Library Receives One Of Its Largest Donations Ever Thanks To A Surprising Donor.

The largest sum of money you’ve probably ever given to your library is whatever you owed them in overdue book fees. But someone saw the need to do more. A lot more.

Libraries are called upon to do all sorts of things that require funding, from book clubs to summer reading programs, acquiring vast collections of books and other items to be checked out and providing information on various community resources. Literacy, as you may imagine, is very important to library staff, but they don’t always have the means to develop better programs to make it a reality.

A surprise benefactor gave $100,000 to the Waukegan Public Library, just north of Chicago, as a way to help area residents learn how to read. Library staffers plan to use the gift, one of the largest in the history of the library, to expand programs for adult and family literacy. The story behind the donation goes back four decades to a former literacy volunteer.


Helen N. Morrow died in October 2015 at the age of 94. She taught history at New Trier High School for 40 years. One of her lifelong causes was giving to local charities that foster educational and religious goals. The $100,000 gift to a local library was a natural outreach opportunity for Morrow’s estate, and it’s fitting that another person passionate about literacy made the connection.

Morrow, a high school teacher from Wilmette, Illinois, spent several decades in service to others as a teacher and then as a donor to local charities. The Fullbright Scholar earned a master’s degree education before giving 40 years to the teaching profession. Even after she passed away, Morrow continued to serve the community she loved for so many years.

A former volunteer and tutor for one of the library’s literacy programs works for the attorney who serves as the trustee for Morrow’s estate. After the volunteer’s recommendation, the Waukegan Public Library went through the vetting process just like any other organization.

Library Board members receiving the donation check at the Waukegan Public Library / Via Waukegan Public Library
Library Board members receiving the donation check at the Waukegan Public Library / Via Waukegan Public Library

The library plans to use the money to focus on getting kids ready for kindergarten, improving the grade-level reading of children already in school, preparing older teens for college, and teaching adults how to improve reading skills. Library staff feels that literacy programs make people more independent and able to make new lives for themselves. These causes align perfectly with Morrow’s goals.

Morrow’s act of giving is just one of many that epitomizes what it means to give back to the community. Her generosity toward others can help hundreds of people make better lives for themselves.

Find out how another woman used her birthday to help her local library.

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