As she sat at a table in her home away from home, the Marseilles City Library, discussing her pending retirement, Jan Ambrose a few times made reference to the shirt she was wearing with the word “thankful” repeated several times down its front.
But that gratitude is far from a one-way sentiment, as the people she’s served there more than the last 23 years have expressed many times in recent weeks, including at this week’s Marseilles City Council meeting.
Ambrose, a librarian there for that long stretch and its director since 2011, will step down on Sept. 30, turning the reins over to librarian Heide Trettenero. However, she was taken by surprise on Wednesday and lured to the meeting on the premise of giving an update on the library’s new roof.
“It was just ‘wow.’ I had no idea and when I realized how many people were there because they knew about that, it was just very humbling. So many good friends.”— Jan Ambrose, Marseilles library director
She gave that report, but then was called to the dais to receive from Mayor Jim Hollenbeck and the city the gift of a clock to commemorate all her years of service to the city.
The sizable crowd followed with a standing ovation.
“I was just overwhelmed by that and that’s why I wore my ‘thankful’ shirt today,” Ambrose said with an embarrassed laugh. “It was just ‘wow.’ I had no idea and when I realized how many people were there because they knew about that, it was just very humbling. So many good friends.”
A native of Benton Harbor, Michigan, Ambrose was visiting her sister in Pekin when she met her husband, who was an employee of Commonwealth Edison in the Peoria area. He was transferred to the La Salle Nuclear Power Station and eventually they settled in Marseilles.
“I was a housewife, stay-at-home mom working little jobs here and there,” she said. “One of those jobs was subbing for teacher’s aides at the grade school and being in the library was my favorite room in the building … In 2000, I started working at the library just part time and it went from there.”
In 2011, after attending library director’s boot camp, she took over from Gloria Votava being named the 10th director in the building’s long and storied history.
Ambrose is now part of the Reaching Across Illinois Library System’s “West of 47″ group of directors helping others with advice and planning at its monthly meeting.
One of the things she’s most proud of during her tenure was the reorganization of the contents, done when the carpeting was replaced during the pandemic and everything had to be moved anyway, and making the building – built in 1905 with a $10,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie – more handicapped accessible with a ramp and elevator on its south side.
Her last major act has been helping secure a $125,000 State of Illinois Library grant to help pay for a much-needed tuck pointing of the building’s exterior and roof and gutter repairs. Those could be completed by the end of the calendar year.
When she’s not spending her newfound free times reading and quilting, Ambrose plans to do some traveling, starting with a visit to her son in Denver this October.
“I have loved working here, that’s what makes this so hard,” Ambrose said. “I will miss the people most, I think, the patrons. I’ve made a lot of friends, and the staff, who I consider friends, too.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while and kept putting it off, but now, I’m getting tired and it’s time … And I know Heide is going to do a good job.”
Trettenero, who grew up in Big Rock, came the library much the same was as Ambrose, moving into town when her husband transferred for work, becoming a regular visitor with her four children and then seven years ago starting a part time employee when they were back in school.
She realizes that she will be following in her new post a true friend of the people and she hopes to maintain the high standards Ambrose has set.
“Because we live within walking distance, my kids grew up with Jan the last 16 years, two of them she’s known since birth, so I know we will all miss her very much,” Trettenero said. “I’m a little nervous, a little excited too, but Jan’s been a great teacher and we will all miss her dearly.”