By Tom Travis
After 24 years at the Flint Public Library and playing a major role in its dramatic renovation, Kay Schwartz has plans for her retirement: spending time with her growing number of grandchildren and going to that library, as a patron this time, to simply “sit and read.”
For the past seven years, Schwartz led the library’s team of staff, board and community members on a quest to transform that library into a 21st century learning center, with a vision “to be Flint’s go-to place to learn for life,’ as she described it. The grand opening was May 19, 2022.
In a press release, FPL’s Board of Trustees and President Reta Stanley wrote, “We have been blessed with strong, courageous, dedicated directors who have led and shaped this institution into a community jewel. Kay Schwartz has been one such leader. And now, as is true for all longstanding organizations, we will be saying farewell as Kay looks ahead to retirement and we begin the process of searching for the next Director who will lead us into the future.
“Kay has guided this organization through extraordinary challenges as well as triumphs. She will leave the library in solid financial shape, with a strong staff, a fully renovated building, and a foundation upon which to build for the future.
“The Board has retained Bradbury Miller Associates of Canton, OH to identify potential candidates for the position of Executive Director. Our current schedule will have the new Director hired and ready for a leadership transition by June of 2023. You can stay up to date on the search process through news posts on our website or by following the Library on Facebook.
“We are grateful for Kay’s dedicated service and active involvement in seeking a successor. We wish her nothing but the best as she moves toward a new phase of life.”
Schwartz’ path to become FPL Director
In 2004 when Gloria Coles retired and Jo Anne Mondowney became director, Schwartz was asked to become a department head in Technical Services which encompasses IT (Information Technology), materials purchasing and cataloging. So she already had been part of the library administration for five years when she came on board as interim director.
“In 2009 the previous FPL Director [Mondowney] was head-hunted away from us by the Detroit Public Library,” Schwartz said. “The board asked me to serve as interim director starting in September 2009 while they did a search. I did not apply for the job – I was happy where I was!
“After a year as interim, the board had not found a director and I had settled into the job, including passing a millage renewal with an increase. So in September 2010, the board asked me to stay on as library director and I agreed,” she said.
Schwartz holds a Masters of Library and Information Science (MILS) from The University of Michigan School of Information. She calls her time at FPL as her “second career” — because for almost 20 years before her career at the FPL she worked as a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) mostly with Dupuis & Ryden in Flint (now Plante Moran).
“As the economic downturn hit Flint in the 2010s, following the worldwide economic crisis, I used every skill I had in accounting and budgeting to find ways we could move the library forward with a steep decline in millage revenue (due to the property value decline in Flint),” Schwartz explained.
“At 72….I’m ready to be retired.” – Schwartz
“Since this is my second career, I started late. I’ll turn 72 in January and am ready to be retired. My husband Mark and I have three grandchildren, all under age 7, and one on the way. So I’m eager to spend more time with them. I also have a huge family history project – boxes and boxes of letters, photos, family genealogy, that I want to digitize and post on Ancestry to share with other family members,” Schwartz said.
“This is our home. We have been 42 years in the same house in Flushing and my husband was born and raised in Flint. My husband Mark owns Mark Schwartz Violins and has no plans to retire! Everyone in the family is really pleased. They know how hard our team has worked over the past five years to make the renovated building happen and everyone agrees it’s time for me to kick back,” Schwartz said.
The best of times, the worst of times – Schwartz reflects on years at FPL
“There were some really tough times in 2013 and 2014 when tax values in Flint were crashing and so was our millage revenue. We had to lay off staff, cut library hours, close branches and plan for a very uncertain future with expert library consultants. When I look back at that time, I am so moved by the trust and teamwork it required to push through,” Schwartz recalled.
“Our staff, the library board, our funders, and the public were incredibly supportive of our management team doing what we had to do. We asked the public for and received millage increases and also a bond issue to fund the renovation. This public support cannot be credited only to me or my team but rather to decades of service to this community from our staff as well as leadership from the directors who preceded me, particularly Gloria Coles who was director for 20 years,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz recounted some specific memories that are especially meaningful to her:
- MLK Day Celebrations with John Rhymes’ group of young men performing and giving the “I have a Dream” speech. “The floor used to shake when the boys step-danced, which is one reason they welded 500 steel beams to support the floors in our renovation!” she said.
- Jim Abbott bringing his book tour for Imperfect: An Improbable Life to the library and staying several hours to sign books for all 200 people who not only wanted their books signed but also to reminisce with him.
- The StoryCorps Project that recorded 40-minute conversations between family and friends that will be saved at the Library of Congress. “Many of these were captured just before our wise elders passed, like the conversation between Dolores Ennis and Gloria Coles,” Schwartz recalled. “We have excerpts of these interviews posted online at: https://soundcloud.com/flintpubliclibrary.”
“And the best memory is Opening Day, May 19, 2022, when we finally welcomed the public into the newly renovated building,” Schwart said. “There was so much joy from everyone in celebrating this much-loved building that now has a new life and a new future! What a privilege for me to have had a career that allowed me to participate in this incredible project,” she recalled.
Schwartz added, “The focus is always on me when people ask about the library, but there were four of us who acted completely as a team – literally in every meeting, in on every decision, reaching consensus and carrying out what seemed like crazy ideas. These people are rarely mentioned but I could not have arrived at this place without them: Leslie Acevedo, Connie Palmer and Rick Dunning. We were a team of four, not one person, who brought the library through its tough economic times and into a future in this beautiful building.”
Kay is a charter member of the Rotary Club of Greater Flint Sunrise. She is a board member of the Library of Michigan, serves on the Steering Committee of the Flint and Genesee Literacy Network, co-chairs the Rotary Area 7 Literacy Committee and is Treasurer of the Flint Cultural Center Academy Board of Education.
Her official retirement date is June 30, 2023, and the Library will soon begin a formal search for her replacement.
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.