TOPSHAM — Overwhelming.

That would be a good word to describe how staff felt when they learned former patron Janice Solomon had bequeathed $770,000 to the Topsham Public Library. Library Director Susan Preece called it the largest bequest she had seen in more than 40 years of working in libraries.

“We were really, really shocked and amazed and so humbled,” she said, noting that Solomon was a private person who spoke through her actions. “We really didn’t expect it.

“I know that the staff here said she was quiet but always friendly,” she added.

“She was just this really nice, quiet individual that kept to herself,” said Assistant Director Cyndi Burne.

(Chris Quattrucci/The Times Record)
Topsham Public Library Director Susan Preece praised her staff after receiving a $770,000 donation from a former Topsham resident. She said everyone at the front desk is involved and willing to help.

Solomon passed away in last year. According to public records, Janice and Harvey Solomon owned property in Topsham and Bradenton, Florida. Harvey passed away in 2007.

Preece is convinced her staff’s caring nature with patrons is a possible reason why someone would make such a large donation.

“I’ve been here 14 years. I came from western New York and when I came for an interview I sat in the back of the library and just watched the staff work,” she said. “Everybody is knowledgeable and every single person at the desk is involved.”

The question that remains is how the money will be used for the library. The town of Topsham covers about 85 percent of the library budget, leaving about $90,000 for the library to raise for its annual appeal.

With the large donation, it’s unclear how that will impact programming or services.

“There are no restrictions on the gift,” said Preece. “Currently, it’s in the Maine Community Foundation for investment. We are also so fortunate to have great support from the town of Topsham. I have no idea what direction the board will go.”

Through fundraising efforts and community support, the board has been able to retain a development coordinator position initially funded through a grant. The grant ran out four years ago, but Preece said fundraising efforts doubled when it was added.

The Topsham Public Library currently has 5,764 cardholders. Internet access and computer use has been up about 25 percent this fiscal year. How Solomon’s donation will benefit those cardholders will be a part of the library’s board of trustees discussions for the 2020-2023 long-range plan.

Solomon, who selected the library as one of three recipients, will be posthumously honored with the Sarah Whitten Community Award for support of the library. The award is named for Sarah Whitten, who donated her family home to the Topsham Public Library in 1941. The ceremony for the award takes place in early February.

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