Hunsberger, Charles W. Interview, 2016 July 27. OH-02776. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
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i AN INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES W. HUNSBERGER An Oral History Conducted by Stefani Evans and Claytee D. White The Building Las Vegas Oral History Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas ii ©The Building Las Vegas Oral History Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2016 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Editor: Stefani Evans Transcribers: Kristin Hicks, Frances Smith Interviewers: Stefani Evans and Claytee D. White Project Manager: Stefani Evans iii The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of the UNLV University Libraries. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank the university for the support given that allowed an idea and the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader’s understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Building Las Vegas Oral History Project. Claytee D. White Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University Nevada, Las Vegas iv PREFACE "Most of my life has been controversy." It seems counterintuitive that a man who was raised a Mennonite, spoke Pennsylvania Dutch before he spoke English, and was destined to quit school after eighth grade to work on the family farm would grow up to become one of the most progressive and visionary library directors in the United States. His participation in the Building Las Vegas project results from his being responsible for building twenty libraries in Clark County during his 1971–1994 tenure as director of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District. One of his first controversies was to insist on going to high school after his father demanded he quit. After graduating high school he went to Nigeria on behalf of his church, serving there for five years. Upon returning to the U.S., he found work at the Fort Wayne Library, albeit he was limited by how far he could advance because of his limited education. After attaining his library degree Indiana University at Bloomington he served as director at the Columbia City Library and at Bloomington Public Library before arriving in Las Vegas as the director of the Clark County Library District in 1971. In this oral history, Hunsberger offers a history of his tenure at the District, which included merging with the Las Vegas Library system, becoming a separate taxing district, successfully floating several multi-million-dollar bond issues, and controversy. He speaks to the politics of libraries, to networking, to the actual ground work of building libraries, and to the importance of v recruiting top staff and promoting them. Under Hunsberger, the District began Southern Nevada's first public radio station and built libraries that housed art galleries and performing art centers along with books and media. However, Hunsberger's vision of libraries as community hubs of information was controversial—it was more expansive than that held by his critics, including the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper, who were relentless in their complaints that the District built expensive buildings it could not fill with books. Ultimately, his critics forced him out of the position he held for more than twenty years; shortly after he left, his staff joined with the Teamsters to protect their rights. Fortunately, his detractors could not undo the buildings he erected and/or funded. And the man who wrapped his life in controversy leaves behind a legacy of cultural growth and programming that would not have happened were it not for his vision. vi TABLE OF CONTENTS Interview with Charles W. Hunsberger July 27, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada Conducted by Stefani Evans and Claytee D. White Preface…………………………………………………………………………………..………..iv Growing up on a farm near Goshen, Indiana; five years in Nigeria; Pennsylvania Dutch, Mennonite faiths and cultures, and religion and missionary work; Fort Wayne Library 1960; library degree Indiana University at Bloomington; Columbia City Library; Bloomington Public Library, bond issue, and new construction……………………………………………………..……………. 1–29 1971 to Clark County Library District (CCLD), Nancy Hudson, Flamingo Library, and J. A. Tiberti; 1972 merger CCLD with Las Vegas Public Library; Ann Langevin, Ruby Duncan, and the West Las Vegas Library; attempts to obtain state funding 1976, 1978, and Danny Thompson, Henderson Library District, Floyd Lamb; 1985 consolidation of Las Vegas-Clark County Library District; Danny Lee and $10 million bond issue 1984 and $15 million bond issue 1985; Mark Fine, Green Valley Library; Lied Library and Children's Museum and Reed Whipple ball fields; Mark Fine, William Peccole, and Summerlin Library and Museum; negative publicity and anti-museum board members; $80-million bond issue 1991; five-mile goal and long-term planning……………………………………………………..………………………………. 29–51 Plan for developing a library system, federal government library development plan, and Nevada State Library; Rotary Club and the Spring Valley Library; Ann Langevin, Lamar Marchese, public radio, Sam's Town, Christina Hixson, the Lied Foundation, and KNPR. Little money (and insiders) and big money; Danny Lee and Bob Fielden; American Institute of Architects (AIA) Las Vegas Chapter, branch administrators, and branch building committees; national and local architects who designed LV-CCLD libraries……………………………………………………..