Mary Murphy, Perry’s esteemed director of the Perry Public Library, is retiring at the end of October. She never thought at 18 that her life and career would navigate her to leading our successful community library, heading up a major library renovation or enduring the endless number of uncontrolled intersections across our Iowa farmlands.
Libraries are a phenomenal concept, in Mary’s view. It’s a gift to be able to check out books from a library for free. She deeply believes that if you can read, you can teach yourself.
Mary and her husband, Jim, have been together for nearly 45 years and have three children all in their early 30s—twins Jay and Jill and youngest son, Michael.
Laura: What’s your favorite thing to do in Perry?
Mary: Other than be the library director, eat. Her favorite spot changes, but has included: Bett and Bev’s BBQ, the Mandarin Café, Oasis Restaurant, Mex-To-You, and the Hotel Pattee.
Laura: Name a song you could listen to on “repeat” for forever.
Mary: Pachelbel’s Canon in D. It’s my ringtone on my phone. (And with endless versions available, she’s able to switch it up.)
Laura: What outfit or piece of clothing did you wear growing up that you thought was the coolest ever?
Mary: When I was in the sixth grade I got this pair of bell bottoms that had this paisley pink, orange and yellow print. (Wow! I’m jealous. Even though I did have cool lavender, green and white striped bell bottoms.)
Laura: What’s the most impressive thing you can cook or bake?
Mary: Prime rib—a never fail recipe. (Pretty confident I could easily make that a fail.)
Laura: During your time here in Perry, what 1-3 achievements are you most proud of?
Mary: Renovation of the library. Making the building work. It was the most “black box” area—you don’t have preparation for a project like that.
Building a great staff here at the library that believes in our mission, our culture. We take care of each other. Family is first. Everyone has a crisis and when that happens, everybody steps up.
I met a lot of great people here. I felt really at home here. People were very welcoming and still are. They include me in their lives.
I always wanted the library to be known as the place where you can turn to for information—even if not typical library information.
Laura: Name something you look back on in your time with the city and think, “I can’t believe I did that.”
Mary: The renovation. Putting everything into those boxes, the boxes into the pods, moving to the Carnegie and keeping on top of the renovations. Breaking it down into little pieces to not be overwhelmed. It brought the library up to 2020. We made it through because of the people here who are very supportive of each other.
Laura: If you had to take a tourist one place in the Perry area, where would you take the person?
Mary: To the library, the Carnegie Library Museum and the Pattee Hotel.
Laura: What “must sees” at those locations?
Mary: The art. And I’d take my brother to the mechanical room. He’s been in maintenance at a hospital all his career.
Laura: After all your years in the Perry community, what is one thing that you still don’t completely understand about Perry?
Mary: People say, “I didn’t know that.” We’re putting things out there on different forms of media. It’s frustrating that the information isn’t reaching everyone.
Uncontrolled intersections—especially in the country. (Mary is pro-safety and pro-more yield and stop signs especially when our tall Iowa corn is blocking our views. She’s lived in farm country where the no-sign intersections common to us are not the norm.)
Laura: What one thing would you like to see happen in Perry that hasn’t happened yet?
Mary: A bilingual cohort starting in kindergarten and carrying all the way through school—a bilingual track. I think it would attract people to Perry—students being fluent in two languages.
Laura: Favorite Perry comfort food currently?
Mary: Kid’s hamburger at Oasis—lettuce, tomato, sauce and pickles.
Laura: What service did you provide to library patrons that thrilled you the most?
Mary: Being a reader’s advisory. Turning someone onto a new author and giving them lots of reading enjoyment.
Laura: What’s the one thing that you really wish all Perryites understood about you personally?
Mary: I love doing my job. It’s been a very satisfying career. (Mary shared that a keynote speaker at a recent Association of Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) conference asked, “Do you know your ‘why’?”) I know my “why.” I know it! Wanting to help people. To make their lives better or to make it easier for them to do something. She loves giving others the same moment she loves experiencing—the “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know that!” ah-ha.)
Laura: Name one of your hidden talents or interests that may surprise people.
Mary: Sewing. I sewed a lot of my clothes when I was younger. I can do curtains (she sewed the valences in her office), and I quilt. Cooking and baking. We make pizza every Saturday night.
Laura: Person you’d most like to meet.
Mary: Jesus. Because I have some questions for him. I want to know “why” on some things.
Laura: Motto/saying/rule to live by.
Mary: (She handed me a magnet on display in her office. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” –Gandhi)
I always want to be part of the solution. No, that’s wrong. Let’s fix it. Don’t ever do that again.
Laura: If you had the attention of everyone in Perry for 30 seconds, what would you tell them?
Mary: Come to the library. We’re more than just books.
Value this town. This town has a lot going for it.
Laura: What item on your long-term “to do” list do you never seem to get to that you hope to get to now?
Mary: Deep cleaning my house. There will be no excuse now.
Laura: What is your greatest wish in the upcoming year?
Mary: Our first national park trip.
Laura: Any additional thoughts?
Mary: I’ve lived in many places and I’ve really enjoyed Iowa. I enjoy farmland.
You invest a lot of yourself in your job. I’m so pleased that Misty VonBehren is the new library director. I have full confidence that our library services will be sustained because she has the same passion for this community as I have.
I can’t say enough about our staff—all the people that work here.
Thanks, Mary, for all the speakers, crafts, performances, activities, free healthy food and more that you’ve brought to both the Perry Public Library and the Carnegie Library Museum over the years. It’s the heartbeat of our community and makes numerous educational and entertainment options available to all.
Enjoy your travels to National Parks. And while they may have more controlled intersections than rural Iowa, bears, bison and other wildlife don’t abide by them. Safe and fun journeys of all types!
Perryites, if you feel you’re missing out on events, chat with library staff on how to best keep in touch with their full calendar of events via social media, email, local media outlets—including coverage by ThePerryNnews.com–and more.
Mary’s retirement reception will be held from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 27 in the Community Room of the Perry Public Library. All are welcome to drop by and thank Mary for all she’s done for the community and to wish her the best in her next adventures.
Laura’s share: Motto/saying/rule to Live by? Be my parents’ daughter. I wish I could better live up to this and be more like them in several critical ways—patience would be at the top of that list—but I keep striving.