A Community Legacy
Libraries are an enduring monument to people cooperating and sharing with each other, and are firmly rooted in our local communities.
– Dr. Leroy Hommerding, Director, Fort Myers Beach Public Library
When he led tours of the library that he had envisioned, designed and directed for 18 years, Leroy Hommerding’s eyes shone and his gestures became animated. As he pointed out the latest art exhibit, a group activity or the eco-friendly lighting and water infrastructure, his pride and delight in the community treasure that is the modern FMB Library was evident. In every aspect, this library is Leroy Hommerding’s creation and his legacy.
Leroy was taken from us suddenly and brutally on Sunday, January 20, 2019, doing what he always did: serving the people of Fort Myers Beach. As he opened the library doors to start the second day of the Friends of the Library Book Sale, Leroy was fatally stabbed. A suspect has been arrested and charged with murder.
Reeling with shock, disbelief and grief, our devastated island community immediately moved to rally around the library. A makeshift shrine of flowers, notes and mementoes sprang up outside the front door, and on Monday, January 21 – the day after Leroy’s death – more than two dozen people sorted and packed up items left over after the curtailed book sale in the library’s garage.
Staff and volunteers hugged, shed tears, talked quietly and got to work. Within an hour the packing was completed. The Director of the Library Board, Sallie Seabury, conferred with staff, and agreed to reopen the library doors to our community at 10 a.m. the following day. And so, on the sun-splashed Tuesday morning of January 22, all were again welcome to enter and enjoy the most magnificent building on Fort Myers Beach.
“So many people have asked what they can do,” wrote Library volunteer and now Board member Jan Fleming. “Here’s what Dr. Hommerding would want: Continue to visit our beautiful library and enjoy the special presentations, displays, and all we have to offer, and support the volunteers and staff in any way you can.”
Creator of a Community Jewel
Leroy Hommerding was born on October 22, 1949 in Cold Spring, Minnesota – the eldest of 10 children (two of whom died in infancy) of Ervin and Appolonia Hommerding. He joined the Fort Myers Beach Public Library as Director in the year 2000, and within a few years began working with the Library Board of Directors to design, fund and build a new library for the Internet era. The 34,000-square-foot, three-story structure opened in October 2012 and has become a beloved island landmark.
In designing the new library, Leroy envisioned a bright, welcoming, art-filled space. In an interview with the Island Sand Paper in 2013, he said:
“While technology plays a big role in contemporary libraries, the attractiveness of the traditional environment of quiet study and reflective learning remains an important element in our design goals. Our building must be exemplary in its environmental friendliness, must maximize the use of natural light, and minimize visual and physical barriers. It must capture the essence of life on a barrier island.”
Anyone who has visited the library can see that it reflects island life in all its elements.
Friends and colleagues spoke of the pride, joy, creativity, kindness and professionalism that are part of Leroy Hommerding’s legacy to the island community he loved and served so well. Said volunteer Kelly Smith: “We weren’t just volunteers in his eyes. We are part of the library family.”
Added Suzanne Katt, Circulation Clerk: “He was the warmest, kindest and most generous person. He loved beauty and he wanted to bring that into the library and the community. We owe him such a debt of gratitude. I’m not sure how many people on the island understand the international accolades this library gets.”
Sallie Seabury observed: “Leroy is the heart of this library. He had the artistic and creative vision and he also ran a very efficient organization. Somebody will fill this position of Director, but nobody can fill his shoes.”
Fort Myers Beach Town Council member Joanne Shamp recalled Leroy’s transformational effect on our small town. “My family and I came here to use this library for all the classic reasons, and it has become so much more. Leroy had a vision much greater than books. When you enter this building, it’s full of nature, art, activity. It’s impossible to enter here without feeling elevated. Leroy elevated our community.”
Volunteer and artist
As if working 60-plus hours per week weren’t sufficient, Leroy Hommerding was also a devoted volunteer. He served as Treasurer of the Estero Island Historic Society, hosted its public meetings in the Library Community Room and helped guide its activities.
EIHS President Russ Carter said: “Leroy was the center of the Historic Society’s organization and programs. He arranged the entire speaker series, took care of state licensing, ensured payments were made, met all regulations, strategized events and property management and so much more. I used Leroy as a sounding board for all important decisions, and he accompanied me to meetings with officials.”
Russ recalled Leroy’s artistic side. “He had a collection of 100 or more Ukrainian decorated Easter eggs that he put on display once or twice per year. I was astounded to learn that he created them all himself. Each one takes hours and hours to complete. I asked how he found the time, and Leroy said: ‘Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with things on my mind, so I get up, go to my table and decorate eggs.’”
Leroy volunteered every Saturday as a cashier at the FMB Kiwanis Thrift Shop at the corner of Pine Ridge and Summerlin Roads, and often brought in items to donate. According to store manager Pattie Brambley, he also brought his joy and sense of humor.
“He always had something out by the cash register to amuse people, like a little musical toy. He was a happy man. We laughed so much. I will miss his laugh.”
This writer recalls a tour of the library led by Leroy, who pointed out the giant jigsaw puzzle that library patrons collaborate on, one puzzle at a time. He told the story of an older man who visited the library one season to watch people working on the puzzle. Finally the man joined in, and began to visit several days a week to work on the puzzle and chat with others.
“One day he took me aside and told me that he had suffered recent tragedies and was at the point of committing suicide,” said Leroy. “He shook my hand, thanked me and said that being at the library, working on the puzzle with others, had saved his life.” Tears shone in Leroy’s eyes as he said: “We just never know the impact we can have on someone.”
By Janet Sailian
A Community Memorial Service for Dr. Leroy Hommerding will be held at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 26, 2019 at the Fort Myers Beach Library in the parking garage. Rev. Rusty May, Interim Pastor at St. Peter Lutheran Church, will preside. All are welcome to attend. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations to the library that he loved would be welcomed.