…………. 51–61 Successful bond issues and community reactions; State Senator Wendell Williams; quality of life in Las Vegas; early CCLD and LV-CCLD staff and board members; Chili cookoff, bond money, and former Nevada State Treasurer Stan Colton; West Las Vegas Library; contents of collection to be donated to UNLV Special Collections and Archives; Downtown Library, Maglev train, Antoine Predock, and homeless population; negative press, leaving LV-CCLD 1994, and Teamsters Local Union No. 14………………………………………………..……………. 61–83 vii 1 This is Stefani Evans and Claytee White. It is July 27th, 2016, and we are at the Oral History Research Center with Charles Hunsberger. Before we get started would you say your first and last name and spell them both, please? Charles Hunsberger; C-H-A-R-L-E-S, H-U-N-S-B-E-R-G-E-R. Thank you. And we'll just start talking about your early life; your parents, siblings. So you want to know where I was born and everything about— Of course. —the past? I was born when Herbert Hoover was president of the United States. Eight or ten days after I was born, the crash took place, and the whole world began to fall apart including things that happened in the family. My dad was just starting out in his activities. He had grown up on the farm and his skills were mainly those that were required to do farm work. But he had some friends who lived in town, and one of his good friends was a bricklayer, and so my dad had the privilege of mixing the cement and carrying the cement for this particular bricklayer. He soon got tired of that. So he wanted to go back and be a farmer. Because that was easier? That was the thing that he knew the best. So his few years of work in town in construction gave him enough money to buy a little house out in the country and from there he launched himself to a rental farm. First I have to go back and say about that little house, three of us were born in that little house, three children. Where was this little house? This little house is in the middle of Elkhart County [Indiana], and it is about six or eight miles 2 north of Foraker, about six or eight miles west of Goshen, and about the same distance from Elkhart, Indiana. So it's right out there in the middle of cornfields. The place where they bought was that little house; we lived there while he was working, and that became sort of our central launch pad into the farming business. So the first thing he did was, when my twin brothers were born, we moved to our first farm. I was about three years old when that took place. I remember that farm very well because it soon became winter and my recollection was that I was riding in the wagon and my dad and my uncle were husking corn and throwing corn into the wagon. I was all bundled up in this cold, cold weather while they were out working in the field, and that was in the fall. Then in the spring when my two little brothers were six months old, the one caught the flu and got pneumonia and died. So I remember that as one of the things that took place on that first farm. I also remember that my mother's older sister also got the flu and then she got pneumonia and died. So in the month of January of that year, which would have been 1932, the family was going through all of this mourning and grief and everything and my father could not make the payments because of all the expenses that took place during that winter. So we lost that farm. The month of March is the month that people have farm auctions and they sell everything. So I remember the farm auction in the month of March of that year. They sold my cat and I was just really concerned about this, but two days later the cat came back. Whoever bought the cat didn't get what he paid for. Then we moved back to our little house and we stayed there for another two or three years. That's where my sister began school. She was two years older than I and she went one mile east to the Bashor Chapel School. Every day the neighbor girls across the corner on the big 3 farm and my sister walked that one mile through the blizzards and the snow and everything. But come the end of school year, they had this great picnic. There was also a little boy my age that lived across on the farm. Our sisters said that we could go to the last day of school celebration and program with them. We found out why a little bit later, as the afternoon wore on, because we got to carry the picnic baskets back home. And here we were, we were not much more than four and a half, five years old, lugging those big old picnic baskets a few steps at a time, sometimes twenty feet, thirty feet, and then we would sit on the baskets and commiserate about how we got taken in by our older sisters. But this was all pre-school. About that time my father said that he was going to try; he went to work for a year. It was right during the Depression and he got a job in Mishawaka, Indiana, emptying railroad cars for the rubber company. He was making enough money that he said, "Well, I've got a little saved up; let's try another farm." So we go right back to Wakarusa, this time only half as far south, only about a half a mile south of town. We had a farm there of about sixty-two acres, and that's