Ester Library / Photo by Frank Therrell circa 2000.

The JTEL was founded in 1999 as a reading room by Frank Therrell and expanded into a check-out library by Deirdre Helfferich. Frank has been a major sponsor of the library ever since. Peggy Dunwoodie, a bartender at the Golden Eagle Saloon, organized the library’s first and only book drive in August 1999 (there has been no shortage of book donations from that date forward).

The library changed its name to honor John Trigg in 2000, after his untimely death. John was an avid storyteller and reader who started a book exchange in the Golden Eagle. Many of his books are now in the library, donated by his family.

The library continued operation for several years in an informal vein, adding additional shelves as more books were donated. In 2004 the library joined the Ester Community Association, a nonprofit founded in 1941 and dedicated to enhancing the life of the community. By this time, it was clear that the library was outgrowing its quarters. At the fall ECA meeting, the membership voted to find and purchase land for a new library building, and fundraising commenced.

The first annual Lallapalooza & Book Bash was held in spring 2005, followed by the LiBerry Music Festival in 2006, and the third annual fundraiser, Readers on the Run, in 2008. In 2013 the Lallapalooza was dropped and the Tape & Tarp Breakup Ball instituted. Area business owners and individuals have given generously over the years.

Land on Village Road was purchased in spring 2006 from Rick Winther (Malemute, Inc.), and a few months later another parcel on Village Road was leased from Larry Flodin and his brothers. A series of public design meetings began that year, with members of the community working with architects and builders to come up with an affordable design suitable to the community and its anticipated needs over the next 20 years. Construction on the Ida Laine Clausen Gazebo was begun in 2007 (dedicated in 2010). In fall 2008 the JTEL and the ECA decided to separate so that the library could focus on its mission and work toward obtaining federal nonprofit charitable organization 501(c)(3) status.

After separating from the community association, members of the former ECA library committee and others formed a board of directors pro tem and began working to organize the new corporation, establishing a new bank account, developing a business plan, refining the architectural plans, searching and applying for grants, applying to the state for nonprofit status, and working on the application to the IRS for federal nonprofit status. The board developed draft bylaws, which were formally amended and approved by the membership at the 2009 JTEL annual meeting. Shortly afterward, the State of Alaska recognized the JTEL as a nonprofit, and the IRS assigned an Employer Identification Number to the library.

Since the 2009 annual meeting, the board worked steadily on the federal nonprofit application, and the JTEL was granted 501(c)(3) status in 2011, retroactive to its incorporation date. The board has established policies and procedures to guide the business of the organization and organized the records of the JTEL, including design development history, meeting minutes, fundraiser history and guidelines, construction information, and grant searches. The library obtained a $50,000 Designated Legislative Appropriation and another for $80,000 for library design and construction, and that same year a topographic survey was performed, free of charge, by Jeff Martt and Hans Mölders (saving the library an estimated $10,000). The library also was awarded a matching grant from the Fairbanks North Star Borough for $35,000 for library construction. (For more timelines on fundraising, programs, and planning over the library’s first ten years, see the Construction Committee page.)

In 2013, the library received a large private donation: the Clausen Cabin at 3629 Main Street, built by Ansgar Clausen in 1974. The board is currently working on making repairs to the building so that the children’s, cooking, gardening, homesteading, crafting, and Alaskana collections may be moved into the cabin. The board held a reception at the cabin for the membership after the annual meeting. The following year, the Clausen Cabin and grounds gained tax-exempt status with the borough. Following the advice of energy auditor John Collette, the board chose to insulate the cabin in 2016, thereby saving considerable money on heating fuel. (The Facilities and Finance committees are working together on several projects prioritized by the board to update the cabin and is looking for volunteers.)

Groundbreaking for the new library building, in the form of grubbing and site clearing, began in 2015 at 488 Village Road, and formal construction began with Phase One, the thermal storage tank, in the 2016 building season (see our Bid Documents tab for more information).

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