The town of Onamia, which celebrated its centennial 11 years ago, was established in large part because of its proximity to the Soo Line Railroad whose route stretched from western Minnesota to Duluth. This railway featured a depot near what is now downtown Onamia.
In the early 1990s, the Soo Line pulled its rails and eventually replaced it with what is known today as the Soo Line Trail – a bike, snowmobile and four-wheel trek.
The Soo Line depot building in Onamia was left standing, and to add to the festivities of the city’s 100th anniversary, volunteers decided to spiff the building up with a new paint job and some remodeling inside.
The original use of the newly renovated depot was as an information center for the town of Onamia and as a repository for local artifacts.
With many antique, Onamia-related items donated for show by local collector Bill Konze along with artwork of local artisans on display, the depot was a museum of sorts and a destination for locals and visitors alike.
Then, along came Eunice Boeringa with another vision for the use of this town icon.
Over a decade ago with impetus from the Initiative Foundation and a grant from its “Healthy Community Partnership” program, Boeringa and several volunteers from the Onamia area started campaigning for converting the depot into a town library.
The idea caught fire with many in the community who later were referred to as “Onamia Area Friends of the Library,” and on Sept. 15, from 1-3 p.m., the general public is invited to celebrate an open house in honor of the 10th anniversary of what has become the Onamia Depot Library.
Boeringa is quick to deflect the inspiration for the depot library away from herself and to praise the many who helped get this project off the ground. “Over 10 years ago, people in Onamia dreamed together, schemed together and worked diligently on this project, and the Onamia Depot Library was the result,” Boeringa said. “It was immensely satisfying to work with city, township and school leaders, as well as clubs and volunteers in order to see the dream become a reality.”
The mission statement of the Depot Library composed by their founders is “to promote the growth of library services in the Onamia Community. We believe that a library is an essential part of a healthy community, fostering lifelong learning, promoting early literacy and school readiness and developing work force capacity. We endeavor to provide convenient, free public library access to people of all ages abilities, cultures and means.”
Ask those who have frequented the library over the past decade and they will say the mission statement has been met in spades.
Sue Dominic, who has visited the library on a regular basis for years, speaks highly of this Onamia treasure, saying, “[The library] is not only a great place to check out books and movies, but it is a nice, quiet space to meet friends and neighbors.”
And just who have made use of this facility?
Last year (July 1, 2018 thru June 30, 2019) 3,967 people used the library, including 455 who took advantage of the library computers, 61 new library cardholders and 84 who visited Santa in early December. These figures do not included those who attended the various programs sponsored by the facility.
“We try to schedule at least one special event per month,” said Mary Jackson, who has been the libraries’ director the past four years.
Because the Onamia Depot Library is an independent outreach program affiliated with, but not a branch of, the East Central Library, they have to “find their own funding,” Jackson said. “We receive funds from surrounding townships, local organizations, donations from the public, fund raisers and from memorials.”
Jackson added that some of the programs they present are results of grants initiated by members of the library family of volunteers.
Boeringa held the position of Depot Library Director for the first six years before handing over the reigns to Jackson.
Jackson plans to retire from her post at the end of September, and just recently, Onamia local Margaret Willis has been hired as the new director.
“When we dream together and work together, we can do amazing things,” Boeringa said. “I wonder what else we should be dreaming?”
The Onamia Depot Library is currently open on Tuesdays from 12-4 p.m., Wednesdays from 10 a.m.-1 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.