History of La Retama Library
Mrs. George P (Nellie) Derry, 1955
The only source of information on
the earliest years of La Retama Club are in the notes and scrapbooks of Miss
Mary Carroll, compiled with the intention of writing a history of La
Retama Library, its founding and its development.
Later, in March 1955, Mrs. George P
(Nellie) Derry wrote a history of La Retama Library, which she presented at
a meeting of the Friends of Texas Libraries, when the Texas Library
Association met in Corpus Christi – the same month that the new La Retama
Library was opened.
We have summarized both these histories as they
relate to La Retama Club, and have concentrated our research on the years
from 1955 to the present. However, we have included a copy of Miss Carroll’s
notes in this folder, so that you may have in your possession, to read at
leisure, the details of the early years of La Retama Club to the present.
Mrs. L. H.
Mrs. W. F. (Rosalis)
D. (Agnes) Redford
Mrs. W. W. (Zora)
Mrs. V. G.
E. (Mary) Flynt
LA RETAMA CLUB
1905 -------- 1985
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The history of La Retama Club is
forever interwoven with the history of La Retama Library. When the library
was established, in 1909, La Retama Club was its founder, its sole owner,
and was solely responsible for its operation and financial support.
Through the years this relationship
to the library has changed several times and in several ways, but our
steadfast support of the public library has never wavered.
We are fortunate in having a record
of the early years of La Retama Club in the notes made by Miss Mary Carroll,
one of its earliest members, who planned to write a story on La Retama
Library, its founding and its development. Miss Carroll never completed her
project, but her
notes and scrapbooks now in the library’s
archives, provide exciting, fascinating, (sometimes hilarious) accounts of
the earliest years. She records with charming detail the exciting adventures
of this small group of young women as they struggled against tremendous
obstacles, to provide their city with a library.
Her story begins just after the turn
of the century, on November 6, 1905, when Corpus Christi was a small village
of about 5,000 people.
The Monday Study Club, then the only
woman’s club in our town, sponsored the organization of a new club for young
unmarried women. Miss Lorene Jones, Later Mrs. Frank Lewis,
was the first president. The charter members
named their club La Retama, for the native flowering tree, and chose club
colors of yellow and green.
For the first two years the object
of the club was social enjoyment and study. However, to quote from Miss
The third president of
the Club was Kathleen Jones, who served 1908 – 1909….
Miss Jones had just
returned from college in the East, and was filled with high ideals and
ambitions to make Corpus Christi a progressive town and one in step with the
times. It was not ling till Kathleen’s ambitions awakened similar ambition
in all the members.
Corpus Christi had no
library and La Retama girls decided that in building a library for their
town, they could achieve something of lasting value, for they sensed that
the road they wanted to travel would wind on and on…into the future.
has wound on, for this decision to found a library set a course for La
Retama Club which has endured to this day, and which defines its character.
youthful enthusiasm this small club of young women faced an enormous
challenge: to fund a library, to equip it, and to keep it operating. Their
fund-raising projects were varied and highly ingenious: they held a peanut
hunt; they had book showers; they gave teas and
dinners; they operated
lemonade stands; they sponsored a Chautauqua; they edited the Christmas
edition of the Caller; they even went from door to door selling
subscriptions to Holland’s Magazines!
dream was realized when they established a public library on May 4, 1909 and
opened it to the public in December 1909. It was located in a rented room of
the Hatch and Robertson (later Lovenskiold) Building, across the street just
north of the present La Retama Library.
There were 500 volumes on
the shelves. The first few years it was open two afternoons a week and all
day Saturday, with the club members, in alphabetical order serving as
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library became the meeting place of La Retama Club, each member paid for a
chair, at $1.50, for the library room.
there was enough money in the library treasury to hire a librarian. This was
Miss Marie Blucher, our first salaried librarian.
constant need for money and books three major catastrophes slowed the growth
of the library and threatened its very existence.
