Libraries on Whidbey Island bid farewell this year to two beloved managers who served in the Sno-Isle Library system for more than eight combined decades.
Leslie Franzen, Coupeville Library manager since 1998, and Vicky Welfare, Langley Library manager for 25 years, retired in February.
Both women began their library careers as pages. Franzen applied to be a page at the Coupeville Library while still in high school, though her love for libraries was sparked much earlier. Her father’s military career brought her family to Whidbey Island, and she recalled visiting the Oak Harbor Library regularly with her twin brother.
Throughout her career, Franzen served as a page, a public service assistant and a library assistant, and even spent a brief stint as the temporary manager of the Freeland Library before taking over as manager of the Coupeville branch in 1998.
There were many bright moments throughout her career — Franzen recalled her elation at a $2.3 million bond measure passing in 2008 by a mere 27 votes, allowing the Coupeville Library to construct a new building.
“I nearly knocked my son off the chair when I saw the results,” she said.
Her favorite thing about working at the library was the people she got to know, she said, both the staff who made her proud with their daily hard work and the customers she got to serve by connecting them to books and resources.
According to Franzen, the community members returned the love and support to the library in equal measure.
“Today the Coupeville Library stands a legacy to that library love and community spirit,” she said.
Friends and members of the public gathered at the library Feb. 23 to celebrate Franzen’s many years of service. Mayor Molly Hughes even named a day in the outgoing manager’s honor.
“It was a wonderful way to close this chapter and graduate to the next adventure in my life,” Franzen said.
Welfare’s journey was similar to Franzen’s in many ways. Like Franzen, Welfare has many happy memories of a childhood spent visiting Whidbey’s libraries. She first started as a page at the Edmonds Library at age 21, after studying English literature and psychology in college.
While working at the Edmonds branch as a page, and eventually as a public service assistant and eventually a page supervisor, Welfare would visit her mother on Whidbey Island.
“We’d walk by the (Langley) library and I’d say to her, ‘You know, I’m going to run that library one day,’” she said.
Her prediction would come true around 13 years into her career, when she applied for and received the managerial position at the Langley Library, a position she described as the best job she’s ever had.
“Langley’s just been such a great community to work for,” she said, adding that she most enjoyed connecting library patrons, especially children, with new books and resources.
During her career, Welfare trained library employees all throughout the Sno-Isle Library system on new technologies as they emerged and evolved. Everything changed quickly with the advent of the internet, Welfare remembered, but her staff were up to the challenge.
Between her staff and the customers, she said the people are what she’ll miss the most about working at the library, but she intends to return as a volunteer.
“I’m going to have to come in and visit quite a lot,” she said.
Welfare said she looks forward to seeing the library remodel when it is completed, which she has been working toward alongside her staff for several years.
Langley Mayor Scott Chaplin declared Feb. 21, 2023 “Vicky Welfare Day” in her honor.
The Clinton Library manager position is open after existing manager, Kaley Costello, took over for Welfare. The Coupeville manager position has been posted internally as a temporary development position for existing staff to learn branch manager skills, Welfare said.