- April 21, 2021
Windermere town staff, elected officials, residents and Orange County Library System representatives gathered Saturday, Dec. 17, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Franklin W. Chase Memorial Library at 530 Main St.
“Today we rededicate the Windermere Library in honor of those many, many people over our town's history who saw a need and worked tirelessly donating their time, talent, financial resources and the, oh, so, many books in order to make a difference for future generations,” said Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn before cutting the ribbon on the front porch.
Inside, guests enjoyed raffles, children's crafts and celebratory cake.
The Windermere branch has more than 55,000 books, DVDs and CDs available and hosts a variety of programs and classes for children and adults.
Leila Higgins has been the branch manager since 2010 and has been with OCLS for close to 30. The branch circulation lead, Wanda Torres, has served the branch for nine years and the library system for 15.
The town of Windermere has had some form of library ever since the 1950s, when John Luff's Country Store made books available to residents, who could informally exchange books they read and take others to read.
Much of this information is in “Windermere Among the Lakes,” an extensive history of Windermere written by former Mayor Carl Patterson.
In 1959, four people, June Raboy Kent, Byron Hopkins, Dr. Kay Bishop DuCharme and May Sperry decided the town needed a formal library because the children at Windermere School were without one.
The next year, the town council contributed $600 for the construction of a small library building south of where Town Hall was located. It was staffed by volunteers; Byron Hopkins was the first librarian.
The town council gave another $500 in 1963 for an addition to be built. Children's books were shelved in one room, and books for adults were available in the other — all donated by the residents of Windermere.
Through the years, the library moved to various locations, each larger than the previous.
It was next housed in a model home donated by Jerry Chicone. The only expense was in having it moved and the interior finished ($3,000 for each project), and the town children raised most of the transport money by sponsoring can, bottle and newspaper drives and other fundraisers.
The town loaned $1,000 for the moving effort — and later cancelled the debt — but did not otherwise financially support the library in its early years.
Renovations kept the library at this location until 1991.
The Orlando Public Library sent a bookmobile to Windermere occasionally, and the idea of merging the Windermere Library with Orlando was discussed, but residents were opposed to the thought.
The Windermere Rotary Club took over operations of the facility in 1972, at the suggestion of the town council. Elected officials also voted to provide funds for maintenance and a paid librarian.
In 1977, the Rotary club established Windermere Library Boosters Inc. to raise money and buy books. At this time, there were roughly 8,000 volumes in stock.
That number grew to 30,000 by 1983.
Joanne Dorr, a Summerport resident who lived in Windermere for 25 years, recalls her time as librarian as a pleasant one.
“We had a great collection,” she said. “People donated books and magazines all the time. It was a great town library. … We provided whatever we could to people. If we couldn’t get the information they needed, we referred them to the Orange County library.”
Dorr took the paid position in fall 1989 and initiated Fabulous Fridays, during which local experts were invited to speak on topics such as sign language, landscaping and clothing designs. This introduced many new patrons to the library and its programs.
By the late 1980s, close to 10,000 guests visited the library annually, creating the need for a larger building. There was still no desire to join Orlando's library system.
The plan was to build a 4,000-square-foot facility, upgrading from the 1,500 square feet; construction was estimated at $200,000.
An anonymous donor — later determined to be Windermere supporters Frank W. and Helen Chase — gave half the money needed. They eventually donated $32,000 more toward the effort.
Dorr began boxing up books to go into the new library building and selling or donating the rest.
One of her most famous visitors during her time at the library was actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who was in Central Florida filming “My Girl.”
“She was renting a house in town and working on a movie,” Dorr said. “She came in a couple of times, just to look around and get some books and see the town. She wandered in. It was funny because she commented that there was so much to learn, and then, years later, she wrote a children’s book.”
The Windermere Library merged with the Orange County Library System in early 1991, and one of the few conditions was that the Chase name be included in the branch name. The lease agreement also stated that the town would retain ownership of the building and OCLS would run the library and pay the salaries.
In August 1991, the present building — the Franklin W. Chase Memorial Library — was opened to the public in Windermere Town Square. Mary Jo Biehl was the branch manager, and Dorr became a part-time clerk.