1916, a fire broke out in the Hatch and Robertson Building. The fire was not
in the library, but many valuable books were lost through smoke and water
damage. Some of the books were damaged as firemen threw them out the second
story window----that is, until they
were stopped by the
President of La Retama Club, Miss Julia Caldwell. Club members were
horrified to see their precious books mishandled, even though the whole
building was in jeopardy. With great care they strung those smoked and water
soaked books on ropes to dry, moving them often
to keep the pages from
disaster was followed almost immediately by the storm of 1916 which blew in
the windows of the building. Salt spray again soaked the books. Again, with
tender care, the books were dried and restored, and before too long the club
was able to serve the public with a library,
however tattered and torn.
while the club members were planning to mount a campaign to raise $1,000.00
for the library, they were struck by a third and most devastating
catastrophe – the awful hurricane of 1919. This was almost fatal. The books
were again soaked ---- with water, mud and oil. Those not
totally ruined had to be
sponged with ammonia water. All of this work was done by the club members.
were in storage for a year, but in 1920 a $500.00 gift from the Red Cross
enabled the club to reopen the library in temporary quarters. Again, a book
shower helped to fill the shelves. Later, they campaigned for money, and by
1924 they had raised $1,000.00 in donations.
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stories of these early struggles have been repeated many times, yet with
each hearing one has to marvel at the tenacity of these young women in
pursuing their goal, their endurance, their unquenchable spirit. They
refused to be defeated, regardless of the cost to them in time or energy.
Mary Carroll, at age 79, gave all her precious scrapbooks and notes to the
library, her letter to Mrs. Burson contained some poignant statements: ….
me sad to relive in memory those laughter – filled, carefree
We all worked so hard. We gave
most of our free time and sacrificed
our small pleasures to keep the library’s door open twice a week,
responsible caretakers of our treasure over a period of years.
We honor all those early
members of La Retama Club. They left a legacy ---- of integrity, achievement
and unselfish devotion to their cause, which set the standard of this club
for all time.
decade of the twenties Corpus Christi was growing rapidly; by 1930 its
population would reach 27, 789. The club members realized that; as the city
would continue to grow its library need would grow beyond the ability of any
small group to meet these needs. They decided in 1926 that the city should
own the library and support it with tax money. (They had to persuade the
City Fathers to accept this proposal!)
Negotiations to transfer the library to the city began, and on June 17, 1927
the bill of sale for the consideration of $1.00 was delivered. We quote from
the “History of La Retama Library” by Mrs. George Derry:
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On September 1, 1927, the City took over the
operations of La Retama
Library with the following specified requirements of La Retama
previously having been agreed to by signed contract, namely:
La Retama Library shall be kept and
supported for public use; the
of it shall be under the supervision of a board of seven
serving two years each on a rotary system; the board members
appointed by the City Council from a list of names submitted by La Retama
and there shall
always be two La Retama Club members on the Library Board.
unusual arrangement endured for almost fifty years, not without protest from
some City Councils. La Retama Club was relieved of the financial burden, but
was assured a very close, guardian relationship. As Mrs. Derry expressed it:
The relationship of La Retama Library and La
Retama Club was as
that of a
daughter and her parents. The Library was the brain child of
which nursed it through infancy and childhood to young adult.
club gave it to the city it was as a daughter being given in
by the parents. The financial support ceased, to a certain extent, but
following year La Retama Club observed National Book Week, during which time
900 books were contributed to the library, raising the number on the shelves
All day club meetings were
held for the purpose of repairing books, since the expense of sending them
to be rebound was not yet included in the city’s budget.
of love continued when, in 1937 the W. W. Jones home, 511 South Broadway,
was bought to house the library. Members helped unpack books, and catalog
until the city’s budget
could provide for paid help.
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described this new home of the library:
It was wonderful – for the first time plenty
of elbow room – spacious
plenty of light – many rooms, making it possible to have one for
items, one for a children’s room, a reference room etc. – a lovely
But not yet the dream house, for it was a frame building,
fireproof, so the idea of a future home was kept alive.
It took 18
years for this dream of a future home to be realized. In March, 1955, La
Retama Library moved into its new and modern building at the corner of
Mesquite and and Peoples Street, where it is now. This had been the old City
Hall, completely remodeled at a cost of $30,000,
funded by a bond issue.
The book stock of almost 60,000 volumes was increased to 79,000, with enough
space for 36,000 more books, and it would be open 70 hours a week.
