It’s the Gloria Coles Flint Public Library now: local leaders praise Coles’ legacy of “inclusivity” and “a bold, dynamic vision” at naming ceremony

By Jan Worth-Nelson

Under a tent on the lawn on a steamy afternoon, more than 100 of Flint’s leadership aristocracy gave Gloria Coles a standing ovation as the library she served as director for 20 years was officially named in her honor.

It is now the Gloria Coles Flint Public Library.

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Executive Director Kay Schwartz, herself retiring in July,  emceed the event, which included remarks of acclaim, admiration, and appreciation by FPL board president Reta Stanley; Mayor Sheldon Neeley;  local philanthropist Valaria Moon; former FPL board president Sally Kagerer; Jo Anne Mondowney, who succeeded Coles as FPL director; revered 1950s Flint sports star Norm Bryant; Flint Board of Education president Michael Clack; and others.

Gloria Coles at the entrance to the newly renamed Gloria Coles Flint Public Library. (Photo by Paul Rozycki)

Calling Coles “dynamic and visionary,”  Moon asserted what other speakers echoed, stating,  “Inclusivity was her creed.”  Addressing Coles, who sat attentively in the front row, Moon said that when it came to enacting inclusivity,  “like a tree standing by the water, you could not be moved.”

She concluded, “We could not honor a more deserving person.”

“I never, ever thought this would happen,” Coles said as she was introduced to hearty applause.

“I am truly humbled by this proposal coming from members of the community,”  she said. At first she said she didn’t think the name change was “appropriate.”

FPL Director Kay Schwartz (left), Gloria Coles (center) and Reta Stanley (right). Photo by Paul Rozycki.

But, “After much thought and some soul-searching, I agreed to the renaming,”  she said. “The possibility that the name of an African American woman on a revered institution might be encouraging to subsequent generations of Flint youth and shine a light on the contributions of African Americans to the City was persuasive.”

Among the most heartfelt comments were those by Norm Bryant, a member of the grassroots campaign to name the library for Coles.  Bryant, a celebrated 1950s Flint sports star and founder of the  Greater Flint African American Sports Hall of Fame,  described how in the ’90s when there was not enough room to accommodate the Hall of Fame at Berston Field House, Coles enthusiastically offered space in the FPL.  At first it made a home in the library’s basement; it has now been moved to the second floor.

Bryant also praised Coles for propelling a successful  a millage campaign in 2002 that kept the library going and thriving through challenging years.

“I think it’s fair to say that without her hard work to secure public funding through the millages, the library would not be here today,”  Bryant said.  “That is part of her legacy, and one of the primary reasons we wanted to name the library in her honor.”

Noting that in the renovated library Coles was initially granted one room named for her,  Bryant said, to applause, “She’s larger than a room” and said, to cheers, “this is about making history.”

Coles was the first African-American director of the library, and through her tenure, from 1984-2004, she  shepherded a host of significant improvements in addition to the millages.

In her tenure, the library raised funds and added a 8,750-square foot addition, the first building project from the time the library was built in 1958 until the $30 million renovation that began in 2020.

The newly renamed Gloria Coles Flint Public Library. (Photo by Paul Rozycki)

Another accomplishment was guiding the library in its transition from Flint Board of Education governance to becoming an independent district library in 1999.

“Ms. Coles was an inspiring leader, a tireless advocate, and a force for change,”  Board president Reta Stanley stated in a press release.  “She retired in 2004 but has been actively involved in the community and with the library ever since.

“We often choose to honor significant people after they have passed away,”  Stanley noted, “But it is far better to do so while they are still alive.” She said the board had voted unanimously for the change.

The renaming caps several years of dramatic changes at the library,  which was founded in 1851 by a group of women community activists. The current building, at 1026 E. Kearsley St. on the west end of the Flint Cultural Center campus, was originally  built in 1958.   In May 2022, a $30 million renovation was completed and the facility reopened after several years of construction and COVID closures.  The “like new” renovation rebuilt all the  library’s major systems,  added 16,000 square feet, for a total of 90,000, and included redesigned shelves to house the library’s 180,000 books.

Its hours are Tuesday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 6.  Phone is 810-232-7111.

EVM Consulting Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at

Author: East Village Magazine

A Non-profit, Community News Magazine Since 1976

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