*This story originally appeared in The Budget’s Feb. 28, 2018, Local Edition.
By Beverly Keller
“It has been a real adventure, an amazing thing,” stated Gary Stutzman when asked to describe the past 30 years spent serving Holmes County through the library. And he isn’t ready to get off the bus anytime soon.
Stutzman said that he was looking for a change when he decided to apply for an open maintenance position at the Holmes County District Public library 30 years ago. “I had been working at the Holmes County Health Department and learned the county, the community while there,” he said. “I started out doing maintenance and odd jobs. I remember when the ceiling started getting flaky and needed to be repainted. There I was, painting the ceiling after hours.”
Eventually, that position transitioned to the bookmobile side of operations. “It is more than just shelving books and driving the bus around,” Stutzman explained. “This is taking care of the bus itself, even the generators we use to keep the bus operating once we have parked it.”
When asked about his duties, Stutzman said he enjoys everything. “I prep the bus. I shelve the books. Every day is different,” he said. “The variety keeps things interesting.”
And while there have been some near misses involving farm equipment and plenty of inclement weather, Stutzman noted the crew works hard to make sure the books get to where they are going. “We are very determined in meeting our schedule,” he said. “We want to keep our patrons happy, and when you only see some of them every five weeks or so, we do everything we can to get to a particular location no matter the weather.”
One particular peril of driving Township Roads that are normally about one lane wide that sticks out to Stutzman is meeting a skid steer with a bale on its front. “They didn’t see us, and we had to throw it in reverse and back up to get out of their way,” he shared.
Co-worker Phil Yoder said the adventures with Stutzman over the years have been many. “Getting stuck in the mud at a parochial school, then being pulled out by a wrecker which put it on Facebook for the whole county to view,” he shared.
One spring day, the pair got the bookmobile really stuck. “Back dirt roads become muddy and berms become extremely soft,” Yoder explained. “In one such experience, Gary and I were having a friendly conversation, when all of a sudden, we were sucked into the ditch, a fairly deep one. The next thing you know, we had three feet of books on the floor from the shelves. What do we do next?
We’re stuck big time! Luckily for us, a local farmer came along with a huge tractor and pulled us out.”
And then there was the story of the bookmobile known as “Elf.” “It was the most helpless bus in the snow,” Yoder recalled. “It was even a four-wheel drive vehicle. At one stop, on the flat road, we could not back up. We were crosswise in the road. What do we do next? We had no salt or ashes to put down, but we did have some willing patrons who pushed us around to get us going again.”
All funny stories aside, Yoder noted that working with Stutzman has been a pleasure. “With 30 years of experience, working on five different bookmobiles, Gary has seen many new improvements and changes,” Yoder said.
Stutzman has gone from stamping due dates to patrons having cards on computers and scanning books into a computer. “It has been a real adventure,” he said. “The schedule has changed over the years. Who we serve and how we serve has changed. Technology has kept it interesting. I’ve learned to always be ready for change.”
He noted that cell phones have been interesting. “When they first came out, we had to hang it on a wire outside and hope for service,” Stutzman noted. “We used to joke that we’d get better reception there if we strapped it to a cow and send it up the hill.”
On the other hand, Stutzman noted one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for the bookmobile in the community. “This is a public trust job,” he shared. “It is almost a ministry. We have a system and we make every effort to the meet the needs of the community, every day at every stop.”
Another part of Stutzman’s job is caring for the books on the bus. “No book is beyond repair in his eyes,” Yoder shared. “Book covers, spines, missing pages at times are copied and glued in. Pencil marks are removed. This lets a book circulate a few more times.”
And if they don’t have a particular item, Stutzman noted that he can and will look for it. “I want people to request items,” he said. “We have access to a large system so we can find almost anything.”
“Gary loves the challenge of filling difficult requests we receive at times,” Yoder stated. “Gary often says he feels blessed to be able to serve the library and patrons in this capacity.”
“He is extremely dedicated, conscientious and very, very funny,” explained Holmes County District Public Library Director Bill Martino. “He is a pleasure to work with, and I know that his interactions with our bookmobile patrons have been stellar. I would go so far as to say that he is a legend in some parts of the county due to his work on the bookmobile. He’s a Holmes County treasure.”