A Long Line of Dreamers and Doers:
Original A&M-Central Texas Staffer Remembers When

Karen Clos
March 27, 2024

Above left: In A&M-Central Texas's early years, the former Fairway Middle School gymnaisum served as the university's library, nicknamed "the gymbrary" Right: Stacy Ferrell, celebrating her nearly 25 years at a university that is "really" just 15 years old.

Stacy Ferrell has worked in and around libraries for most of her life, and while she cannot count herself among the ranks of librarians, her work has been and is a labor of love.

She can’t say when it was that her love for reading began, exactly. But she does have vivid memories that reaffirm those moments when she knew that both her love for books, libraries, and the work that happens there would always be an undeniable part of who she is.

Decades ago, when she was just a little girl, she says, in an age before there was a computer device in every lap, neighborhood children who weren’t riding their bikes or visiting friends would spend time at the library.

When she thinks back on it, her eyes shine with nostalgia as she remembers the place they so often gathered. It wasn’t a library in the same way that some are. It wasn’t part of a school or a city building. It was the former home of a wealthy cattle rancher and his wife, donated after their passing to the City of Amarillo.

“There were polished hardwood floors throughout it and the checkout desk was in the grand foyer and had a marble countertop, and to the right, there was a beautiful stairway with curved wooden bannisters that led upstairs to the other rooms.”

Her favorite place, she says, was at the top of those stairs, describing it as a magical open space in a finished attic – a spacious, high-ceilinged room where books came to life.

“I suppose they had some kind of schedule for it, and we all knew that’s where we wanted to go,” she said. “We’d race up those stairs, pick a pillow to sit on, and find our places there on the floor, and the next thing we knew, our imaginations just took off to the voice of one of the librarians reading to us.”

Her favorite book at that time, she said, was The Littlest Angel, and books still play a significant role in her life – as do the many librarians she has known – and those she calls colleagues today.

Ferrell is an administrative associate in finance and administration specializing in procurement and contracts at Texas A&M University–Central Texas. And she has another title, too. One that she didn’t exactly plan, but which she earned, nonetheless. She is one of the longest-serving employees at the university – all told, just shy of 25 years.

“I came on board in August of 1999 after what had been American Technical University had become University of Central Texas and their financial assets had been transferred over to Tarleton State University while we were hoping to become our own university.”

Back then, Ferrell says, their name was Tarleton State University System Center- Central Texas – more than a mouthful of a name, she smiled respectfully, and while names were top of mind, she began to list the colleagues who also played such a large part of the early years.

“I remember the first graduation ceremony that was held while we were under Tarleton State University,” she explained. “It was in the Killeen Civic Center and there were five or six of us who had volunteered to take care of the preparation of the room.”

“There was Mary Yeaman, Susan Davis, Chestene Fullinghim, and Maggie Ford and some others who worked all day on the skirting of the stage, the flowers, the banners, the seating – almost every part of it we did. And after it was over, we had been there not just for the day, but into the night, and we were all so tired, we were giddy and couldn't go home yet.”

What people do when they are too tired to sleep – and couldn’t if they wanted to – varies from person to person, but for those who are a part of something that they believe in, and in the presence of others of like mind, they feel free enough to have fun. So, they did what hadn’t been done before and what may never be done again: they celebrated by doing an impromptu line dance.

For those who may have never thought of it, there is nothing uncomplicated about bringing an entire university to life. The community leaders who played such an integral part in that can – and have – attested to that journey. But what is lesser known are the stories behind the original employees doing a regular job without a lot of recognition.

Not quite as complex as the uphill battles fought for so long by the community leaders who brought A&M–Central Texas into being, but Ferrell’s long memory of the challenges faced and milestones met are a part of who she is because of where she has been.

For example, she vividly remembers when the library was not much more than valuable partnerships with a constellation of available spaces in local high schools and community colleges.

“We were just figuring it out back then,” she said, stoically, taking care to remember the names of those who were there from the beginning and who helped the fledgling library flourish. “Even as ATU and UCT, the library shared space with the Oveta Cup Hobby Library at CTC. The library staff of four was in one office, and several years later, an additional office was added. It was our home away from home that wasn’t built yet.”

