Community Expresses Gratitude and Honor to Retiring Library Director Larry Justiss
The community room at Stephens Central Library Thursday was filled with laughter, gratitude and tales of achievement when members of the community gathered to commemorate Tom Green County Library Director Larry Justiss.
Justiss is the county’s patriot—Tom Green’s longest-serving employee at 38 years of service—and on Jan. 31 he’s passing the hat to an interim successor and going into retirement.
“I’ve known Larry for years…I could roast him and tell you some stories, but since it’s his day, we’ll let him rest on his highs today,” said Foster Communications President Fred Key. “The bad news is, Larry’s retiring…I’ve always been told that anyone can be replaced, and Larry will be replaced, we all know that, but we’re going to have to look long and far to find someone who’s been as dedicated to the library and done as good a job as Larry has done.”
The good news is that Justiss will remain in San Angelo after retirement, rather than search for one of those fancy retirement villages in a tropical location. “Larry will continue to be a part of our community, Larry will continue to be a part of boards that I’ve served with like United Way—he doesn’t know probably that he’s going to serve with them, but he will,” Key said, laughing along with some of those gathered who have similar intentions with their boards.
Jody Johnson, President of Friends of the Library (FOL), approached the podium at the front of the room to present Justiss with gifts from the members of her group. The FOL had selected three gifts for Justiss in honor of his dedication and servitude over the years, the first of which was a wire “surprise tree” with colorful cards and bows tied to it.
“Our second gift is an item that’s on the tree, and it’s a lifetime membership to Friends of the Library,” Johnson said. “By the way, we have a prime slot saved for you on our schedule if you are ready to volunteer,” she continued as the intimate audience laughed once more.
The third gift will go before Commissioners Court at Tuesday’s meeting for approval, and holding up the agenda, “hot off the press”, Johnson read item number six. “Consider the request by Friends of the Library to create and rename the Larry Justiss Bookstore to be located in the Stephen’s Central Library in honor of retiring Library Director. It’s a nice name,” Johnson said.
To many, Justiss will be remembered as the director with the open door who established strong ties to the community and served as a leader in innovation. Words of gratitude and reverence reverberated throughout the room as friends and coworkers gave voice to their fondest memories and the director’s greatest achievements.
Speaking to Justiss’ ‘bulldog’ drive for the renovation and design of the Stephens Central Library, County Judge Steve Floyd commended Justiss for his accomplishment, stating, “He created something that for most counties, it is a sideline. Libraries are options considering they take inferior place to roads, courts, that sort of thing. In Tom Green County, the library has become one of our shining stars in San Angelo now. I give him a great deal of credit for the [accomplishment] of that.”
Fred Key echoed the judge’s sentiment when he said “I don’t think there’s anybody in this room or in this city that would look at this project in this building—and the way Larry has conducted business down here since it opened…and not say that this is one of the greatest sources of pride that we as a community take in San Angelo, and Larry Justiss has been the man behind that. I would like to publicly thank him for that right now.”
Justiss, exhibiting the humility that marks his character, acknowledged and thanked the community for their continued support throughout the project. “This is not me, this building, this is the community…What we accomplished here, it’s absolutely amazing…I really thank all of y’all. It was really a blessing that I was led here to San Angelo,” he said.
In his 38 years Justiss has worked hard to shake the stiff and traditional view of the library as a large hall filled with books. A dedication to technology and a focus on community outreach and involvement is what stands out most to those who know him, and under his guidance the library has transformed into a bonafide community center, guests said Thursday afternoon.
“He’s pretty awesome. He’s brought west Texas from just the paper books into the technology age, which has opened up to the computers for people and the school kids coming in…the tenacity of that is just amazing,” said Tom Green County Treasurer Dianna Spieker.
Members of Justiss’ staff also noted the director’s dedication to forward thinking, and emphasized the positive atmosphere he strove to provide, not only for staff, but for patrons as well.
“He’s just been a wonderful mentor in terms of setting up a really good example of how to work in a community library,” Associate Director of Technology Jill Donegan said. “I think that he’s done a really good job as far as staying on top of technology, but also he has not forgotten that ultimately, patrons are at the heart of everything we do. It’s unusual for libraries in this day and age to kind of maintain that relevancy.”
Donegan has worked with Justiss for the past four years and came to San Angelo from Austin when she learned of a job opening at the library. Having family in the area, Donegan said she had visited the city on numerous occasions and had become impressed with Justiss and the work he was doing. That impact was deepened when she learned of the new building, and she said she was affected not only by Justiss’ vision, but how progressive and innovative it was for a town of this size. “I just feel like I’ve learned a tremendous amount from him in terms of what libraries need to be doing these days to maintain the support of the community,” she said.
As of yet, Justiss’ successor has not been named, but the library is in the interview process. The overall consensus Thursday night was that his shoes will be hard ones to fill, and several in attendance expressed that he will be deeply missed.
“I speak for all of the staff when I say you’re going to be greatly missed, you’re greatly admired,” Tom Green County Library Community Relations Coordinator Marcy Bosequett said. “You’re everywhere—all around the library every day—you’re very involved, you’re very hands on and it’s made the library everything it is today. Not just the building, but the people that are in it and the professionalism that they try to bring, that comes from you, so thank you.”
A long time friend, neighbor and coworker, Steve Floyd added, “Larry Justiss is one of the most well-rounded public servants that I’ve ever seen…He’s been an incredible leader and consensus builder. He’s patient, he’s persistent, and he’s going to be missed. Our hope is that the next library director is encouraged to fill the shoes that Larry Justiss—the goal that he has set. It really is, it’s hard to see him go. He’s universally loved and, as you can tell, he’s successful at his endeavors.”