Club was elated over the new building. Two members, Catherine Terry (Mrs.
Luther Terry) and Gazzie Warren (Mrs. Guy I Warren) serving on the Library
Board since before 1950, had devoted years of effort to this project.
as President, and Gazzie worked personally with the architects and the the
Librarian, Mrs. Margaret Hardy, and the then Assistant Librarian, Mrs.
Phyllis Burson. They were responsible for the selection of all furnishings
city sold the Jones property for $25,000, Gazzie went before the Council and
persuaded them to allocate $6,000.00 of this sum to the library for custom –
built book stacks. She also made sure that the staff lounge was well
gift to the library was the display case for the entrance room. At the
request of city officials and the Library Board, members of La Retama Club
assisted as hostesses at the dedication ceremony and open house on March 31,
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Friends of the Library was organized April 30, 1956. A year earlier Mrs.
Burson had addressed the club on the Friends of the Library movement and the
proposal that a Friends group be established in Corpus Christi. She said the
Library Board wanted the project presented
to this club before the
steering committee went ahead with the organization, and she added “What we
want of La Retama Club is your blessing”.
received not only our blessing but our whole- hearted support. Members
agreed that it would benefit the library to have this broader base of
support in the community. Corpus Christi was maturing as a city; its
population was approaching 150,000, and the library’s future growth would
depend on wide public support.
our members worked with the Steering Committee, and the club was well
represented at the organizational meeting. Mrs. V. G. (Eloise) Woolsey,
the Library Board
commented that in her opinion … “the outstanding achievement of the Board
was in acquiring Mrs.Phyllis Burson as Librarian; and in assisting in the
organization of the Friends of the Library.”
organizational meeting Mrs. Oscar (Emma) Koepke of La Retama Club was
elected Vice-President. The elected President, Mrs. J. S. (Frances) Naismith,
told the group:
Up to now La Retama Club has been the only
organized “Friends”. Their
contribution to La Retama Library has been truly great. Our new Friends
organization has a check from them for each member. Their club is the
become 100% in membership in the Friends.
time La Retama Club has channeled most of its effort for the library through
the Friends. Each year we have 100% membership. The club is dedicated to
help the Friends remain a strong group in support of the library. Many of
our members have served on its Board
excerpts from the club’s minutes show our ongoing interest in the library.
on October 21, 1959:
Mrs. Derry gave a very informative report of
during the past summer – plans for two new
libraries in the near future.
(That was the beginning of Parkdale Branch
Library, and later, Greenwood
A year later,
October 26, 1960:
Mrs. Frank Chilson (of the Friends) is
asking our club for volunteers to
speak on the need of a bond issue to fund
the building of a new branch.
Mrs. Haas said that the bond issue for a
branch library would be $195,000.
She said the city allocated $8,000
additional for books….The club
voted to accept the responsibility of
calling voter registration lists on
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Parkdale Branch Library opened as the city’s first major branch. Parkdale
Plaza was a new shopping center (there were not yet any malls). It had fine
shops and was teeming with activity. Just across the street, Parkdale Branch
Library was convenient and accessible to
many people. The building
is an architectural jewel, uniquely designed, with a beautiful sculpture
patio and a charming footbridge approach. Our club’s gift to the library was
a bas-relief sculpture on the east wall entitled “The World of Fantasy”
members serving on the Library Board from 1958 to 1962 were: Mrs. Conrad
Blucher, Mrs. Paul Haas, Mrs. George Derry, Mrs. J. R. Sorrell and Mrs.
more books! This was the constant need of the library.
the federation of Women’s Clubs sponsored a Book Review to raise money for
library books. Our club was responsible for the sale of tickets. Rosalis
Chairman, and her
committee were so successful that the project netted over $2,000.00 for
library books – a large sum in those days.
the club voted to give a book to the library in honor of each of the
retiring president in lieu of the usual gift. Carrying out this tradition,
our club gives a book to the library at our annual library meeting. Also in
the tradition at any time we might send flowers, or present a gift, we give
a book o the library, as a memorial or a means of recognition.