where I started to school at the Wakarusa Consolidated School. It was not like the one-room school where my sister had been going; this was one had school buses, and everybody had a great time going. It was a fun time in that particular school. There were about thirty kids in each room. I went there for four years. Then we lost that farm. That time we couldn't move back because in order to get part of the money to buy the farm, we had sold the little house that we had lived in on the corner back in the middle of the farmland there. So my dad got another job in town for another year and then he got to know a man by the name of Dan Fisher. Dan Fisher was the banker of a little town called New Paris. Dad talked him into selling him one of his farms. This banker had all these farms all around this little town of 4 New Paris; over the generations they had made quite good money, the Fisher family. So we got one of their farms and it was just a small farm, but then he rented us farmland all around it so that we had a reasonable sized farm. That's where I really grew up, because after one year at Waterford School, then we moved to a little country three-room school. It was a real pleasure getting into the small community again and living in the countryside. From that place when I was sixteen years old, my dad said I was supposed to stop school; that I had all the education I needed for a farm boy and that was it. At sixteen? At sixteen. I said, "Well, just a minute. I don't think so." So there was this big family argument and after one month of arguing I got to go back and continue my high school education. Then I went from there, finishing high school in 1947. That year they opened a new college in Mishawaka, Indiana, and I was in the first class of Bethel College. There were a hundred students that year. Almost all of our professors were former high school teachers or ministers in the church that we attended, and it was not too great a place. It wasn't accredited. It wasn't the kind of school that you would normally choose. But it was there. It was there. And my dad sold one of the cows that I owned and I took half of the money that I got for the cow and paid for my first semester tuition and I took the other half and bought my first car. After a year or two when I was in school, I continued to find employment first in construction, then at the U.S. Rubber Company, and finally at Studebaker's auto plant. By the time I was a senior, I had a brand-new Studebaker Commander car along with my diploma. Was this at Studebaker's in South Bend? South Bend, Indiana. Studebaker's, yes. It was during that time that I got involved with a number 5 of church programs and volunteered to go to Nigeria, West Africa. So in 1953, I got on a boat in New York; it was a freighter. We sailed down to Philadelphia. I was seasick all the way to Philadelphia. From there we went to Trinidad and we took on a whole load of asphalt for road repairs in Africa. We set sail. By this time we [my wife and I] had two children and the youngest boy had his first birthday in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. So reaching Freetown, Sierra Leone, we were so tired of being on the boat that we said, "Well, let's get off and fly the rest of the way. Our stuff can stay on the boat and we'll pick it up." So we made arrangements to get off the boat. But we missed our airplane by one hour and it was an airplane that flew once a week. So we had a gorgeous week on the beach in Sierra Leone and we went to the market and we met all kinds of people. We went to Fourah Bay College and met a lot of the people that worked at the Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone. After a week we took off and went to Accra, I think on the Gold Coast. Then we went down to [Lee-yas?] and got off the plane there. It was one of these little two-engine things that barely felt like it was going to make it. It was British West African Airways. But that was the beginning of five years of working in Nigeria. CLAYTEE: Five years? Yes. It was broken up by a return home for the purpose of fundraising and having a year off to get your health back in good shape because everybody got malaria and everybody got sick of something, parasites of some kind. But after a year back we went back into the southern part of Nigeria to a little town called Umuahia. In Umuahia we met a lot of different African people that were involved in all kinds of things. They raised various kinds of crops. They were under a heavy forest cover. British Petroleum was just getting ready to bring in their first oil wells in the Calabar area off in the delta. We were there about a year working with a member of the Eastern 6 House of Representatives. He was a local politician. He needed somebody to help him start his schools. [July 27, 2016; Recording commences as conversation is in progress] So we were back in Umuahia working with this African leader who was building schools. So my job was to help him get his teacher training college up and running. So I helped build dormitories. I laid concrete and did a lot of the things that took a little bit of construction background to do. I worked with him for about six, eight months. It was during that time, during a rainstorm we drove into a washout with the jeep. My wife injured her back and had to be in one of those plaster casts