AS TIME GOES BY
Wood County History
By LOU MALLORY —
Chairperson, Wood County Historical Commission
The Life of Harry W. Meredith – Part III
For some time now, we have been seeking detailed and reliable information on the life of Harry Meredith, historically one of Mineola’s and Wood County’s most eminent citizens who became a prominent philanthropist and benefactor. His various works have greatly benefited the city of Mineola and the county in general. This series, based on the work of Ora Bruner in her book “The Mayors of Mineola: 101 Years”, has been slightly edited for matters of style and clarity. This is the third and final installment.
The Life of Harry W. Meredith
By this time, Harry was staying at home most of the time. His friends often visited him. To several of them, he expressed a desire to do something for the people of Mineola, where he had been successful. He said that Mineola had been good to him.
He especially discussed this with the four men whom he later named to serve on the board of the Meredith Foundation. At the suggestion of some of these friends, he decided to give $50,000 for the erection of a public library building in Mineola.
To direct this project, the Meredith Foundation was organized on July 19, 1958. The board consisted of Meredith, plus James C. Judge, Ross C. Lukenbill, Joe H. Sharp, and Leonard Bruner.
At first, $20,000 was granted to the foundation and plans were begun. In April 1959, headlines in the Mineola Monitor announced that a public library building would be built in Mineola by the Meredith Foundation. The Foundation planned to deed the library to the city of Mineola when it was completed.
A few days later, land was purchased by the Mineola Library Association on the northwest corner at the intersection of North Pacific and East Blair Streets. Money for this was provided by the sale of 200 shares of El Paso Natural Gas stock, a gift to the association from James C. and Anna L. Butler Judge.
Plans for the building were made by architect Stanley Brown of Dallas. The contract for the 70 by 70-foot building went to Carl Little, a Mineola native and long-time contractor in the area.
On Tuesday, July 21, 1959, Harry Meredith broke ground for the library with a gilded shovel before a sizeable crowd of interested well-wishers. As he turned the first spade of earth, he said, “I am giving this building to pay Mineola back for all it has done for me. Mineola has been good to me and what I have accumulated has come from right here in Mineola. I want to do this for the people of Mineola.”
Mayor Leonard Bruner introduced the main speaker for the occasion, Frank Dillard, superintendent of the Mineola schools. Other speakers from the group of friends and civic leaders who spoke briefly were Mildred Peacock Peppard, Haywood Watts, J.C. Judge, Vivian Williams Lott, Ruth Johnston Lott, and Wood County Commissioner B.A. Holbrook.
During the construction of the building, a drive was made for funds with which to equip it. The results were gratifying, and soon after the completion, everything was in place and the grounds were landscaped.
Parking was made available on three sides of the building. The entire floor space of the building was 4,900 square feet. Besides the large library proper, it contained a meeting room with a stage. This room seated about 100 people. There was also a small kitchen, plus a hall and rest rooms.
When it was suggested that this building be named the Meredith Library, Harry Meredith objected. He said he preferred it be called the Mineola Public Library. He did agree that the meeting room might be called the Meredith Room.
On February 12, 1960, the city commission, composed of Mayor Leonard Bruner and Commissioners Haywood Watts and Julius M. Deupree Sr, passed a resolution to accept the library for the city of Mineola, having received a deed for same which was dated February 5, 1960.
Accordingly, an ordinance was drawn up by City Attorney James T. Flynt whereby the city of Mineola accepted the Mineola Public Library and agreed to expend a sum not to exceed $2,500 per year for its operation and maintenance.
It was a memorable day for Mineola when on Sunday afternoon, March 13, 1960, the dedication of the Mineola Public Library was held. No one was happier than Harry. W. Meredith himself.
A large crowd viewed the library and facilities and was served refreshments by members of the Mineola Public Library Association.
