Whitehall Library honors longtime patron, supporter
Faustino Dunckhorst doesn't get to the Whitehall Public Library as much as he'd like these days.
A diagnosis of degenerative disk disease and no longer driving still hasn't stopped him from visiting one of his favorite places in the community when he can.
He makes sure to get to his favorite classic book discussion group once a month, often hailing an Uber just so he can make it to the program.
“Mostly everything has tapered off,” he said softly with a laugh.
Library staffers and patrons alike have come to know Dunckhorst, 86, for kindness and generosity toward libraries. He served on the Whitehall Public Library board for six years and the Friends of the Whitehall Public Library board for about 10 years.
But he's known most for his advocacy. He wrote letters and emails to elected officials, rallying for more funding for libraries. Most of them know him by name.
“Faustino is a very special person. He truly understands and values the importance of a free public library system to a free democracy,” said Barbara Duff, Friends of the Whitehall Public Library president. “The Whitehall library is very fortunate and appreciative that he chose to share his time and talents with us.”
It was all of this that made him stand out to the leaders at Whitehall library, who chose to designate a reading area — the first to be named after a person at the library — in Dunckhorst's honor.
“He's just a blessing to everybody,” said Whitehall Public Library Director Paula Kelly.
The “Faustino Dunckhorst Reading Area” — a quiet space, filled with comfy chairs and a fireplace, underneath the library's “giving tree” — was dedicated recently.
“We're lucky to have a library in a community that appreciates it. When I look around, Faustino still rises to the top. He just deserves every bit of recognition,” Kelly said.
Dunckhorst has been recognized over the years for his advocacy and commitment to libraries.
He was named the Allegheny County Library Association trustee of the year in 2004 and received the Jefferson Award for his volunteerism in 2011. He also once was the Whitehall Borough Citizen of the Year and was recognized by the Pennsylvania Citizens for Better Libraries.
“I was very surprised when they told me,” Dunckhorst said of his latest honor.
Libraries have been a big part of his life. Growing up in Silver City, New Mexico, Dunckhorst began frequenting the local library in high school.
After receiving a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from New Mexico State, Dunckhorst came to Pennsylvania for graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh — where he received both a master's and a doctorate in chemical engineering.
In 1957, Dunckhorst began working at Bettis Atomic Power Laboratories in West Mifflin, where he worked as an advisory engineer until retirement in 1997.
During both college and his career, libraries remained an integral part of Dunckhorst's life.
“He's sharp as a tack. He's brilliant,” Kelly said, noting Dunckhorst always has the latest technology and is “very curious” about developments in the tech world.
It wasn't until 1998, after he retired, that Dunckhorst became a regular patron of the Whitehall Public Library, even though he lived in the borough since the 1960s.
He still recalls walking into the reading area for the first time and meeting the staffers. He talks about conversations they had over the years and how helpful each staff — that he knows by name — was in getting him a book or finding a resource for him.
“They were all such pleasant people,” he said.
The president of the Whitehall Public Library board worked at Bettis alongside Dunckhorst and asked him when he retired if he'd be interested in serving on the board.
He wrote a letter and the rest is history.
He visited the Whitehall Public Library multiple days a week and began advocacy work.
When he first joined the board, libraries across Allegheny County were just starting to join forces, he said.
He attended an ACLA meeting shortly after joining and “from that point on, I went to an awful lot of ACLA meetings,” he said.
Dunckhorst, who can list for you the entire history of state and Regional Asset District funding for libraries without a prompt, is passionate about making sure libraries get their fair share.
Looking back over the years, Dunckhorst said he's proud of the progress libraries have made.
“I feel immensely gratified by the continuing progress that the Whitehall library and the ACLA library system have made over the 20 years that I have been associated with them. I enjoyed every minute of it,” he said.
“It's wonderful that each individual library has the freedom to serve its community in the way it thinks is best while having full access to the large total resources of the ACLA system.”
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.