at the hospital. So after about three or four months of going through that kind of treatment, we decided that we would come back and work in the States again. So that was sort of the end of the Nigerian chapter. But I had a great time in Nigeria. I learned so much working with the Amir of Yelwa. He had an old car, a Chrysler, and he used to bring it out to my house at the compound and say, "I think there's something wrong with this car. Can't you do something to fix it?" So I would usually get under the dashboard and start putting back all the wires that had fallen loose. It was just some minor stuff. But whenever I needed something, I could go and call for an audition with the Amir. He was the head Muslim ruler of that particular province. If you needed material you had to go to the Amir if you wanted to build a school or anything, in order to get the permits, the permission to cut down the bamboo, and the land on which the school would be built. So it was very important to work within the system and learn how the system worked. We accomplished quite a bit while living clear up in the bush. It was twenty-five miles up the Niger River from Yelwa. It was all day in a canoe, or if you could get your boat. I had a little aluminum motor boat. If I could keep the engine working, I could get up in about three hours. 7 But it was living clear off the road. And I used to sit up there on the bank of the river. It was the Niger River. It came down from Sierra Leone to Timbuktu down through the whole country of Nigeria. I used to think how Mungo Park went by my house. He was the explorer that explored from the headwaters down just below our town of Yelwa. What happened was Mungo Park got in a big dispute with his canoe men and they said, "Well, we're not going to go through the rapids. You can't do that." Because he didn't understand, they didn't know the language and the problems and so forth, they killed him right there in the Bussa rapids and that's as far as he got down the river, where the Kainji Dam is now built. But I used to think about... All those were the early days. The old chief in the village where I lived in Shabunda, he was probably in his upper seventies. We used to sit around and talk and he used to tell me about what happened in his early days when he was a young person. He says, "I remember when the British came in with their guns." And he said, "We all ran out and got on the islands and we all tried to stay away." But he said, "Then there was this big drought and the river shrunk and shrunk and shrunk, and the British just rode their horses and their guns came up through and they occupied," he said, "the whole country." But he said, "There was something good that came out of that." He said, "It's the first time we didn't have to worry about being stolen and pressed into work." He said, "Our whole village life changed with that." He said, "Even though it was not a good thing," he said, "things did change." So we used to just sit down and talk about all these things that took place back in the early days, back when he was young and a child. CLAYTEE: How did you acquire the skills for building the schools? Well, if you grew up on a farm, you knew what a hammer was, a saw was, and you knew how to use all those tools. You never lived a day on the farm that you were not fixing something, 8 repairing something, building something. So you grew up with that. Well, then when I went to college, I worked for a construction company. I learned about all the different trades, how they went about doing things. I found out that my cement finishers always called for concrete floors to be poured on Friday afternoon and that meant that the cement finishers had to work overtime to finish the work that they had ordered so late on Friday afternoon. I'm sitting there in the construction shack trying to keep track of all the expenses and all the trades and all the things. I'm just a college kid, but my job in the construction shack was bookkeeper and sort of looking out for the construction company interests. So I learned a lot from there. Then my father had, as one of his side works as we were growing up, he learned how to build new roofs and put new roofs on buildings. So we all became roofers. I remember many times putting new roofs on for friends and people even as I was a librarian here in Las Vegas. Wow. That's great. STEFANI: You hadn't gone to library school yet at this point? None of that had taken place yet. This is just phase one. This is where I was learning a lot about things in the world and traveling the world and visiting Europe and Africa and South America. It was part of what I consider my education. Oh, yes. Who fought for you that month-long fight for going back to school? Was your mom on your side? Yes. My mom was the one that was the peacemaker in the family. When she saw that we were having some conflicts—my father sort of laid down the law and we often just marched. But when that dispute took place, it was sort of like every day you were trying to get a little bit of edge to get back in. I was missing out on algebra. I was missing out on all of the different 9 subjects that I needed in school. So, yes, it was my mother. She was the one. They [my parents] had an eighth-grade education. Their parents made them go to the eighth grade two years in a row so they were sixteen when they