This week you will find the obituary in the Grand Rapids Press of Leroy (Leroy? who knew?) Roger Patterson, commonly known as Roger Patterson to anyone who worked for the library or used the library in the 1960s and 1970s, especially if you lived on the southeast side of Grand Rapids. He worked at the main library in the History and Music section, when the reference area was divided into specific sections. He also worked to promote children’s books and programs at the Burton branch, West Side branch, and Ottawa Hills, where he was the librarian for many years.
My first memory of him was by way of a word of caution from my junior high English teacher at a school about four blocks from the new Ottawa Hills branch. She had given the class a library assignment and many students descended on the local branch library later that day. He called her to report that we were “hanging from the chandeliers.”
As an adult I witnessed his fantastic story-telling abilities while working at a school, where over 100 kindergarten through grade 5 children were seated on a tile floor in the school’s all-purpose room. I thought that this wouldn’t last and it would end in disaster, but Roger kept all of the children in rapt attention for more than 30 minutes, at one point striking the pose of a demanding fisherman’s wife and haughtily saying, “I want a conveyance!”
Still later, I went to Ottawa Hills (my library as an adult, too) to pick up a recording of a piano concerto that was to be performed by guest artist Emanuel Ax. Offering an opinion on most every subject, Mr. Patterson didn’t hesitate to wonder why Ax had chosen that concerto – “it’s so easy!”
The story is told that once he walked up Giddings Avenue to a home and asked the family to please return the books that they had checked out and were long overdue.
At the occasion of Ottawa Hills 50th anniversary, Mr. Patterson wrote this remembrance of working at a public library:
“One of my most embarrassing times took place on the corner of Monroe and Ionia when a voice from across the street called out, ‘There you are you dirty man.’ Now, there was a policeman directing traffic on the street. I wondered who this awful person could be. Then I saw one of my best library patrons. I had recommended a new book by one of her favorite authors, but this one was quite a bit different from his previous books.
“On one occasion a woman asked me to recommend a book for her 5th grade son who never had time to read. I asked her what she had read lately. She said was was too busy. I said, he is too.”
(From Archive Collection 109, 50th Anniversary scrapbook)
All of the pictures were also found in the Library’s Archives, Collection 109