Honoring ‘the father of the library’
When it came to the Darien Library, there was nothing the late Harold W. McGraw Jr. wouldn’t do.
“He loved the library from top to bottom,” said Darien resident Sue McGraw, Harold’s daughter. “His visions and his energy and his imagination were always in sync with the library and staff, so it was always a wonderful partnership.”
On Saturday afternoon, Jan. 11, there was a big party in the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Children’s Library, in honor of Harold McGraw.
The is the 11th year that the library has celebrated McGraw’s birthday.
Over 150 people came.
Throughout the afternoon, the library was filled with laughter and chatter as children, along with their parents, took part in all the activities.
Activities included face painting, party hat decorating, and craft-making projects. The event was free and open to the public.
There was also a concert in the community room, called the Evan Gottfried’s Family Music Extravaganza.
Harold W. McGraw Jr.
The Darien Library opened on Jan. 10, 2009, in its current location. Harold McGraw Jr., whose birthday was Jan. 10, died in 2010 at the age of 92.
“He was a big donor and a big supporter of the library, and coincidentally, the library opened on his birthday. So every year, we celebrate both the library’s birthday and his birthday,” said Samantha Cardone, children’s program coordinator.
According to Cardone, the McGraw family is still very active in supporting the library.
“I think it’s great to come and celebrate the library and see what types of things that we can do here. Get a chance to see the library, not just for the books but for the programming and for the community that we have. We really have a great community, and people come back year after year for the party,” Cardone said.
As a career, McGraw was a book publisher for McGraw-Hill.
“Part of his job at McGraw-Hill was going out into the community to see that some of the settlement homes got books for their kids,” said Sue McGraw, 73. “He also got people to volunteer to help.”
The Darien Library has been “a lifelong love, passion, and commitment” of her father, Sue McGraw said.
Aside from his love of books, she said her father was “part of the redefining and building” of the the current location of the library, as well as the prior ones, on the Post Road and on Leroy Avenue.
“As with many people in this town, it’s a love affair, [with the library], because you share a common interest and knowledge,” she said. “It’s passing on that love and that joy of books to the next generation.”
In McGraw’s later years, “he’d come here in the afternoon, sit in his wheelchair, and children would drape all over him,” his daughter said. “He would ask them about the books they’re reading and talk to them.”
“That was part of the beauty of the last few years for him,” she added. “There was a magic that drew them to him.”
Eleanor Freeman, 7, of Norwalk, who had her face painted like a princess, said her favorite books are “Smile” and “Whatever After,” and her favorite author is “Junie B. Jones.”
“I also like chapter books where the main character is girls,” Eleanor said.
Melina Cucinella, 7, of New Canaan, was decorating a party hat with star stickers. She came to the library with her twin sister, Ariana.
“I’m going to wear the hat for my dad’s birthday on Jan. 16,” Melina said.
Darien resident Eshaan Vijay, 5, who had his face painted like a a pirate, said he likes “Captain Hook.”
“Father” of the library
Director Alan Gray said the library “honestly would not exist without Harold W. McGraw.”
He referred to McGraw as “the father of this library.”
“He was the one who led the organization that built the first of the libraries,” Gray said. “The McGraw family has been the absolute best friend that the library has ever had.”
While McGraw was an “amazingly accomplished person in business,” he had “all the time in the world” for the library, according to Gray.
“There was never a time when the library didn’t need him that he didn’t reach out without being asked. He just knew and he showed up and he did it — not just for himself but he could lead other people to help as well,” Gray said. “He was the kind of person who attracts other people to the things that are interesting and useful, and that’s reflected in the library today, and it will be forever.”