Elting Memorial Library Fair is a New Paltz tradition

Elting Memorial Library Fair volunteer Rachel Markowitz helps to keep the book tent tidy. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

The first Elting Memorial Library Fair was held on August 4, 1956. It raised $439. Another fair was held the following year, with profits nearly doubling to $833. Imagine what people at the time would have thought if they could have looked into the future to 2017, and known that not only is the Library Fair still a New Paltz tradition, but that last Saturday’s event on September 23 would be the 61st iteration of an annual fundraiser that now brings in some $30,000 each year to support the library, with a third of that raised through the event’s giant raffle.

It’s worth noting that this fundraiser is essential to library operations, raising the funds to make up what the tax levy doesn’t stretch to cover in the budget.

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It’s also a nice way to catch up with friends and neighbors. Most of the activities last Saturday were held behind the library under tents, which provided shielding from the bright sun and nearly-90 degree temperatures. (Somebody forgot to let Mother Nature know it’s fall. Ironically, the fair used to be held in July, but was moved to September for more moderate weather.)

Library trustee, Tessa Killian, was on duty at the event’s flea market. “It’s a great way to support the library,” she said. “People coming to the fair have a good time, and so do the volunteers. And we get so much from the local community; they donate things to us to sell and then come to the fair to buy more.” Her own husband has been known to donate books to the fair and then buy them back a few years later, she added with a smile.

Jeff Bonhag and his son Henning peruse record albums together.

The flea market had a wide range of offerings from table wares and dishes to vinyl albums and holiday collectibles, with everything priced to sell. (This reporter, in fact, happened upon a string of indoor/outdoor lantern lights that couldn’t be passed up, with a number of people I walked by wanting to know where I’d found them.)

The book tent featured more than 10,000 gently used selections carefully arranged by genre. Volunteers Jackie Swartzberg and Susan Scher spent many hours this past year sorting and pricing books in preparation for the day.

There was also a tent with toys for sale, and children’s activities that included pumpkin painting for a $2 fee and the “Kidz on the Go Activity Center,” a primary-colored portable playground with chutes, tunnels and slides.

The appetizing aroma in the air came from hot dogs and hamburgers donated by Jack’s Meats, and sausage and pepper sandwiches offered by former library board president Richard Heyl de Ortiz and his partner.

Live music was performed all day, featuring the Kurt Henry Band and singer-songwriter Jeff Pfeffer, whose wife, Elting’s children’s librarian Bonnie Pfeffer, coordinated the jewelry sale at the event, with tables of costume jewelry at prices from 50 cents up to $20.

The plant sale by the New Paltz Garden Club offered a number of specimens donated by the greenhouse at Mohonk Mountain House. Prices were quite reasonable, with some as low as $2 and none more than $10. Giant mums donated by Wallkill View Farms were sold for just $5; a steal for a mum that size. Garden Club vice-president Shelly Ottens noted that the club awarded the library its annual Civic Beautification award for 2017.

A handful of local craftspeople were on hand as vendors. Jim Sheridan makes copper folk art collectibles out of leftover copper roofing material. After hammering the metal out, he cuts figures that resemble the type of thing one sees on weathervanes – birds, animals, ships and such – then mounts the silhouette on a chunk of rock. The word “charming” is over-used in association with folk art, but these genuinely were.

And then there were “The Stitchin’ Sisters.” Rosemary Vander Sal and Julia Tilger presided over tables filled with their finely done cross stitch and needlework designs, made into cards, bookmarks, framed pictures and other items suitable to sport handwork. The two really are sisters, and they have a bona fide connection to the library: they grew up in New Paltz as Moerbeeks, both volunteering at the library as girls. They worked their way up to paid positions in the children’s section, and when they eventually left town to start families, their mother, Tillie Moerbeek, took their place, becoming Elting’s longtime children’s librarian. “A lot of people in town will still remember her,” said Vander Sal, who lives in Westchester now. Tilger moved upstate for years, but she’s back in New Paltz now, in the home she grew up in.

Left to right: Charlotte Moss and library board members Sarah Holsted and Tessa Killian volunteer at the flea market.

Over at the raffle tent, the drum was already growing full by noon with raffle tickets purchased by attendees hopeful of winning one of the enticing prizes donated by local business owners. The list of more than 100 donors is too lengthy to include here, but suffice to say that the list read like a business directory of the New Paltz area, with local merchants generous in their support of the library. The top prize was a three-day, two-night stay for two at Mohonk Mountain House.

Tickets for the raffle could be purchased all day, but with so many prizes to award, the selection process takes a while, so it was slated to begin at 1:30 p.m.The raffle was organized by library board trustees Alison Nash and Patricia Backus along with “super-volunteer” Heather Bernabo. The latter’s daughter, Felice, and fellow volunteers Rosalyn Cherry and Barbara Petersen were on hand helping visitors negotiate the ticket-buying process along with Carol Johnson, coordinator of the library’s Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection.

Keeping in mind that raffle ticket buyers didn’t need to be present to win, it had to be a daunting task for these volunteers to call or e-mail all the winners after the event. More than 100 people who attended the 61st annual Elting Memorial Library Fair will have received that phone call by now, letting them know they won a prize. But for those who purchased raffle tickets and that call didn’t come, just remember: there’s always next year.