The $1 million gift is the largest in Willard Library's 126-year history and other area organizations received similar gifts.

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This is the time of year to reflect on the many things and people we are grateful for. The Willard Library and two other area organizations each received $1 million gifts from a local philanthropist and longtime supporter upon his passing.

Dean O. Barnum was a big supporter of his hometown Battle Creek and had a love for reading that was on display in his vast private book collection. His love of words did not end there. He also enjoyed the challenges of completing The New York Times crossword puzzles in ink.

Sadly Dean passed away at the age of 87 on August 28, 2021. Before passing, Dean established an indelible trust that would be gifted upon his death. That gift was the Barnum-Willard Trust for the benefit of Willard Library.

Dean O. Barnum Courtesy of Willard Library
Dean O. Barnum Courtesy of Willard Library

According to a release from Willard Library, Dean designed the Barnum-Willard Trust to fund materials/collections, public programming, facilities, and technology at Willard Library. Barnum’s gift of $1 million to the Barnum-Willard Trust is the largest gift in the library’s 126-year history.

Perhaps the inspiration behind the gift came from his career of teaching history and political science at Kellogg Community College for many years.

Mr. Barnum’s gift is a tremendous act of generosity and philanthropy, and will make a difference in local residents’ lives for generations. Library Director Cathy Lucas said.

Dean’s generosity did not end there. His estate also made gifts to Kellogg Community College and the Michigan United Conservation Clubs of just over $1 million each as well.

Library Director Cathy Lucas says the trust, which was established by Barnum for the sole benefit of Willard Library, will be administered by an independent trustee. The trustee will make distributions from the trust at the request of the library if the trustee determines that the funds requested meet the requirements that Barnum established.

In recognition of Mr. Barnum’s career, dedication as a professor of history and government, and interest in Willard Library, the library’s local history archive will be renamed ‘The Dean O. Barnum Local History Archive,’ Lucas said.

Willard’s local history archive includes digital access to city directories, local newspapers dating back to 1846, a probate index, historical maps, high school yearbooks, and historical photographs, which reflect Barnum’s interest in history.

The library will name the amphitheater at the library’s Helen Warner Branch as "The Dean O. Barnum Amphitheater." The open-air amphitheater, located behind the Helen Warner Branch, is used to host summer programs and concerts. The natural setting reflects Barnum’s interest in, and love of, nature.

We are immensely grateful for Mr. Barnum’s donation,” Lucas said. “The gift is an investment in the community’s future, which will have a long-term impact on the library and the residents we serve.

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