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Florence S. Shanklin

DENVER – Denver’s first library started in a little trailer and moved to a handful of storefronts before finding its permanent home on Fairfield Forest Road 20 years ago. The land was donated by Walt Shanklin in 1999, and the library and adjoining memorial garden and trail were built and named after his late wife, Florence S. Shanklin.

Though time has marched on, the memorial library has remained a steadfast community effort. The county oversees its upkeep and plans to invest around $132,000 in improvements this year to mitigate flooding issues that have amplified over the last several months.

And with many of the Shanklin children nearby, the family still visits the memorial library and garden, and some family members help maintain the grounds.

Mary Shanklin Brown, one of eight Shanklin siblings, worked for the Lincoln County Library system for 26 years, the last six of which she spent as the first librarian at Florence Shanklin.

“That was very special for me,” Brown said of working at a place named for her mother. “I loved it. I loved being there every day.”

Brown’s twin sister, Alice, also works for the Lincoln County Library system, and Brown said the two of them and their mother shared a love for literature.

“She loved reading, and when I was (working), she would help me if something was going on like an event. … She would bring flowers or dessert,” Brown recalled of her mother. “One time, I remember, I was short-staffed, she came in and helped.”

And though Brown is now retired, she spends two hours every week alongside other volunteers tending to the memorial garden, also in her mother’s honor, on the library’s grounds.

“I got it from my mother,” she said of her gardening skills.   

Mark Shanklin, another one of the Shanklin children and an AP government teacher at East Lincoln High School, lives behind the library, less than a minute’s walking distance, and said before his death in 2012, his dad, Walt Shanklin, was the one working in the garden every day.

“That guy,” Mark Shanklin said, “he passed a few years ago, but up until he was 89/90 he was out there every day. People would say ‘Shank, you got to go up there and get your dad out of that heat.’ But he was going to sit up there and work all day – you couldn't tell him anything.”

Mark Shanklin said his parents had been together 55 years before his mom died in 1999, and his dad was determined to honor her through the things she loved: literature and wildflowers.

Behind the name

“When my mom passed away, my dad donated family land so they could build a larger facility because we had outgrown the other facility,” Mark Shanklin said of how the project got started.

Naming it after Florence was an easy decision.

“He loved Mother so much. He felt like he wanted to do something in her memory,” Brown said of her dad’s decision to dedicate the library to Florence. “They had a wonderful love story relationship. … He was so happy with the library.”

And adding a garden was a natural choice.

“She was a reader,” Mark Shanklin said. “But she was also very much an earthy person; she enjoyed gardening and nature. …(The memorials are) little bits and pieces of her. It was the right way, a good way, to remember her. … She really loved flowers. She loved wildflowers. She was just that good old, down to earth person. Everybody loved her to death. She was the best friend to all eight of us kids.”

And the location was just as important as the building and garden designs.

Mark Shanklin said his family moved to Denver from Charlotte when he was in high school. They had an 80-acre farm where the library sits now and a lake house in Westport about 1.5 miles up the road. Though they mainly lived in their lake house, Florence Shanklin spent her days at the farm.

“We had like six horses,” Mark Shanklin recalled. “She was up there all the day. She was a woman of the earth, always up at the farm working with the horses, gardening. … That farm was sacred ground for my mom. That was her home away from home. Now she’s buried right across the street at Fairfield.”

Keeping with tradition

Both Mark Shanklin and Brown said they don’t have much to do with the upkeep of the actual library, though they appreciate it for what it is: a memorial and community library.

“We've been really really pleased with the library as a whole,” Mark Shanklin said when asked about the county’s plans to improve the library’s construction and install some anti-flooding measures.

Brown agreed and said though the only updates she sees are what’s written in the paper, she’s happy with what the library has become over the last 20 years.

Mark Shanklin has two boys, and when they were younger, he would take them up the trail to story time, and they always had books checked out. His oldest is a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill studying to be an actuary. The youngest is No. 1 in the junior class at East Lincoln High, and Mark Shanklin, in part, credits their studiousness to their early link to literacy and family wide love for reading.  

Brown said her dad loved seeing kids come to the library for programs and loves seeing those opportunities continue to grow today.

“Education is a big thing in our family,” Mark Shanklin said. “My wife, she reads, I can't tell you how many books a year from that library next door. We can get there in about a minute. ... Reading, my parents were believers in that, they passed that on.”

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