Convention of the Texas Library Association was held in Corpus Christi April
1-4, 1965. Mrs. Burson, our Librarian, was President of the Texas Library
Association that year, Many La Retama members attended the Friends and
Trustees Division, since the speaker was Corpus Christi
City Councilman Bill
Wallace, husband of club member and past president Mary Wallace. Mr. Wallace
spoke of the unique history of La Retama Library, and its “sale” to the city
in 1927 for the sum of $1.00, He said, “It was brought to my attention that
the city has never paid La Retama Club the $1.00, and I intend to pay off
the city’s long-standing debt.” then, in the presence of a highly amused
audience, he presented a crisp one-dollar bill. This one-dollar bill is in
our scrapbook in the
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Greenwood Branch Library, dedicated October 20, 1966, was the result of
years of planning and hard work by many people. Mr. V. G. Woolsey was
President of the Friends; Betty Allen (the late Mrs. Frank C. Allen, Jr.)
was President of the Library Board. They, with Mrs.
Burson, accompanied by a
loyal group of La Retama members, spoke at public meetings on the need of a
bond issue for a new Westside Branch Library (later named Greenwood Branch
Wallace, in her report as retiring president wrote:
When the bond election for the new Westside
Branch came up, La Retama
was on deck with plenty of support for it.
Some of our members were precinct
Chairmen. I know
that Mary Haas and Rosalis McCroskey were
calling 2,000 names each. Many of our members helped with
this. Betty Allen,
of course, spent hours of work on the election. Club
with coffees for women of club throughout the Westside
area – they in turn
would get workers for the pre-election period.
All the hard
work paid off. Eleven bond issues were voted on that day, but the one for
Westside Branch Library got more votes than any, except for the one for
was appointed by the City Council to serve on the Site Selection Committee.
people turned out for the dedication of GreenWood Branch Library. Imagine
the heroism of the Reception Committee, Eloise Woolsey, Co-Chairman, who had
planned ample refreshments for 500 to 700 people.
members on the Library Board from 1963 to 1966 were Mrs. Frank C. Allen,
Jr., Mrs. L. H. Gross, Mrs. Cecil D. Redford.
Two of our
members enjoyed a special status in the club – Miss Julia Caldwell and Miss
Sarah Caldwell, who had been members since 1905 and 1906. They were the only
present members who had helped found La Retama Library in 1909 and had
shared in all the struggles of those early
years. To us they embodied
the tradition and the spirit of the club. Quite simply we adored them.
club meeting of the year 1968-1969, Miss Sarah proposed that we establish
associate memberships. “We are all getting older”, she said, “and its time
we start thinking of passing the torch to younger, more vigorous women who
can carry on the club tradition, and do more to help the Library. I, for
one, would like to go associate and have my membership filled by a younger
women.” The club did not act on Miss Sarah’s suggestion until some years
later when Honorary and Associate Memberships were established but her
thought had been firmly planted.
their knowledge, the club decided to honor Miss Julia and Miss Sarah in a
very special way. Plans were carried out by the Special Gifts Committee,
Mary Flynt, Chairman, and the Library Committee, Mary Haas, Chairman,
Alleyene Coleman and Juanita Clark.
great excitement at our annual Library Meeting of March 6, 1969. We met in
the newly decorated third floor of La Retama Library. Mrs. Burson, opening
the ceremony, gave the history of this building and the role of La Retama
Club in helping to make it possible.
then presented Mrs. Burson with a check for $500.00 from all the members of
the club, for the purpose of establishing a new library service, a
circulating collection of framed Art Reproductions to be called
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The Julia and Sarah
Caldwell Circulating Art Collection.
The library had prepared
an attractive brochure introducing the collection.
Council, on May 8, 1974 revoked the city’s contract of April, 1927 with La
Retama Club which specified that the Library Board be appointed from a list
of names submitted by La Retama Club. Instead, they passed City of Corpus
Christi Ordinance #12044 which provides a
seven member Library Board
appointed solely by the Council, and adds:
There is hereby created an eighth
membership, said membership to be an
ex-officio, voting membership, to be filled by the President of La Retama
committee was appointed to change our Constitution in accordance with this
new city ordinance. It was agreed that we would elect a younger member as
president, who would at the same time serve on the Library Board, and the
following year, as she serves the second year of
term on the Library Board,
we would elect and older member to Presidency of the Club.
who have served on the Library Advisory Board since enactment of this
ordinance are: Mrs. Jeff (Mary) Bell, Mrs. James (Louise) Dinn, Mrs. H. W.
