The history of Cudahy Family Library is the story of continuing community support for the cultural and educational values it represents. Mrs. Barney Eaton, wife of the Village of Cudahy's first President, provided the impetus for the founding of the first Library. The wives and children of the early immigrants from Europe were taught to read and write English by Mrs. Eaton, who shared her own books with them. Working with Lutie Stearns, a field supervisor for the Wisconsin Free Library Commission, Mrs. Eaton convinced Otto Frank to open a small library in the back of his drug store on Packard Avenue in 1906. Just a few years later, Mr. Frank notified the Cudahy Common Council that his store space was becoming overcrowded. In 1913, the Council granted a $50 appropriation to move the Library to the old Cudahy City Hall building, with the city clerk acting as librarian.
In 1937, the Library moved to a rented space at 3701 E. Layton Ave. The Board of Vocational and Adult Education offered quarters for the Library in the Vocational School, located at the corner of Squire and Swift Avenues, in 1940, and the Library moved once again. During World War II, hundreds of Cudahy's young citizens were inducted into the armed forces, and the Cudahy Service League was formed in 1943 to raise money for a memorial building for all those who had served their country. By 1944, the League decided that a library would be the most suitable memorial, and the Municipal Memorial Building Commission was created to assist with the building plans. Working together, the League and the Commission conducted a citywide fundraising campaign during 1944 and 1945 and raised $82,000, far short of the $165,000 needed to construct the building. In 1949, a group of Cudahy's leading industrialists adopted the War Memorial Library as their own project. The giving spirit of these industrialists, including Victor F. Braun, Michael F. Cudahy, Herman W. Ladish, and George L.N. Meyer, as well as the generosity of other Cudahy men and women, built the Library that was erected at the corner of Packard and Plankinton Avenues. The War Memorial Library was dedicated and presented to the City on Memorial Day, 1952. The Cudahy Memorial Library holds the distinction of being the only library building in Milwaukee County financed entirely by private contributions.
The legacy of community support for the Library continued in the ensuing years. In 1966, the Friends of Cudahy Library were first organized and to this day remain strong advocates for Library programs and services. In 1968, donations from a variety of businesses and foundations, including the Patrick and Anna M. Cudahy Fund, Cudahy Fuel Co., Cudahy Tanning, Ladish Co. Foundation, Lucas-Milhaupt, and Valoe Plastering, allowed the Library to begin a collection of circulating record albums. Marie Hesiak, a local educator, donated her collection of craft and needlework patterns to the Library in 1982, and in that same year the Library was able to acquire the microfilm collection of the Cudahy Reminder-Enterprise thanks to money given by Christ and Mary Becker, Arden and Nancy Eichsteadt, and the Edith M. Partridge Memorial Fund.
As the Library's collections grew, however, the 6,500 square feet of space in the original Cudahy Memorial Library building were quickly filled. Just 15 years after the building was dedicated, the book collection had outgrown the planned building capacity and the library's Activity Room was filled with book shelves housing the Library's periodical collections. Access to the Library was also becoming difficult, with the lack of parking spaces for patrons identified as a major problem in the 1967 annual report. In 1974, extra book stacks were added to help ease overcrowding in the adult and children's collections. The Library Board began planning and fundraising for a new addition, which expanded the memorial facility to 8,300 square feet in 1979. Within a matter of a few years, the expanded facility was again filled, with service and functional areas severely compressed.
In 1984, the Library benefited from an energy retrofit project, with new lighting, lowered ceilings, roof and duct insulation, and glass block windows all being added. The following year, Cudahy Public Library became a member of the Milwaukee County Federated Library System (MCFLS), which expanded borrowing privileges from just Milwaukee Public Library to all of the member libraries in the county. The move to join MCFLS meant that Cudahy Public Library's collections had to be barcoded and added to the online computer system, a project that took almost two years to complete. Individuals and groups in the community once again supported the Library by volunteering their time to help with the barcoding effort.
In 1995, MCFLS adopted a new library software system, and the County Cat was born. County Cat marked the end of an era at the Cudahy Public Library: the card catalogs were replaced by 22 computer terminals throughout the building. Windt Woodwork made the necessary modifications to the Library's circulation desk and constructed a new reference desk and public computer stations. That same year, new interior signage was installed to help library users better locate desired materials. Starting in 1995, the Library also opened on Sundays, with the expanded hours quickly becoming among the busiest of the week.
The Library Board also continued to plan for the future and had a Library Space Needs and Alternatives Study conducted in 1995 by consultant David R. Smith. Following the recommendations of the study to erect a new facility, a Building Advisory Committee (BAC) was appointed in 1996 to help choose a site for the new Library. Boris Frank was also hired to facilitate the BAC meetings and conduct a fundraising feasibility study. Continuing a long history of support for the Library, the Ladish Foundation donated $40,000 to the Library Board to help fund its efforts in planning for a new building.
The Library Board's plan to locate the new Library building on Barland Avenue was not without controversy, however, and the plans for the building were put on hold until an approved location and funding could be determined. Throughout 1999, supporters and detractors of the location met with various community groups, the Common Council, and the Library Board to discuss whether a new library was needed, what size it should be, where it should be located, and how it should be financed. Finally, the issue of the need for a new library and how to pay for it was placed on a public referendum in April 2000. The measure was overwhelmingly approved, with 74.6 percent of the community voting to construct a new library and 61 percent voting to use city tax dollars to do so. Throughout 2000, the school children of Cudahy worked diligently to help raise funds for the children's section in the new Library by conducting a penny drive. The students collected money in jars at their individual schools, then brought the coins in to add to the Library's "penny box" in an effort to fill it to the top with one million pennies.
The City of Cudahy provided $3.2 million in funding for the almost $5 million project. The remainder of the funding for the new Library was donated by the many generous citizens, corporations, and foundations who believe in the importance of a new Library to serve future generations. Echoing the donation made to the War Memorial Fund more than 50 years ago, Judge Richard D. Cudahy donated $1 million for this new building through the Patrick and Anna M. Cudahy Fund. Paying homage to the legacy of his grandfather, Patrick Cudahy, and his parents, Michael and Alice Cudahy, Judge Richard Cudahy named this new facility the Cudahy Family Library.
Since moving into the new building in March of 2003, the Cudahy Family Library Endowment Fund has been established to ensure the Library’s future by providing a stable and predictable source of revenue to supplement city funding. The Next Chapter Endowment Campaign set a fundraising goal of $1 million, which would be used for items that are not covered by city funds, such as technology, collections, special programs, services, and growth-related expenditures. Contributions to the endowment are welcome and can be made in the form of cash, stocks, or bonds. Planned giving in the form of a bequest through a will or estate plan would also be gratefully accepted. For more information, please contact Library Director Rebecca Roepke at (414) 769-2246 or via e-mail atCudahy.EndowmentFund@mcfls.org.