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May 27, 2013

Stepping back

Southern to retire from Walton library

WALTON — After four decades living in Walton, Gordon Southern is retiring and moving to live near his grandchildren.

Director of the Walton-Tipton Township Public Library since 2005 and leader in both the Walton Main Street Organization and the Walton Lions Club, Gordon announced his retirement to the library board May 14 and will officially work his last day June 30.

“I’ve loved the time here,” Southern said. “I felt like I was part of the community. I felt like people were friendly and inviting.”

Southern explained that as he neared 65 years old, he realized he had to scale back his activities, so he and wife Jan decided to scale down both their living space — they have 4 acres of land surrounding their house — and their community activities.

“I promised my wife that I won’t commit to anything the first year after we moved,” he chuckled, “except that my daughter decided that I could be their maintenance man and landscaper and part-time taxi driver.

“I’m looking for a good rest before I do anything else,” Southern said.

A native of Smithville, a small town about 15 miles south of Bloomington, Southern started teaching seventh-grade science at Lewis Cass Junior-Senior High School in 1970. He and Jan moved to a house in Walton near the high school in 1973.

“That’s where we raised our kids, and half the school population I think went through there,” he recalled. They moved to their current house, which Jan designed, about 1999.

Southern taught science in just about every grade during his years in Southeastern Schools, as well as serving two terms on the town council in the 1980s. He also taught social studies at Lewis Cass for about his last four years there before retiring in December 2004.

He’d earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education and had begun working on a specialized degree in school administration as well as some post-graduate work in education and later library science. He did not finish those degrees, he said, but he doesn’t regret pursuing them.

“You never go wrong getting an education,” Southern said. “I’m not sorry I did that.”

Then, as he decided to retire from teaching, he learned the library was looking for a new director after former director Robert Moore left the position in 2004.

He’d already become familiar with the library while serving as its board president during two terms on the library board in the 1990s.

Southern said he though, “Hey, this is a chance to do something else I like,” he recalled, adding that being library director “reinvigorated me. I felt like I was 10, 15 years younger.”

Library board president Paul Bauer credited Southern with transforming the library from “a place just to go and read a book” to a welcome and outreach center for the town of Walton.

“He’s just done a magnificent job of reaching out and providing services to people,” Bauer said. The library has also gotten involved in community events and programs like Reading Railroad, a countywide childhood literacy initiative, and town festivals.

Southern also pushed to make the town’s library a resource for more than just its residents.

“I think Gordon made advances to coordinate the two other libraries in the county to maybe open all the libraries up to anybody in the county, whereas before libraries were pretty territorial,” Bauer said. ”They just tended to serve the people in their district or bailiwick. He’s tried to spearhead that.”

Now, the Walton library has a cooperative agreement with the Logansport-Cass County library system so cardholders in each system can borrow materials from the other system.

It’s those kinds of partnerships that Southern has focused on over the years, including during his bids for Cass County Council in 2004 and 2008. Through partnerships with the town council and Walton Main Street as well as various clubs, the library was instrumental in procuring grant funding for townwide Wi-Fi internet in 2010.

“I always try to emphasize the idea of partnerships and that would be my advice to anyone coming in,” Southern said. “On grants — don’t be afraid to write them.”

And seeing the projects come to fruition — not just the townwide Wi-Fi but others as well, like teaching every local elementary student to use the research resources at the library — made him feel like he’s “part of a bigger community, a bigger world here.”

Stepping back was no easy decision, he said. He’ll miss the town he calls home.

“I don’t think of where I came from as home and it’ll take me a while, if ever, to think of where I’m going as home,” Southern said. “This is here.

“It’s just been a wonderful home to us. I don’t know what to say to say how great it’s been.”

Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at sarah.einselen@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5151.

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