The renovated and expanded Walter E. Olson Memorial Libary in Eagle River was recenty completed, expanding it from 6,500 square feet to 11,000 square feet. The $2.5 million project includes off-street parking for 22 vehicles. —STAFF PHOTOS
The renovated and expanded Walter E. Olson Memorial Libary in Eagle River was recenty completed, expanding it from 6,500 square feet to 11,000 square feet. The $2.5 million project includes off-street parking for 22 vehicles. —STAFF PHOTOS
Nearly 200 Eagle River area residents, local officials, library leaders and volunteers gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly expanded and renovated Walter E. Olson Memorial Library last Friday.

Among the speakers at the grand reopening celebration were Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and philanthropist and retired Lt. Col. Jennifer Pritzker of Tawani Foundation.

Nan Andrews, library director, told the audience more than 35,000 books line the walls of the library, which started in 1897 as a small reading room. Today, the library is one of several joint libraries in Wisconsin and is supported by six municipalities, including the city of Eagle River and towns of Cloverland, Conover, Lincoln, St. Germain and Washington.

“The Walter E. Olson Memorial Library is a great transformational project that delivers on meeting the changing needs of the community,” said Andrews, who led tours following the ceremony. “The updated library not only serves as a community and cultural center, but also as a technology hub for our residents to explore, interact and imagine.”

More than $2.5 million was raised to renovate and expand the library, with $1.6 million coming from Pritzker, president and founder of Tawani Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Tawani Enterprises Inc. Other gifts were raised from private donations.

Pritzker told the large audience at the morning ceremony that her family has owned a property on the Eagle River Chain of Lakes since 1937 and has many memories tied to this area.

“Congratulations to the Walter E. Olson Memorial Library. I am honored to help dedicate the Abram Nicolas Pritzker and Robert Pritzker Wing, after my grandfather and father, respectively,” said Pritzker. “Through these men, I was taught the importance of investing in the community you live in. This building stays true to its legendary design, but adds more modern features, open spaces, environmentally-friendly materials and opportunities for the community. I hope this library is a place for community-building connections.”

The new building now has an additional 4,500 square feet of space and houses new study areas and reading rooms, a new public meeting room, young adult and teen space, self-check station and a technology area dedicated to digital creations. 

“This updated library is not just a library, it is a community and cultural center — a single source of equal access to opportunity found in Vilas County and the diverse communities of Wisconsin,” said Pritzker. “Libraries have always been filled with resources available for free to anyone. However, today’s libraries are not only reading and research centers, but community toolkits that provide individuals with the resources they need to grow.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also attended the grand reopening and noted the library has doubled in space to more than 11,000 square feet to serve communities in the area better.

“The Walter E. Olson Memorial Library’s status as a joint library supported by six nearby municipalities is an excellent example of communities coming together to share knowledge for the common good,” said Walker. “I’m proud to be here for its renovated grand reopening, and I’m confident it will remain the area’s historical, go-to public source of knowledge for years to come.”

Nancy Schaffer, president of the Walter Olson Library Foundation, said the goal of the library supporters was to expand without going to a referendum and using taxpayer dollars.

“Thanks to the generosity and commitment of Col. Pritzker and Tawani Foundation and the area donors’ generosity, we have now arrived at today’s grand reopening/ribbon-cutting ceremony, and for that the foundation, the board of trustees, the building committee and the communities served by the Walter E. Olson Memorial Library and the A.N. Pritzker and Robert Pritzker Wing are most humbled and grateful,” said Schaffer.

The project was designed by OPN Architects, with offices in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, Iowa and Madison. The building project was led by the general contractor, DeLeer’s Construction Inc. of DePere. Several local contractors also were involved in the project.

“We would like to publicly thank Col. Pritzker, Tawani Foundation, the trustees, the Walter Olson Library Foundation, the staff and volunteers, the building committee, OPN Architects, DeLeer’s Construction, all the subcontractors, Bruce Wetzel, Josh Fuller and the Fab Lab students from Northland Pines High School, our families and a special thank you to Shane Alger, the on-site construction superintendent from DeLeer’s,” said Schaffer.

The renovation and expansion also includes a cozy fireplace in the adult area for reading and chatting, an expanded children’s area, a large information desk, and a book drop directly into the building on the east side, adjacent to an off-street parking area for 22 vehicles. The building itself features large windows for natural light and interior glass walls to extend the light into other rooms and provide supervision.

Phil Jensen, Olson Library Foundation campaign chairman, admitted there were some hurdles to clear during the project that had its beginnings in 2002.

“We found the road could be bumpy, but we pressed on,” said Jensen. “Some bumps became mole hills, others became mountains. We learned you either go around the mountain, go over the mountain or sometimes you have to go find yourself a bulldozer and move the mountain. And here we are today.”

Jensen said the project has had many heroes, including the hundreds of people who have pledged and donated to the project.

“They have been incredibly steadfast and faithful in their support,” said Jensen. “Over all this time, 99.8% of all pledges have been faithfully paid.

“From our foundation to all the wonderful and generous people in our communities, Merry Christmas!” exclaimed Jensen.