were able to quit school. How many siblings did you have total? I have two sisters and three brothers. Were you the only one to get a college education? No. When I left the farm to go to college, then my next younger brothers—my younger brother and my little brother—stayed on the farm and worked on the farms. Then my dad was always buying bigger farms because we were out of the Depression and everything. Finally one day both of my brothers—my youngest brother first—took off and went to college. He got one year of college in and then he got hired into the banking business and was into that kind of thing for almost his whole career. My other brother, who was just two years younger than me, he was a little more shy as a kid and he tolerated a little bit more than the rest of us sometimes would, so he lasted longest on the farm. One day he just told Dad, "I cannot do this anymore. I will not do this anymore." He was eighteen and he took off and he got a job as a painter. They were painting these big barns way up there in the peak. Wind was blowing and it was miserable. He and the young guy that worked with him said, "This is not going to do." And so they both took off and went to the Fort Wayne Business College and they both got their CPAs. He worked his whole working life as an accountant for the Marathon Oil Company. So did your sisters get an education? My oldest sister got one or two years of college in. Then she got married and had a big family. My youngest sister was in South Bend; she went to beauty college and then she had her own beauty shop and everything. So she had that as her business until she got married. 10 I know we need to move on, but I have one more question. That banker who sold your father that farm, how did he acquire the farms? Was he repossessing farms? Not at that particular time he hadn't been repossessing farms. He had these farms that were on this great big gravel ridge. He sold the Federal Highway Department the gravel to pave Highway 6, which is the road that runs all across the country. And so when we moved on the farm, we had this great big gravel pit on the big backside of the farm and it was filled full of water. It was our summer swimming and fishing place. One year every day of summer we went swimming in the gravel pit. We built slides. We built rafts. I mean, it was our place to create our own special fun place. And I have one more question before we go back. You've mentioned a couple of times the church. So what church was this that you were involved with as a child and then with Nigeria as well? My parents came from the Pennsylvania Dutch religious group. And so when I grew up as a child, Pennsylvania Dutch was spoken in the home. My grandfather and grandmother and all on my mother's side were all Mennonite background people. On my father's side, they all attended the same church, too, but I think they weren't as much Pennsylvania Dutch as my mother's people were. So we all grew up with English almost like a second language. As children we refused to speak Pennsylvania Dutch anywhere we went because we did not want to be labeled as "those Amish people" because we didn't... Mennonites come in many varieties and they all have their own cultural group, their own code of things that they require. So our church was established by three ministers of the Mennonite faith. These ministers were influenced by the Methodist revivals during and after the Civil War. And so our church was much like the Methodist church or any of the more mainline Protestant churches. 11 So you had electricity, you had your car... We didn't have electricity. I never had electricity until I went to college; that was our first time. But it wasn't because of our religion; it was just because we were poor people that couldn't afford to have electricity. But, no, our religious restrictions were no movies, no sports— But you could swim? Oh, yes. Yes, we could do our schoolyard games, but we could not participate in anything in high school or anything after school hours. No organized sports, then? No organized things. I remember when I was a senior I talked my folks into letting me run track, and so I got to participate in one track meet. I got a yellow ribbon or something in it. You must be a great negotiator. Ah. Well, that's part of what you learn how to do when you're in a family and it has a lot of don't do this; don't do that. My dad read a chapter of the Bible every morning at the breakfast table. When I was a kid, we had listened to the Bible being read at least two or three times clear through from front to back because that was part of our religious training. My dad was a Sunday school superintendent and a Sunday school teacher and all of those kinds of things. And his foster brother was a minister in the church and my grandfathers were both deacons in the church. So every Sunday it was, "You're going to church." My father was a foster child. My foster grandfather was the village blacksmith and he owned a little hardware store and the blacksmith shop and the Standard Oil gas pumps. So when he used to go to church, he'd go down to his little store and he'd get a little bag of peppermints and he always kept peppermints in his pocket so that I could have a peppermint when I was quiet and behaved in church. But it was a very strong religious background. 