(La Verne) Volk,
Jr., Mrs. Robert E.
(Beverley) Wallace, and Mrs. Clay (Jean) Caldwell. Each one of them has
served with real distinction, and the club is immensely proud of their
Club was singularly honored at the annual meeting of Friends of the Library
on October 23, 1975. The program was devoted to the history and development
of our public library.
(Patty) Mueller, President of the Friends, had compiled a history of the
library to 1975 entitled “A Mighty Library From Little Peanuts Grew”, and
had made copies available for guests to take home. She gave an eloquent
tribute to the early members of La Retama Club, who
founded our city’s first
public library, and said: “The support of La Retama Club has continued from
that time to this.” She cited their constant contributions ---- of books, of
gifts, of untold hours of time and service, as members of the Library Board,
as participants in projects of the Friends, concluding, “They can always be
counted on … for support for library needs.”
Mueller’s “TRIBUTE AND MEMOIRS TO LA RETAMA CLUB’ may be found in its
entirely in the La Retama Collection of the local history room at the
Bluff Branch Library was the third major branch of our city’s library
system. It was dedicated and opened to the public on January 28, 1978. Mary
Bell was serving on the Library Board as a representative of La Retama Club.
The club presented the gift of a book drop to the new Flour Bluff Branch.
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9, 1980 La Retama Club celebrated its 75th birthday with an
elegant Guest Day Brunch at Keys Parlor of the First Christian Church. The
social Committee; Rosalis McCroskey, Chairman, Lib Vestal, Beverley Wallace,
Henry Ella Bissett, Gladys Gibson, and Mary Haas arranged an outstandingly
beautiful party. It was catered by Betty Jasperson, a former member of the
club, whose exquisite refreshments reflected her personal interest. All of
the 50 year members were honored with corsages. They were: Mrs. Frank C.
(Betty) Allen, Jr., Mrs. Conrad (Zula) Blucher,
Mrs. Charles (Alleyne)
Coleman, Mrs. Charles (Gladys) Gibson, Mrs. I. C. (Hertha) Kerridge, Mrs. W.
B. (Violet) McCampbell, Mrs. E. A. (Courtney) McCampbell, Mrs. Luter
One of our
members has the distinction of serving on The Advisory Council for the
Texas Library System.
Dinn served two years on the City Library Board, then in 1982 was appointed
by the City Council to represent Corpus Christi on the six member Advisory
Council of the
Texas Library Systems. The
Texas Library Systems Act was passed in 1969 to provide better library
services and resources in all Texas libraries, It provides funding for the
Texas Library System which functions through 10 Regional Systems. In
each region (system) the strongest library is
designated as the Main
Resource center. Thus Corpus Christi Public Library is the Main Resource
Center for the South Texas System, which includes 44 libraries in 22
served a three year term and has been reappointed to another three year
term. She is also on the Planning Commision which recommends budget. To
appreciate the magnitude of her job, their budget for 1984-1985 was $670,305
Northwest Branch Library was dedicated on June 16, 1982. Located at 3202
McKenzie Road, this was our city’s fourth major branch library.
impressive dedication ceremony our club was well-represented, along with a
large attendance from the area. Women’s clubs and the Northwest Business
Men’s Association, working with the Friends, had spearheaded the drive in
their part of town for this new Northwest
Branch Library which would
serve this area.
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La Retama Club who served on the Library Board from the years of initial
planning to the final completion of the new Northwest Branch Library were:
Mrs. Jeff (Mary) Bell,
Jr., Mrs. James (Louise) Dinn and Mrs. H. W. (La Verne) Volk, Jr.
early months of 1980 the third floor of La Retama Library was declared
unsafe after inspection by several engineers. The Library Board decided this
was the time to build a new main library. We has three excellent branch
libraries, and a fourth, the Northwest Branch already “in the hopper”. The
question was whether the people of Corpus Christi would support a bond issue
for a new main library.
