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Sunday, July 25, 2021

    Opal Tanner 1902-1977

    Kristine Conlon
    Kristine Conlon is one of the organizers and contributors to Muscatine Women of Influence and Inspiration.

    Muscatine Living

    Miss Tanner! I found her elegant but dreadfully intimidating when I was young. Sheila Chaudoin agrees. “I remember as a child coming to the library of being somewhat scared of Miss Tanner. She rarely had a smile on her face, and I always thought she didn’t like children.” When Chaudoin applied for a position, she got it because she was tall enough to reach the top of the stacks. Once you worked for Opal, however, you became a part of her family. Miss Tanner told Chaudoin that if she had any dances or school activities when she also had to work, Miss Tanner would sub for her; senior year is an important year in a person’s life. Still, Miss Tanner never helped decorate for Christmas as it seemed that is when she had lost her fiancee; it was a sad time for her.

    She was born in 1902 at Rose Hill, the daughter of Albert and Katherine Kruse Tanner, and she went to school in Mason City. She got her BA from the University of Minnesota (helping to pay for her studies by working in the agricultural branch library), and her library science degree from the University of Illinois. She then spent 12 years as head of circulation in the Des Moines public library before coming to Muscatine in 1943.

    Under her direction, 45,000 books were added to the library. The schools only had small numbers of books when she came; when she left, there were eight grade school collections and two junior high collections, with more than twice as many books circulating. A new addition was added to the library in 1965; she retired in 1968.

    She met lots of local citizens through her job, of course, but she was an enormous asset to the community in other ways. A member of Wesley United, she was also past president of the PEO Chapter FC, twice president of the Ethics Club, treasurer of the American Association of University Women (which honored her by giving a fellowship in her name), member of Delta Kappa Gamma, and past president of the Business and Professional Women. She served as secretary for the state library association and was a member of the national library association. She took the first bookmobile in Iowa to county meetings when she was working in Mason City to demonstrate the effectiveness of mobile service.

    She didn’t just check out books. She selected, ordered, cataloged, processed, did bookkeeping. She especially liked reference work: “When someone calls for information, it is a real challenge to find it. Sitting in the midst of all this information, I am not ashamed to say I don’t know everything—but I do know where to find it. Not a day goes by but what I learn something.” Hobbies after retirement included “yardening,” reading, working cryptograms, taking care of her house, volunteering at the hospital, at the art museum, and at the church. She said at her retirement reception that being in Muscatine was the best period of her life; she found it much friendlier than a large city. Miss Tanner may not have been one of the demonstrative women in town, but she was an important influence for many of us who loved the library.

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