12 I never left the church until I was probably back from Africa and started working at the Fort Wayne Public Library. So it was through your church that you went to Africa. Yes. We got paid eight hundred dollars a year. A year? A year. That was our salary for working for the church. In Africa. In Africa. But we did have a house to live in. But we had to provide all of our food and all of our clothing and all the things that we needed, such as the gas. We had to raise money for all these things before we left most of the time. So I traded my Studebaker in for a pickup truck and took the pickup truck to Africa. So, yes, you sort of down-sized. I made three, four times as much working for Studebaker as I ever got working for the church. But it was our youth volunteer thing that we did. So were you taking the religion into Nigeria? Part of our group were doctors and were in the medical field. We had several hospitals. Part of the group were teachers. They taught in schools. Some of the rest of us were people that built schools and worked with various trades. Our particular area that we worked in in Nigeria had been occupied by our missionaries for at least a generation. The missionaries that were there that opened up that particular area to Christianity were my parents' age or older. So by the time we were there, most of our African workers were all educated in the schools that we had established and they were the people that took all those responsibilities. White people were not...You had to be approved by the black church in order to return or work in their area, and then it was sort of between the African church and the mission society and they would work out how that they 13 wanted this relationship to work. So when I went there I was in what I would call the end of the old and the beginning of the new Africa because the British were leaving and they were phasing out everything that they were doing. So it was at the time of change. Nigeria was soon to be no longer a colony. When I first went there, Nigeria was a colony of Britain. By the end of the five years it was no longer a colony; it had gotten its freedom. Okay, so let's move on, second phase. Well, when I came back I worked—well, my wife was in the hospital and had back operations and all that kind of thing. So the church asked me whether I would go out in Washington State and be in charge of one of their churches and one of their areas up there. So I said, "Yes, for a couple of years I would do that." But then I said, "I want to consider going back to Africa." But by the end of that two years, the Canadian branch of our church and the American branch were sort of going head on. So I thought, this is just too much. So I and a whole group of the younger people all left the church mission work and we all got out. Then is when I went to Fort Wayne. When I decided to go to Fort Wayne, I said, "Okay, I'll get a job. Then I'll figure out something." I looked for a job everywhere in Fort Wayne. Everything, they said, "Well, you're too educated for this job," or, "Your education is not right for that job." So I was just getting the runaround. One day I went into this little back alley employment shop that said, "We'll get you a job," or something like that. I went in and there sat this little guy with the green eye shade over his head and the one bulb hanging down. I thought, oh, boy, this looks promising. And so we just sat down and talked and he said, "Well, I know Fred Reynolds, the library director here in Fort Wayne." He said, "He's always looking for somebody that might work out good in the library." 14 He says, "I'm going to send you down there." So I think I paid him like twenty bucks or something for this lead to get a job at the library. So what year was that? This was 1960. I think it was 1960. At the Fort Wayne Library. At the Fort Wayne Library. I went in and I found out that the Fort Wayne Library was an old Carnegie building. They were looking forward to the time they could build a new library in Fort Wayne. So they had their offices in a little old warehouse on a back street. I went back there and met the library director in his office and the place was full of cats and I'm allergic to cats. There were cats everywhere in this department. It was called Technical Services. If you know what libraries and technical services are, you know that there are a lot of people there that are filing cards and they're typing cards, doing all kinds of office-type things. I thought, oh brother, what kind of an organization is this? So Fred and I sat down and we talked awhile. He said, "Well, I'm going to let you be on the bookmobile a couple of days of the week, I'm going to let you work here in tech services a couple of days, and then maybe after that a couple of days in the main library in the circulation department." So I got the job, a dollar and thirty-five cents an hour, my first library job. The first thing I did is I went on the little bookmobile and it was a made over van, which had some shelves built in it, and they drove this little thing out into the neighborhoods. You would sit there and maybe five or six kids would come. You'd spend your whole afternoon sitting talking to five or six kids; that was your bookmobile experience that day. Then the next day I think I was in the circulation department. It's a big city library 15 circulation department where there