All the Meredith Room could accommodate attended the dedicatory program, which was as follows:
Invocation – Rev. E. Jewel Strong; Introductions – Mr. T.W. Benham; Presentation of Gold Key to Mr. Meredith – Mr. T.W. Benham; Presentation of the building – Mr. H. W. Meredith; Acceptance by the City – Mayor Leonard Bruner; Dedication Address – Hon. Galloway Calhoun; Closing Prayer – Rev. James Thompson.
For a few months following this dedication, Harry Meredith met regularly with the Meredith Foundation as its chairman. He remained interested in the business and civic affairs of the town and usually walked the two blocks to the First National Bank each morning to visit a while as he had done for many years, He also attended the directors’ meetings at the bank at that time.
After a few months, he was no longer able to do any of these things. He died at his home on June 11, 1962, and was buried in the Mineola City Cemetery.
Harry Meredith had arranged that a sizeable part of his wealth should go to the Meredith Foundation with the stipulation that it be used to help the people of Mineola. However, the foundation can donate only to strictly charitable or non-profit organizations, according to federal restrictions.
After Mr. Meredith’s death, J.C. Judge was made chairman of the foundation. T.W. Benham was elected to complete the board. After the death of Joe Sharp in 1971, Harry Jones became a board member. In 1973, after the death of J.C. Judge, R.C. Lukenbill became chairman and James Oscar Dear was named to again complete the board. Sid Cox became became a member after the death of Leonard Bruner in 1974.
Since 1962, generous gifts have been given to the Mineola Public Library, the Mineola Independent School District, the Mineola City Cemetery, the Mineola Youth Foundation, the Southside Recreation Center, the Band Boosters’ Club, Mineola Community Chest, the Mineola Industrial Foundation, the Mineola Airport Lighting Fund, the First Methodist and First Baptist Churches, and other worthwhile organizations. Two church donations were in memory of Joe Sharp and Leonard Bruner respectively.
Among the large donations to the Mineola schools were grants to help the Vocational Agriculture Department and to set up an auto mechanics shop.
In 1971, a new wing was added to the Mineola Public Library, giving it about one third more space. Stanley Brown, the architect who planned the building, also designed the addition. Carl Little was again given the contract for the construction.
This was done with a grant from the Meredith Foundation. Other generous grants have been made to the library which are helping to keep it up-to-date.
A liberal grant was made to acquire two microfilm readers and a reader-printer; another grant provided microfilms and books for the genealogical department. The new wing to the building had made it possible for this new department to have sufficient space.
The librarians’ work was made easier and more efficient with the addition of two electric typewriters and an adding machine. A copying machine is also available. These things are situated in the new, enlarged, and well-lighted work area.
A school building for retarded children was completed in 1973 on the campus of the Mineola public schools on West Patten Street. It was made possible by a grant of about $60,000 from the Meredith Foundation. It was dedicated on May 19, 1974 and named the Irma Jones School.
Also in 1973, a metal building to be used as a reading laboratory was erected on the campus of Mineola Junior High School at a cost of about $6,000. A grant of $6,000 was made to move and enlarge the livestock barn which is used for the Future Farmers’ cattle shows.
A grant of $150,000 was made on October 1973 to the Mineola Civic Center, which was being planned at the time. A previous grant of $8,500 had been made in 1972 for the purchase of land for the project.
People who knew Harry W. Meredith will always remember him. To those who come after him, these many wonderful facilities will indeed stand out as monuments to his memory.
This concludes Ora Bruner’s narrative. In the decades since the 70’s, the Meredith Foundation has continued to contribute to a myriad of civic projects in the Mineola area. The large and attractive Mineola Civic continues to be a popular meeting place for people from all over the region. Mr. Meredith’s initial project, the Mineola library, is open to all county residents. It has outgrown the original site and has purchased the old Coulter Templeton home on North Pacific Street for the site of the future new library. An architect has prepared a drawing of the new library which was displayed and discussed at the December 2007 annual meeting. The library board is pursuing grants and donations and hopes to start the construction of the new library in the coming year. Just recently, the current library has been renovated with some new shelving, chairs and tables.