decades, said Lahmann is good at working with volunteers and does things before anyone else knows they need done.
“She’s just a do-it-all gal,” Martin said. “She’s so good for the job, so good for the library and so good for the Friends. As she retires, I hope she stays involved with the Friends.”
Lahmann said working with the Friends is hard to give up, because she can chat with volunteers who weekly sort book donations and prepare books for upcoming sales. Now, though, she could volunteer at book sales.
“I’ve become very close to a lot of the volunteers,” Lahmann said. “When you see a volunteer come in, they’re coming in because they want to. It’s not because they have to punch a time clock or time card; they just genuinely enjoy what they do.”
Lahmann herself has obviously enjoyed the library, dating back to weekly family visits as a child. She would enjoy crafting books to feed her creativity, while her father looked for do-it-yourself books and her mother for cookbooks or Erma Bombeck material.
“It was always an adventure to come to the library,” Lahmann said. “I always thought it was just fun. It still is; I come here every day.”
That fun made it a “natural fit” for her to follow in her brother Pat’s footsteps as a book shelver, a good job for a high school student because the schedule left time for sporting events, activities and teenage fun. That was the yearlong entry position before Lahmann was assigned to work with the library’s graphics design manager, Maxine Potter.
After a shaky start — fainting in Potter’s office on her first day — Lahmann found a mentor to teach the design skills she still uses today. Potter would turn her loose using the print machines and paper cutters, and cutting, folding and assembling the bookmarks, booklets and other materials.
“It was really fun,” Lahmann said. “I thoroughly enjoyed it. In essence, those were the beginning stages of knowing how to do all of the design work that I do now. I think it all came back from what I learned in those early days.”
On the path back to communications and marketing, though, Lahmann learned about all aspects of the library. She began full-time work at the front desk. One day, Frank Lahmann feigned owing fines to extend his conversation with Jenie, whom he had met through mutual friends. They talked during her break, and “from then on, hook, line and sinker,” Jenie said. “He’s my funnest friend. He’s a blast. We have a great time together.”
They’ve been married 34 years, raising children Katie and Chris, who has the Lahmanns’ first grandchild, Wyatt, with his wife, Caddie.
After working at the reference desk, Lahmann joined the audiovisual department that grew with the popularity of VHS movies, then switched to the cataloging department. Eventually, the printing department manager left MRL in the mid-1990s, and Lahmann was given the job. Since then, she’s developed logos and branding, organized adult programs, and used her design skills to decorate the library’s final Bookmobile and one of its two vans. Staff members ask her to “Jenify” their text materials into designed products.
As MRL embraced technology, Lahmann created its website and has continued developing it.
“Now, it’s the entry for many, many people to use the library,” she said. “They may sign up for their library card, then use digital services after that, streaming and other things that we have on that website.”
MRL also used Lahmann’s design skills as a co-leader during recent renovations. Lahmann helped design spaces with furniture, carpet and paint. Her efforts were rewarded with a Wonder Woman lunch box that has continued to grace her office shelves.
“To see it all come together when it’s done is a big sense of pride there,” she said of the renovations.
Lahmann said the best day was July 29, 2014, when MRL celebrated its 150th birthday with a Big Birthday Bash. The day included a carnival, car show, fashion show, live music and cake, plus a breakfast and a sit-down lunch. More than 2,000 people attended.
“It was a fun day,” Lahmann said. “I would say the best day ever that I ever had here — a lot of work, but man, it was awesome to see that many people. It was just so many people having a great time.”
As the library’s party planner, Lahmann’s not used to being the guest of honor. The Friends board converted its Dec. 7 meeting into a catered celebration dinner, and MRL staff threw a Dec. 12 party honoring her 41 years.
During those years, she worked for four of the library’s six directors since 1864. Harriet Bard hired Lahmann near the end of Bard’s 40-year tenure. Lahmann then worked with Carol McKey for 26 years and Paris Pegg for 11 years before Little took over. Lahmann wanted to complete a year working with Little before retiring.
“Dena’s doing really great,” Lahmann said. “She’s a really great fit. I’m extremely supportive of what she’s doing.”
A new strategic plan includes more focus on community engagement. Lahmann’s position will become a management position with four part-time employees helping with engagement, graphic design and library programs. Lahmann decided that rather than start the position then retire, she would retire before implementation.
“Would it be best to let the new person do their own thing?” Lahmann said, a big-picture vision that Little appreciates.
Retirement will present new magical opportunities, such as learning to paint to satisfy her creativity. She’s also likely to spend more GiGi time with grandson Wyatt.
“I really just want to focus on some things that I really want to do and explore those things,” Lahmann said. “It’s the finding Jenie journey.”
A lifelong Richmond resident, Lahmann’s as passionate about her community as she is the library. She’s president of the Civic Hall Associates board that brings traveling national entertainment acts to the Civic Hall Performing Arts Center stage at Richmond High School.
As a mayoral-appointed member of the city’s Redevelopment Commission, Lahmann also helps guide Richmond’s growth through infrastructure projects.
“I love our city,” Lahmann said. “I just want to see it vibrant and people have such a positive attitude about it. I just love our community. I really, really do.”
She’ll miss the good friends she’s worked with and residents she’s encountered during her various projects. Almost her entire life’s journey has evolved with the library, so even in retirement, Lahmann’s sure to continue advocating for MRL.
“I can still tell people how great the library is and all the wonderful things they can do,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in the December 13 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.