The Olga Walker Story

In 1964, the Duluth Public Library was notified that one of its regular visitors, Olga Walker, had died and left the library in her will. In fact, Mrs. Walker’s will identified the library as her sole beneficiary. The library was to receive a bequest of more than $50,000.

Library Director Lucille Roemer told the Duluth News Tribune that she “did not know Mrs. Walker,” and that there had been no indication why she left her estate to the library. But, she added, “It is a splendid gift, and the library is most happy to be the recipient of such a large sum.”

Mrs. Walker’s will specified that her money be held in trust for 21 years, allowing the interest earnings to be given to the library. After that, the Library Board could decide what to do with the gift.

In 1986, the Library Board voted that Mrs. Walker’s gift, valued at $83,000 at the time, become the seed money for an endowment to benefit the library in perpetuity, and created the Duluth Library Foundation to manage and grow it. Today, thanks to the contributions of hundreds of library supporters and thoughtful stewardship, that gift has increased $1.5 million.

Little is known about Mrs. Walker. She was born Olga Thompson in Winneshiek County, Iowa, one of three children. Her parents had emigrated from Norway. Olga came to Minnesota with her family as a teenager. She married Clarence Walker, who was originally from Missouri, and they lived in Duluth. Olga was a stenographer for the Army Corps of Engineers. Clarence was a clerk for Kelley-How-Thompson Company, as well as a member of the Order of Scottish Clans in Duluth. They had no children.

What is known is that Mrs. Walker loved the library. We honor her. Her kind generosity and vision for the library allowed the Duluth Library Foundation to be established; it is in the spirit of her giving that the Foundation’s endeavor of supporting the library’s life-changing work continues.

Karen Alworth, Esther Linden, and Royal Alworth, 2019 recipients of the Olga Walker Memorial Award.

Perchance to Dream

“Good night, sweet prince.” With these words from Hamlet, Rebecca Killen Hawthorne ended the eulogy for her father, attorney John Killen, in July 2013. It was a fitting farewell for a man who relished the works of Shakespeare, referencing them often, and who loved the English language that Shakespeare enriched by his writing.

“He was known to have quoted Shakespeare in his closing arguments in court,” recalled his widow, Elaine Killen, with a smile. The highlight of a visit to London was the side trip he and Elaine made to Stratford-on-Avon, to see a performance of The Tempest; in his library, John had a collection of books by and about the Bard.

So when Elaine considered how to honor the memory of her late husband, one of the ideas that suggested itself was to add his name to the William Shakespeare section of the Duluth Library Foundation donor wall at the library. She timed her gift to arrive on May 4, 2014—on what would have been his 87th birthday. Her gift was added to the permanent endowment, where it will continue to benefit the library into perpetuity.

“He lived a life framed by Shakespeare,” said Elaine. “It is nice to see his name beside that of William Shakespeare.”

John and Elaine Killen.

In Good Company

Surrounded by friends and family, 101-year-old Katharine (“Kay”) B. Coventry stood at a podium in the library. She turned to look behind her at the names of the people on the Andrew Carnegie section of the Duluth Library Foundation donor wall, where a plaque bearing her name had just been added. She looked back at the audience and remarked, “What a lovely crowd I’m with.”

A lifelong bibliophile, Kay also wrote a memoir, titled Growing Seasons: A 20th-Century Memoir. Mrs. Coventry had supported the Duluth Public Library for many years, making use of its resources and regularly donating funds to the Foundation to build up the library’s videography collection.

In spring 2014, with a gift to the Foundation, she reached—and surpassed—the threshold of $10,000 of cumulative giving. To acknowledge this milestone, the Foundation held a reception in her honor. Foundation President Dan D’Allaird introduced Mrs. Coventry, and City Council President Linda Krug thanked her for her generosity to the city—a generosity consistent with Mr. Carnegie’s own philanthropy.

Mr. Carnegie grew up in a tiny stone home in Dumferline, Scotland. In his youth, he was forbidden to walk on the nearby grounds of the Pittencrieff Estate because he was so poor. Years later, a financially successful Mr. Carnegie returned to Dumferline, purchased the estate, and donated it to the city to be made into a park. Dumferline is also where he built the first of his public libraries. Some years ago, Mrs. Coventry herself visited Carnegie’s childhood home and strolled through Pittencrieff Park.

At the podium, Mrs. Coventry quipped, “I don’t even if know if my library card is up-to-date!” Then, after receiving applause, she made her way to the refreshment table, surrounded by well-wishers and admirers.

Katharine Coventry was honored for her philanthropy. A plaque bearing her name was mounted on the donor wall (background). Photo © Bob King/Duluth News Tribune.