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'The family is just embedded in the community:' Watts mother, son honored in naming of new Rock Island Public Library branch

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Eudell Watts III and his sister, Marie Grigsby, pose for a photo Monday at the Rock Island Public Library, downtown branch.

Eudell Watts III rarely misses library board meetings.

Over the almost 19 years he's served as a Rock Island Public Library board of trustee, vice president and president, not much has stopped Watts from working through agendas with the board. 

It was just his luck that the board decided to name the new Rock Island Public Library branch after him and his mother, Lorene Evans Watts, at the first meeting he missed in years. 

"When they told me, it floored me — I was speechless," Watts said. 

The Rock Island Public Library Watts-Midtown Branch will have a home in the Two Rivers YMCA facility at 2715 30th St., which is under construction. The location formerly housed the Tri-City Jewish Center. 

The Watts family's connection with the Rock Island Public Library stretches back decades, beginning with Watts' mother, Lorene Watts. She was a teacher with a voracious love of books and passed that love on to her children. 

When school was out, Lorene Watts would tutor students for free — a practice that kept many kids from being held back or falling behind, Watts said. She and her husband, Eudell Watts Jr., would share food or clothing with those in need, Watts' sister, Marie Grigsby, said. Watts recalled a story a man told of Lorene Watts giving him silverware, which she then taught him how to use. 

Lorene Watts was appointed to the library board by former Mayor James Haymaker in 1968 and served through 1973, holding positions of secretary and vice president. She was involved with the personnel, finance, books and periodicals and Operation Read committees within the board. She also served as secretary of the Rock Island Human Relations Commission from 1960 to 1965. She died May 31, 1976. 

"She went about her work quietly; she was humble," Watts said. "She never in her wildest dreams would expect a thank you or any kind of accolade for doing what she called the right thing." 

Watts was appointed to the board of trustees in 2003 by former Mayor Mark Schwiebert, serving as a board member, vice president and president. But that's not where his involvement with the library ends. 

After a woman contacted Watts around 10 years ago and told him about the help she received from his mother and how she was doing some good works in her name, Watts worked with the Rock Island Public Library Foundation to create the Lorene Evans Watts Memorial Fund for Children’s Materials. 

The endowment fund goes toward buying children's books and other supplies, and is currently worth more than $50,000. 

Knowing his mother had been on the board, Watts said he was honored to have been asked to join, but he had no idea he'd be on the board for so long. Now with Watts in his third term as trustees board president, the library has become a big part of his life. He also serves on the library foundation board of directors and participates in fundraising opportunities. 

"I love the place. Everybody here is just fantastic. They're coming in the door; they all smile all the time," Watts said. "They're just really fantastic group of people." 

The news was a pleasant surprise for the whole family, Grigsby said. Many family members are teachers like her mother, whose own father was also a teacher. 

All this has created a legacy in Rock Island, Rock Island Public Library Director Angela Campbell said, of kindness and a helping hand to those who need it. 

"The family is just embedded in the community," Campbell said. "Thanks to Lorene and Eudell, they've helped so many people just in different ways ... Eudell will help out in any way he can on anything."

Watts said he initially tried to convince board members to choose a different name until he heard it was going to honor his mother as well as him.

Grigsby said her mother would be honored by the naming, but more so by the library's expansion and its work with children. 

"She'd be very happy that all this was going on for the kids, their literacy," Grigsby said. 


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