There, she remembered, they shared what had once been a single 10x12 foot workroom – they being four staff members and a whole lot of patience. By the time they moved from CTC to their next still temporary location, she laughed, things got “cozier” as two part-time librarians, two full-time library specialists, and several part-time staff all housed in another additional room.

To their credit, as tight as the space was, the close quarters never became an issue. Perhaps because they all knew that there was something much more important to be done. They weren’t there for the square footage or cushy office spaces. They understood the importance of their work and embraced it, knowing that something much better was yet to come.

Ferrell is rightfully proud of the fact that they had a great team of people who – aside from being librarians and staff – proved themselves to be first-rate movers, problem solvers, and creative thinkers.

During two physical moves in less than 11 years, they simply refused to allow anything to keep them from serving the students and the faculty. For every challenge they met, they did what they did best: they banded together and found a way.

During a construction-related flood while at CTC and, later, an unfortunately smelly situation after moving into the former Fairway Middle School, referred to as the North Campus, the library occupied the school’s former gymnasium, and still, they remained undaunted.

“When we moved there, we planned and planned to make sure that thousands of carefully categorized books and materials would be moved in without any of them being misplaced,” she said.

Unfortunately, to their surprise, they discovered that the entire collection had been shelved completely in backwards order. Thankfully, there were lighter moments. Moments when they just had to stop and appreciate the humor of what was happening.

“Back when we were at CTC, we walked in one day to find that we had been pranked by the aviation students who had snuck in and rearranged some of the books – just for fun.

“We could have been upset by that because of the work it added to our day, but none of us felt like that. They thought they were being clever, rearranging some of the books into stacks all the same color. Other times, they’d arrange them by size. Then, they’d reverse order and do it again.”

The library staff would come to rely on that shared humor in the future when, after moving to the North Campus location, they would informally name it “their gymbrary.” Not many libraries were located in former gymnasiums, she observed.

And they could have complained, and they may even have had a right to, but once again, they didn’t identify themselves by their limitations; they were inspired by their aspirations. And by then, they totaled more than 10 people with offices in converted closets of what used to be a middle school music room. Still, they were still authentically and unapologetically happy.

For 15+ years, the original staff members of the library didn’t just do their jobs. They knew, Ferrell said, when they applied for and eventually got their jobs that it wasn’t going to look a lot like a typical nine-to-five arrangement.

They knew they were going to be asked to deal with the unexpected and that the unexpected was going to happen a lot by virtue of momentum. They knew that they were building both a traditional “bricks and mortar” library that they would have someday. But for right now, they had to make it work with what they had.

They knew that they had a job to do and that it was going to require respecting everything they had ever learned or known about how the best libraries function and delivering on their mission in ways that were innovative and student oriented.

That same spirit, Ferrell observes now, wasn’t just a part of the A&M-Central Texas library when it was a gymbrary. It has evolved over the years into everything they do.

Today, the university library serves traditional, on-campus students, online degree students, their partners in the community, dozens of libraries, and other Texas A&M University System regional universities in order to do everything possible to see that the library patrons have world-class access to needed resources.

They have created summer camps for elementary school children to strengthen literacy and tutoring during the school year. They have hosted workshops on STEM and coding logic, opened their doors to welcome community members, visited schools throughout KISD, attended event runs at Fort Cavazos for Earth Day every year, hosted book clubs every semester, and helped with author events.

For her part, Ferrell is both proud and shy about taking more credit than she thinks she deserves. She prefers to recognize the dozens of unsung library heroes – original employees who provided the foundation the celebrate today. She acknowledges the current team of librarians and staffers who continue to make the library a point of pride.

"Witnessing the birth of A&M–Central Texas was an unbelievable opportunity,” she concluded. “We all played a unique part in its growth and early success. When I see what has been accomplished to date, I am eager to see the future. We came from a long line of dreamers and doers.”

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