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An unexpected gift for Amherst High

Library gets makeover thanks to $65,000 donation from Kansas librarian

  • Amherst Regional High School librarian Leslie Lomasson, left, and Tim Hannon of Broadway Office Interiors put in place a six-piece set of 60-degree curve modular bench seats delivered to the school Wednesday. The furniture was purchased with a surprise gift from the estate of a University of Kansas librarian who never set foot in Massachusetts but had a connection to Leverett. The sculpture at right was created in a previous year by students in Amherst art teacher Jeff Stauder’s class. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • These new lounge chairs will reside behind a clear “loft wall” to create a quieter reading space for individuals in the Amherst Regional High School library. The chairs and wall were purchased with a surprise gift from the estate of a University of Kansas librarian. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Alexandra “Sandy” Mason KANSAS UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES



@dustyc123
Thursday, August 31, 2017

AMHERST — In 2015, Amherst-Pelham Regional High School’s library staff received a shocking and very unexpected letter, informing them that they had been included in a University of Kansas librarian’s will and would be receiving more than $65,000.

The school’s sudden windfall from the estate of Ann Hyde, who died in 2014, is what is fueling the makeover under way in the school’s library. The school used that money to pay for 115 new chairs, lounge furniture, armchairs, a long counter for students working on their laptops, cafe stools for that counter and see-through “loft” walls to divide off a quiet pleasure-reading section in the library.

“This is so exciting,” ARHS librarian Leslie Lomasson said Aug. 23, as workers wheeled in geometrically patterned, blue couches for students to relax on. “I love that librarians support libraries.”

But who was Hyde, a woman who never lived in the Pioneer Valley and never attended Amherst schools?

“That is not an easy question to answer, who Ann was,” said Bill Mitchell, who worked with Hyde for decades at Kansas University’s Kenneth Spencer Research Library. “She was an unusual person. She was brilliant — not just smart, but smarter than smart.”

Hyde was born in New York City in 1930, according to her obituary in the Lawrence Journal-World. As a young undergraduate student in Kansas in 1957, Hyde helped discover, and later decipher, leaves from two 11th-century Old English manuscripts that were being used as padding in a 17th-century book’s binding.

A 1962 article she co-wrote on the findings was one of her earliest contributions to the Spencer Research Library, where she would go on to work as manuscripts librarian before retiring in 2000 after some 40 years connected with the university.

Those manuscript discoveries were made together with the library’s special collections cataloguer and eventual director, Alexandra “Sandy” Mason, whom Hyde met at the university and shared a close relationship with. The two lived together in a house in Lawrence, Kansas, until Mason’s death in 2011. “They not only shared a house, they shared all their interests,” Mitchell said.

“They referred to themselves as lifelong friends,” Beth Whittaker, the Spencer Research Library’s current director, told the Gazette.

It was Mason who was from the Pioneer Valley; she was born in Greenfield in 1931, according to her Lawrence Journal-World obituary from 2011. In Amherst High School’s 1948 yearbook, there’s a Gloria Mason listed as a graduate, according to library assistant Roxanne Boyd at the Jones Library.

“That’s her!” said Mitchell, the former Spencer Research Library director and close friend of Mason and Hyde. Always a fan of the classics, Mason’s yearbook quote was from William Shakespeare’s tragedy “King Lear”: “I’ll talk a word with this same learned Theban.”

“There was a high school teacher there who saw the potential in Sandy — or in Gloria — and managed somehow to get her a scholarship to Mount Holyoke,” Mitchell said.

Mason graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1952 with a bachelor’s degree in Greek, according to her obituary.

There are few other details readily available about Mason’s life here in the Pioneer Valley, however. Mason’s obituary lists a brother, E. Eugene Mason of Greenfield, as surviving her, though this reporter was unable to find him.

“It’s curious. As good of friends as we were with them… we didn’t know a whole lot about them, really,” Mitchell said about Mason and Hyde over the telephone Monday. His wife, Jean, chimed in about Mason, her voice faint in the background: “Her mother flew airplanes.”

“Early,” Mitchell added. “I don’t know any more than that about it.”

That would make sense, according to a description from Whittaker, who said Mason herself was a trailblazer who was inducted into Kansas University’s Women’s Hall of Fame in 1980. When asked to describe her personality, Mitchell said it could be summed up by the figure of her riding her bike around Lawrence in the time before she purchased a convertible.

“No adult rode a bicycle back in 1957,” Mitchell joked.

“She was really an administrative force, and a scholar of force,” said Whittaker, who had known Mason and Hyde since her own time as a student assistant working at Kansas University in the early 1990s.

Mason eventually held several important titles, including chairwoman of the rare books and manuscript section of the American Library Association’s Association of College and Research Libraries.

Hyde, Whittaker added, was more soft-spoken but also found great success as a scholar-librarian. She was an essential resource for anyone wanting to know anything about medieval manuscripts.

“There wasn’t anything she couldn’t do,” Mitchell said of Hyde. “She even squeezed good things out of students who were not even exceptional ones, but given an exceptional student she could really wind them up and make them go.”

“I’m not at all surprised,” Whittaker said upon hearing that Hyde’s generosity, and Mason’s name, were associated with library improvements halfway across the country in Amherst.

Other donations

In addition to the Amherst donation, Hyde made significant contributions to the Greenfield public library and the Spencer Research Library, as well as several other health care and scholarly institutions in Kansas, New York and London. Mason herself left just over $1 million to the Spencer Research Library when she died.

And those contributions are certainly appreciated, according to Lomasson, the ARHS librarian.

As many as 100 kids gather in the library before and after school and the new furniture will give them space to hang out or quietly read a book. Lomasson let a student committee help select the furniture, and had students vote on its color.

“Kids sit from 7:45 to 2:20,” Lomasson said, looking over the new furniture with a big smile. “And they need a place to chill.” She plans to make a sign or plaque to honor the two women.

What’s more, library funds have been cut over the years as school budgets across the state are strained, Lomasson said. There’s just not as much money as there used to be for libraries, which often serve as the bedrock of a school.

“I’m grateful that I got a gift dropping out of nowhere,” Lomasson said, laughing.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.