Library staff, community recognizes longtime Baldwin Borough volunteer
By Stephanie Hacke
Published: Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Library staffers in Baldwin Borough always knew to wait for that call as soon as the heavy snow would start to fall.
It was board President LaVerne Oberle telling them to close up shop and get home to their families before the roads got treacherous.
There were times when a staff member got sick and Oberle would show up with a pot of homemade chicken soup.
Yet, the “mom of the library” never was afraid to take on a borough councilmen or state official. She became a fixture at borough meetings, requesting money for the library and pushing for improvements.
“She was really an advocate for libraries and for literacy,” Baldwin Borough Public Library director Joyce Chiappetta said. “She was a fighter for the library. There would be no library without her.”
Oberle, 78, retired this month from the library board of directors after 28 years of service, 27 as board president.
Oberle was given a certificate of appreciation from Baldwin Borough Mayor Alexander Bennett and library board President Jim Hamel at a gathering last week held in her honor.
Oberle and her husband, Len, 83, have been involved many local activities. They ran community day, and served in the historical society and band parents association. She was a member in the Baldwin Woman's Club; he, the go-to secretary of the Baldwin Kiwanis for decades.
“We need more people like her,” council President David Depretis said. “No one wants to volunteer these days.”
When she was president of the Baldwin Woman's Club in 1971, LaVerne Oberle was approached by friend Truman Staggers. He had started a Baldwin Borough library in the municipal building with his own book collection.
“He said, ‘Will you help me?'” Oberle recalled.
So the working mother spent her weekend at the library, volunteering to host story times for young children including her own.
Oberle, who has a love for mystery novels, said volunteering at the library was the perfect fit for her. Growing up in Sheraden, she would walk to the first public library in the area with a friend to check out books.
In the mid- to late-1970s, Baldwin Borough officials began to recognize the library as an organization and put a line item in the budget for contributions, Oberle said.
A library board was started, Oberle joined and “She's been fighting for libraries ever since,” Chippetta said.
In the late 1980s, the library moved from the borough building to its current location in the rear of the Baldwin-Whitehall School District-owned Wallace School Building, Oberle said.
They started with one room, but as space was needed two rooms were added.
Oberle was instrumental in getting computers for the library, Chiappetta said.
“She's always forward thinking,” she said.
Oberle also worked with other libraries to network, and helped support libraries in Allegheny County working together in one system, Chiappetta said. She also was a large part of the Library Association of the South Hills, and many former members attended her gathering last week.
As library board president, Oberle frequently stopped at the library to make sure everything was OK. Behind her, Len Oberle was there with his tool bag, fixing broken pipes or putting in electrical wires.
“She would come in and talk to us and ask us what we needed,” library clerk Tracy Bakowski said. “She's just really, really nice and sweet. She puts everybody first.”
The Oberles spent so much time at the library that many patrons thought they worked there.
“It was so pleasant when they'd come in,” said Christine McIntosh, who had her first job as a library director at Baldwin from 2000 to 2007. She now works as library director in Bethel Park.
As often as the Oberles were at the library, they went to other borough functions too, McIntosh noted.
“I think sometimes when the council people saw her, they would turn the other way. They knew she'd be saying, ‘We need more money for the library,'” McIntosh said.
During the last 40 years, the Baldwin library has had its struggles.
Getting the library out of the Wallace School building has been a mission for Oberle. In winter, the heat does not always work and at times, water leaks through the ceiling, and the windows leak.
“Unfortunately that fight was one she didn't win,” Chiappetta said.
“Not yet,” Len Oberle said.
The move might have happened in the mid-1990s. State Rep. Harry Readshaw, D-Carrick, joked at the gathering for Oberle that he had to tell the story, because it was such a large part of his and LaVerne Oberle's past.
In the mid-1990s, Baldwin Borough received a $300,000 state matching grant for a new library. Readshaw said he attended a council meeting with the check, and after officials turned down the grant he walked out with the $300,000 still in his pocket.
Returning that check to then-Gov. Tom Ridge was one of the hardest things he's had to do, Readshaw said. Oberle had been one of the biggest advocates to get the funding, he said.
Even after that, the Oberles didn't give up their dream for a new library. “If it was based on her enthusiasm and efforts, we would have had the Taj Mahal,” McIntosh said.
The library purchased land on Churchview Avenue in 2008. Financing a building project has been the difficult part.
Len Oberle has a strategy: Someone in the borough could win the lottery, then donate $4 million so that at least a small library could be built.
For LaVerne Oberle, now is the time to leave the library board and focus on her family. Library staffers got teary-eyed at the thought that she might not be around as frequently, but she promises to continue using the library and to stay involved in her mystery book club.
She's also thinking about starting a Friends of Baldwin Borough Public Library group.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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