Memories Make the Library

By Terry Miller

I met with Joe Yuchasz in the lobby of his Elk Rapids Cinema, during a matinee, to talk about the Elk Rapids Library. As a bonus, his sister Catherine Allegrina and her grandson Antonio Vasquez were there also, so they contributed thoughts and reflections, too.

Born in the early 40s in Detroit, Joe moved to Kewadin in 1946. He went to first grade in the old Emerson School on Pine Street and then second/third grades in the reopened Longfellow School on Ames Street. Joe graduated from Cherryland (Elk Rapids) High School in 1959. Then, after some time away, he returned here, opening first Ye Olde Music Shoppe and later purchasing the Elk Rapids Cinema.

Two of Joe’s earliest library recollections are visiting the original library in the government building (now Java Jones) on River Street, and the library’s 1949 move to its current location. Joe remembers his mother helping to get army surplus shelving as part of her continuing support for the library. As Joe put it, “Mom was on the Library Board forever.” She also campaigned vigorously in support of permanent millages in the district to fund the library.

Joe, Catherine and the rest of the Yuchasz family were avid readers, often visiting the library. Joe fondly remembers the librarian, Mrs. Kaiser, and he also takes pride in the remarkable benefits our library has provided the district through the years, from an early book exchange and successful book procurement service (upon request) to today as the library offers a wide range of modern perks, not the least of which is computer/Internet use for those without access.

In the late 1950s, a rare tornado destroyed the library bridge. Joe recalls that Keith Morrison led the effort to replace the all-wood bridge but using concrete pilings that are still there today. Then, in the 70s, when Joe took over ownership of the Elk Rapids Cinema, our library found numerous cinema-related materials to help him, for example a wealth of information about projector lenses and a book, How to Manage a Movie Theater.

By the 90s, the library bridge was in desperate need of repair. The wood was rotten, the structure unsightly and unsafe. Joe was Village President at the time, and initial support for the bridge came from Ray Gaiser who took it on as an Eagle Scout project. What started out small soon grew into a $10,000 effort involving more than 100 people. Joe is proud that the village allowed Ray to use the best materials available, such as Wolmanized® lumber and chromium plated bolts. Joe also points out there are innovative supports for the railings that strengthen the bridge.

Two more anecdotes: In 2007 or so, when Joe wanted to repair damaged ornamental plaster in the theater, our library found a special book for him on wet plastering, published by the union in Chicago. And second, Catherine’s grandson Antonio, now a student at Michigan State, passionately reminisced that he played his first game of Dungeons and Dragons at the library, a game he still enjoys today, probably as Dungeon Master.

The Yuchasz extended family supports the library expansion. Joe himself: 1,000%. He campaigned as hard for this as his mother did before for the millages. The culture of reading in the family is still strong as is its community spirit. All recognize that an expanded library is essential to maintain Elk Rapids as a vibrant community. For Joe, Catherine and Antonio, “memories make the library.” As do restoration and expansion.

Gera Witte