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Librarian watches Illinois State and State Farm grow

Laura Garrett

As a Bloomington-Normal native, Laura Garrett has seen massive growth in two of the largest entities in the twin cities—Illinois State University and State Farm Insurance.

Garrett spent more than half of her life at State Farm Insurance, first as a part-time employee while in high school, and the last 25 years of her 50-year career as the head librarian of the second largest downstate law library.  She credits her education at Illinois State for her library career and says many of her friends are still librarians.

Garrett’s boss, an executive assistant to the president of State Farm, found it frustrating to obtain information in multiple libraries devoted to specific areas such as fire, life, auto and law. He suggested creating one general library, and State Farm’s corporate library was born.

“I was taking classes at Illinois State at the time, and my boss encouraged me to enroll in library science” Garrett said. “After I finished my degree, I became assistant librarian. When the head librarian retired, I assumed her job. Although the library was spacious, light and user friendly, we had no automation and used both an alphabetical and Dewey catalog system. We converted the entire library to the Library of Congress classification and installed automation so all of our employees, corporate, regional offices and claim centers had access to the library. We also made the library available to lawyers, judges and paralegals in McLean County.”

Garrett’s husband Bob was a computer programmer at State Farm before retiring and sons, David and Mark, and their wives are all State Farm employees.  So far the four grandchildren and one great grandson haven’t started at State Farm, but likely that’s because the majority are still too young to work.

Garrett received her bachelor’s degree in library science at Illinois State University in 1973 by attending classes at night and in the summer.  It might have been some 33 years ago, but the memories are still fresh.

“I spent most weekends in Milner library,” Garrett said.  “Students in my classes, which were all held in the first Milner Library, used to go to the Cage [a former student hangout] and talk about our classes.  Illinois Wesleyan’s head librarian, Sue Stroyan-Bennett ’72, was president of our library fraternity, and I was vice-president.  We used to make money for the chapter by selling apples on Homecoming.  It was very cold, and we probably should have been selling hot chocolate!  Although I was much older than the other library students, they accepted me.”

Memories of instructors are still fresh, too, with Garrett recalling the head instructor, Miss Eunice Speer, and a much liked professor, Dorothy Fagerburg, as well as many other members of the faculty. “The program was very good, very exacting and a lot of work,” Garrett said. “We were crammed into the old and obsolete building with too many students working and studying in the towering, close stacks.”

Garrett’s memories also include the first State Farm building in downtown Bloomington.  “We had no air-conditioning. There were fans mounted above the windows, but when it was windy they closed the windows so the applications and correspondence wouldn’t blow out,” said Garrett.  “All the floors were tile so the skaters could deliver the mail.”

Garrett, a steady contributor to Milner Library, says she enjoys supporting Milner and her friend, current assistant to the dean of Milner Library Toni Tucker, in bringing authors and speakers to campus.  A regular attendee of Milner events, Garrett said without Milner Library she would not have earned her library degree, so she is happy to share her resources. Garrett met Tucker, who was then director of the BroMenn and Mennonite College of Nursing libraries, when a group of area librarians met to share cooperation among libraries.

Garrett and Bob are avid fans of women’s basketball and volleyball, even traveling to away games.  “Bob’s sister was secretary to former women’s basketball coach, Jill Hutchison, and former women’s volleyball coach, Julie Morgan,” Garrett said.  “She attended the games, and I went with her.  I also help with the Illinois High School Association girl’s state tournaments for two sports each year.”

A very active retiree who does water aerobics five days a week, Garrett and Bob travel a lot.  They have visited Hawaii six times and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in Australia and New Zealand.

Being a townie and an Illinois State supporter means Garrett has had the opportunity to closely watch the University grow and evolve.  “I think we have quality leadership now with progressive, innovative ideas,” she said.  “Dr. Bowman is a very personable man, and he doesn’t know a stranger.  Having attained his position after many years on the staff, he knows what Illinois State lacked.  His vision is pushing the University forward.”