Beloved Crozet head librarian Wendy Saz will retire from her post this month, marking the end of a 12-year tenure that saw the building of the new Crozet library that has successfully perpetuated the comfortable, warm spirit that reigned in the depot when the library had its home there.
Also departing are Allie Haddix, a children’s librarian, and Anna Thomas, who has been a fixture at the library for 25 years. Haddix will leave this month also. Her husband has accepted a promotion in his company that means moving to Columbus, Ohio. For Thomas, it’s simply a matter of having earned her relief from labor, but her last day on the job won’t come until the end of May.
Saz called Haddix the library’s “sparkle fairy” and a sad loss for the community.
“When we interviewed her we asked about specific book titles,” Saz recalled. “She knew every one of them, plus she knew all the series! She came into the Teen Program and they instantly connected with her. It was like magnetism.”
Haddix boosted the number of volunteers on the library’s teen advisory board to 20 and as proof of her influence, one of her former volunteers has gone on to be a librarian at Northside Library in Charlottesville.
“Allie started ‘exam cram’ and that made it into a national magazine,” Saz exclaimed. “Her programs are wildly successful.”
For her part, Haddix returns the love. “Wendy has been like a second mother to me. I’ve learned so much—about librarianship and about kindness and about finding joy in life. She’s the main reason the library’s so beautiful. Because she fought for what the community wanted [in the building’s design]. She deserves the credit. When Wendy is here everybody gets happy. She’s special and she’s been a really great boss.”
“I smile because I see people smiling,” Saz said as an explanation for her cheerfulness.
She called Thomas “the face of the library for so many people,” because of her long service. She started in 1990. Saz noted that Thomas, a voice major in college, can sometimes be heard singing at her tasks.
“People walk in and go straight to Anna,” said Haddix, apparently used to being passed over as an authority. “She’s an expert on mysteries and she reads a lot of them.”
Thomas said her retirement plan is to “read, cook and eat.”
When Saz interviewed for the Crozet post with Jefferson-Madison Regional Library Director John Halliday, he told her, “You’ll be building a new library soon.”
She hadn’t foreseen that. She was a children’s librarian and a single mom at the time, living in Charlottesville, as she still does, and not familiar with Crozet.
“When the job at Crozet came open, I was encouraged by my branch manager to apply and I wondered if she was trying to get rid of me. I drove out and looked at the depot from the outside and then I went in and I was swept off my feet. Who would not be? So I applied. I got the job. I don’t know why. But I’m so thankful. I still have the wildflowers that I picked on the way to start my first day of work here.”
She took over from Mary Plum, who oversaw the library for 20 years.
“I immediately fell in love with the community,” she said, recalling many favors that she received in the spirit of small town life, where the law of “goes around, comes around” means that the best policy is generosity to your neighbors.
“People want to know each other here,” said Saz. “It’s not about just passing by people on the street, but having the spirit of community.” Saz said one of her favorite writers is Alexander McCall Smith, who she praised as “poetical” and for his lesson to be content with small places and local things.
“The warmth of the community comes across the desk. It feeds the dedication of the librarians to serve the community. It’s a reciprocal thing.
“The staff here—you just could not find a more talented and dedicated group,” she said, trying for the umpteenth time to distract attention from the matter of her resignation. “I’m happy we have this team here. It’s really a family.”
Continuing the tradition in the face of the looming departures are stalwarts Rhonda Johnson (herself a 15-year veteran), Pam Grammar, Margaret Lake and Peg Watson, as well as part-timers Jessie Coles and Ann Marx. Still, nearly half of a winning team will be gone.
Saz sees the campaign to construct the new building as the biggest accomplishment of her time at the helm.
“The effort to make this building, the way the community pulled together, and then the challenge of the fundraising,” she said in a tone of amazement.
“The community is what inspires everyone who works here. It’s not like I did it. The community inspired me. Leslie Lepage (the mother of a family of prodigious readers) inspired me!”
Demurring over another of her innovations, the Soiree Series that invites intriguing Crozet residents to come to the library to meet the community, she said, “We have that because we have so many people who do interesting things and people here are curious.” All true, but not an explanation for why the popular Soirees came to be.
“We started more programming [in the depot], but it’s a small staff. We started more stuff for teens. Here, until a teen can drive, there’s not a lot to do, at least then there wasn’t.
“My high water mark is keeping the staff here and of course opening the new building. I learned so much about myself and about life. The good thing about the depot—when we were designing—was that I could describe what the community wanted. They wanted the warmth and intimate feel of the depot.
“I was allowed to make a lot of decisions in planning the building. I wanted it right and I felt a lot of responsibility. I’m really proud of that—when we opened the building [the first day] and everybody came in.” In her eyes she drifted back to that memory and the sense of achievement that infused her when the new building came to life.
“And it works. People like to spend time here.”
Saz said the challenge of realizing the new building taxed her abilities and she felt humbled by the public profile that came with her role. She worried over things. She strived to always be authentic to others. “But I was passionate!” she averred.
And, of course, the reward was success.
Saz, who sidesteps stating her age, is still a few years away from drawing a Social Security check. She said she hasn’t really got a retirement goal and since most retirees find it takes time to dissociate their work identities from the rest of their life, what her future holds still keeps some suspense.
“I don’t have a budget for travel. I don’t have much of a bucket list. I’ve been so fortunate in life. I tell them they better check the building every night when they lock up because I’m liable to still be here.” Formerly a cello player, she said she wants to take it up again, and she has a typically humble interest in the Crozet Community Orchestra.
“I feel we’ve settled in to the library’s new home, and I want to leave when things are really great. They are now. I’m grateful that I started at the depot and the master plan was going in those days. I understood what the community wanted for its future. I had one foot in the days before the master plan and one foot after it, so I could carry that spirit of old Crozet into what Crozet is becoming.”
Saz’s official last day is the end of February, but she’ll use up some accumulated leave before that and her actual last workday will be February 11. She’ll help train her replacement, she said. “They’ll find someone who fits Crozet beautifully and that will be a lucky person!” she said emphatically.
Her predictions for the library include planning for more space (lower level is designed to be expansion area that will be accessed by a new staircase) and the creation of a “maker space” that will allow the public to do audio and video recording and editing. For now the idea is put the necessary equipment on a cart that can be rolled into one of the smaller meeting rooms.
“Crozet is very special and I’ve been so lucky,” she summed up.
So were we.