On Saturday, Sept. 17, at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Maze South Branch Library renovations, my husband Bill and I shared our recollections of the library and its beloved librarian, Adele Maze.
We recalled the crowded little storefront branch at 429 Harrison Street where Mrs. Maze made use of every inch of space, including storage of books in an unused bathtub in what had formerly been a rear bathroom. Her quiet charm and soft voice hushed the crowds of children gathered for stories which she delivered often without reading. Her graciousness and helpful manner brought increasing numbers of adults as well as younger children to enjoy the pleasure of reading. For 17 years, from 1919 to 1936, she graced a well-loved corner of Oak Park and helped design the new library ultimately named for her. She died behind the desk there in 1957 after 38 years of dedicated service.
Bill recalled the memories of Bill's mother taking him there as a 4-year-old in 1927 from their home on East Avenue. We reminisced about the well-organized nature of Mrs. Maze's small quarters and her cheerful encouragement for young adults to be challenged in a variety of reading. Her suggestions were always wonderful, and it seemed as if she had read every book and could match it with a young reader.
As young sixth graders living just a block away from the new Maze Branch, I watched its construction and marveled at the beauty and efficiency of its design. You could see Mrs. Maze in every detail?#34;the steps up to the glorious, sun-filled children's room on the south, the welcoming fireplace, a comfortable small research room quietly removed from the busy flow of patrons, and the thoughtfully appointed meeting room in the lower level where the public might opt to enter from a well-lit outside entrance.
Bill recalled being impressed with the helpfulness of the library staff in regard to a China Clipper project he had undertaken as a youthful member of the Oak Park Aviation Club in the late '30s. Mrs. Maze had noted the interest of the group of young aviation enthusiasts and ordered special magazines and resource materials for them. She had written to Pan American Airlines for color details Bill needed for the completion of a prize-winning model.
Virginia recalled the warm relationship the librarians had with the neighboring patrons and the thoughtfully prepared exhibits and special programs both on Harrison Street and in the new building. Teenage students were well served and encouraged and Bill and I have fond memories of living close to the library for research in our high school days. During our college and Bill's military service years outside of Oak Park, we missed the intimacy of the personal service we had become so accustomed to. We rejoiced in returning to the old neighborhood at Gunderson and Van Buren as newlyweds and bringing our young children to meet Mrs. Maze and begin our youthful reading journeys.
When we moved closer to the Main Library in 1953, we were often tempted to return for the comfort of the Maze Branch resource facilities near Bill's parents' home on Elmwood Avenue. That wonderful new building became a 30-year-old neighborhood fixture where we attended many meetings in the lower room.
When Adele Maze died, fittingly "on the job" in 1957, the "soul" of the library went with her, but the gracious atmosphere always lingered. She and the storefront, as well as the crisp new 1936 building, will always be vivid memories for the Cassins.