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Surprise Bequest Benefits Baltimore County Public Libraries

A former librarian’s legacy is the largest one-time gift in the history of the foundation.

Just three days after the Foundation for Baltimore County Public Library committed to raising a $1 million endowment for its children’s literacy initiative, supporters were shocked to learn they were suddenly halfway to their goal.

The foundation received a bequest this week of $475,000 from the estate of Margaret “Peggy” Peterson, a former BCPL librarian, who demonstrated her commitment to libraries in death as she did in life. Peterson, who died in 2006, was a BCPL employee from 1963 until her retirement in 1986, and was known for her love of books.

A Baltimore native, she was a life-long library patron, having spent many hours of her childhood inside the branches of Enoch Pratt Free Library (EPFL), according to her friend Lynn Wheeler, director of Carroll County Public Library.

“Peggy loved to read and libraries were her second home,” Wheeler said in a statement. “It was Peggy’s wish to give gifts to both BCPL and EPFL—two library organizations that brought great joy and meaning to her life.”

Peterson’s estate bequeathed an additional $475,000 to EPFL.

“She was intelligent, well-read, approachable to customers, very down-to-earth, had a warm smile and a very memorable laugh,” said Jim DeArmey, BCPL’s information services coordinator. As a teenager, he first met Peterson in the 1970s when he shelved books at the Catonsville branch, where Peterson was a librarian.

DeArmey credited Peterson’s vitality and kindness during her tenure at Catonsville for continuing his career with BCPL.

“It’s that experience that made me continue in this line of work,” DeArmey said. “She loved what libraries could give to the community, and she gave back so much, to us, with her intelligence, and warmth, and knowledge.”

According to Heidi Gillis, the marketing and development manager for the foundation, past children’s literacy projects like “Storyville," currently at the Rosedale and Woodlawn branches, and “My First Library Card” are examples of programs for young readers that the foundation hopes to bring to all branches.

“The interest for that endowment will be used towards children’s literacy efforts in the future at BCPL,” said Gillis, who emphasized that as technology changes, so do methods of children’s education. The money will be available “in perpetuity,” Gillis said, to fund projects that benefit children.

“In the future, whatever the big thing will be at that time, they’ll just be able to move forward with it without too many restrictions,” Gillis said.

The foundation has been raising money since 1999 for system-wide BCPL goals as well as specific projects designed to help children and young adults cultivate a lifelong enthusiasm for reading and learning, according to their website. This endowment had been discussed for about a year, according to Gillis, before they finalized their goal of $1 million.

“We thought a million might be a stretch, so we were very excited when we found out [about the bequest],” Gillis said.

Peterson’s estate provided an annuity for her son, who died in 2011. After his death, the balance of her estate was split evenly between BCPL and EPFL, according to Robert Hughes, spokesperson for BCPL.

DCMerkle July 08, 2011 at 03:20 PM
The love of books is something that should be taught to everyone. With the advancement of book technology many children of today will miss out on just what a holding a real book was all about. I hope that all libraries will continue to teach the children that there's more things than just all the wonderful places a story can take you away to, but the real meaning of owning a real book. It seems as if Mrs. Peterson did understand.
Lauretta Nagel July 08, 2011 at 04:28 PM
What a wonderful gift to some very deserving libraries!
kathy gambrill July 09, 2011 at 04:27 PM
How refreshing. Her committment to libraries during her life was comendable but to leave such a gift is remarkable. I've always thought our local (Reisterstown) library was the best deal around. The staff is always ready to help you locate a book, find research materails, use the internet or rent movies. Magazines and newspapers are available and community information. What a gem!

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