Friends undertook a comprehensive survey to determine whether there would be
community support. They prepared a questionnaire which was mailed to 2,252
Many volunteers from La
Retama Club assisted the Friends in mailing these questionnaires.
response was positive, and the City Council approved a bond issue for five
million dollars to build a new central library. For election time, Lucy Hill
organized a tremendous committee involving members of other clubs as well as
La Retama Club members to call voter registration lists.
past several years the club has followed with intense interest the
development of our new main library, which is nearing completion on the
corner of Comanche and Tancahua Streets, adjacent to Blucher Park.
our members have been deeply involved in the new library. Mary Bell’s
service in the interest of Corpus Christi Public Libraries dates back to
1965 when she was Secretary of the Friends, and before she became a member
of La Retama Club. She joined the Library Board in 1976
as a representative of La
Retama Club and has been reappointed by the City Council to every two year
term since then. She has participated in the planning of the
Flour Bluff Branch
Library, the Northwest Branch Library, and for the past three years,
as President of the Library Board, has had a major responsibility in seeing
the new main library to completion. Her record is magnificent.
members on the Library Board are Beverley Wallace with the heavy
responsibility as Chairman of the Building Committee, and Jean Caldwell,
Chairman of Landscaping. On the Board of Directors of the Friends are La
Verne Volk, Secretary, and Connie Freeman, Editor of
newsletter, Bookends, and Lucy Hill in charge of memorial plaques.
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luncheon meeting on May 1985, Jean Caldwell’s summary of the club’s
activities for the year reflect our total involvement in the library. She
doubt, the groundbreaking for the new central library was the
of the year and it was gratifying to see so many of you there to
turn your shovel of dirt
and to stand to be counted when Mayor Jones recog-
nized our group….
In January you turned out
in force to assist in the final phase of address-
ing and processing for
mailing the invitations to the Hershey First Edition
fund raising gala. Phyllis
Allen, one of our new members we welcome today
was chairman of the
Invitation Committee, and Margaret Moss, another new
member we welcome was
chairman of Mailing.
On February 15th
the great day arrived – the elegant First Edition Gala
was held at the Hershey
Hotel with a capacity crowd attending. Beverley
Wallace was chairman of
the event, assisted by La Verne Volk, Connie
Freeman and many others.
All their untold hours of work and planning re-
sulted in a delightful
evening and the amazing total of over $118,000.00
toward the $1,400.000.00
fund drive in progress by the Friends of the Library
for the purchase of
furniture and books.
In April a reception was
given by Friends of the Library at the Bay-
front Auditorium Lounge,
honoring over 100 businesses and citizens who
had donated money to the
fund drive. Again you heeded the call for help
and furnished the
sandwiches for the reception. To my surprise, La Retama
Club was among those
receiving a certificate of appreciation from the
Once again he asked the members to stand. We had a great turn-
Also in April it became
apparent that the last hope for including the
third floor shell of the
library building depended on assistance from
Nueces County. You were asked to attend
the County Commissioners’ meet-
ing as a show of support
as Mary Bell urged them to approve the request for
money. It was passed, and
as we prepared to leave the Commissioners’
Court, Judge Barnes asked
how many La Retama members were in the audience
quite of us
This has been a busy year
for those who have worked so hard on the building
and we are very proud of
another member, Beverley Wallace, who has done such a
terrific job as Chairman
of the Building Committee….
To end on a happy note, I
would like you to know that the Retama Club
Fund now totals $4,652.00
– that $5,000.00 goal that looked a little
out of reach a year ago
will surely become a reality, and then you will
have the joy of deciding
how you want it earmarked for the new building.
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of our city’s public library system is one of constant growth and
development, and the beautiful new main library represents a gigantic step
forward. It is a triumph of achievement that is possible only in a receptive
community. Through the years countless people have been
dedicated to the goal of
providing Corpus Christi with the best public library of its time and La
Retama Club has always been a solid core of that group. Our support of the
public library, since its founding in the year 1909, has continued for three
quarters of a century as an unbroken thread to the present, and will
continue --- into the future.