Noels' Gift Helps Bring Dream of Reading Porch at Library Closer to Reality

Reading Porch rendering

Forget the stereotype about libraries as dreary, musty places with no pizzazz or personality. Forget, too, about dimly lit corners and creaky old furniture.

The John Grant Crabbe Main Library at Eastern Kentucky University broke that mold with the addition in 2004 of the Library Café and then in 2010 with the nationally innovative Ron and Sherrie Lou Noel Studio for Academic Creativity.

Now, thanks to a new gift from the Noels, the Library will soon undergo another facelift designed to make the academic heart of the Richmond campus even more warm and inviting for all its users.

The Union, Ky., couple, whose $1 million-plus gift helped to make the Studio a reality, recently donated $250,000 toward the construction of a reading porch on the south side of the Library. Additional private funds are being sought for the project, which is expected to total approximately $500,000.

“Ron and Sherrie Lou Noel have proven, time and again, their commitment to our students at EKU,” said Betina Gardner, dean of EKU Libraries. “When I express my gratitude, I speak for our students – past, present and future – who have or will benefit from the Noels’ sustained generosity. We cannot thank them enough. Donors like Ron and Sherrie Lou have such a tremendous impact on the lives of EKU students.”

Nestled among several academic, recreational, social and residential spaces that attract hundreds of passersby each day, the porch would provide an outdoor study environment for students inspired by energetic, naturally lit spaces and would even offer a safe and well-lit outdoor space for late-night study or visits.

“Libraries all over are embracing outdoor spaces as venues for reading, studying, cultural events and gathering, so this is an opportunity for us to do that,” Gardner said. “Outdoor spaces are inspirational, and we have long neglected providing these spaces for our students.”

Gardner also expects the space to become an “ideal venue” for evening concerts, poetry readings and other student-focused events.

In addition, a refurbished lobby leading to the reading porch will reflect the look and feel of the newly renovated Research and Instruction Commons and serve as a gallery area featuring student work in rotating exhibits.

The idea for the porch, long a vision of the Noels, has its roots in some of the early designs for the Noel Studio.

“They (Ron and Sherrie Lou Noel) love outdoor spaces, and they wanted the same for our students,” said Kari Martin, director of development for EKU Libraries.

Ron Noel, a 1964 Eastern graduate and retired steel industry executive, said he and his wife, also an Eastern graduate, “wanted to give back to the University and thought the best way to impact the most students was through the Library.”

As new EKU President Michael Benson indicated in his Fall Convocation address, the addition of the porch is only part of a larger plan to spruce up and enliven what is now a rather lackluster, industrial space surrounded by Crabbe Library, the Combs Building and the Weaver Building. He also unveiled preliminary plans for a pedestrian mall between the facilities.

“We want to create something in this space that we can all be proud of,” Benson said at the Convocation, adding that a pedestrian mall “would say a lot about how we feel about the institution (and) will beautify even more The Campus Beautiful.”

Gifts in support of the reading porch can be made by contacting Kari Martin at 859-622-6593 or kari.martin@eku.edu. Donations can also be made online by visiting development.eku.edu and designating the gift to Outdoor Reading Porch.

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Published on August 19, 2013