Walk down Main Street in Davidson on any given day and you will spot heroes. Perhaps you'll spy Mayor John Woods leaving his office, waiting at the crosswalk. Or Davidson College President Carol Quillen crossing campus. You may even catch a glimpse of our beloved Steph Curry, hustling to a class as he works on finishing his degree.
But this little town is filled with other heroes as well, albeit a bit less high-profile. Each year, Davidson recognizes one of them with the annual Jack Burney Community Service Award, which is presented to a resident who has dedicated himself to improving the quality of life in town.
This year's recipient, Leland Park, is a lover of books and a lover of life, and his efforts to save our town library make him a champion in all our hearts.
Park, 70, grew up in Florida, to parents who instilled a love of learning early on. "Our house was covered with books, journals, newspapers. We all read, and talked about and laughed about and pondered about what we read... and shared," Park remembers.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
He came to Davidson College after graduating from the McCallie School in Tennessee, a boarding school he started attending in 11th grade.
Unaccustomed to having to use a library - "We had such wonderful collections at home, I rarely went," he recalled - he quickly learned that he needed to use it for classes.
In the process, he learned what he described as "The wonderment of wandering the stacks."
After finishing his graduate degree at Emory University in Atlanta, Park worked as a reference librarian in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library system for a year before he went off to fulfill his ROTC obligation in the Army.
He returned to Davidson in 1967 and worked as a reference librarian for a short time before heading to Florida State University for a PhD. When he returned to Davidson again, it was for good: He went on to serve as director of the Davidson College Library for 39 years. Park lives near downtown.
During his tenure, he helped lead a grassroots campaign to build the public library that now sits on the town green, overcoming financial burdens and obstacles to ensure services be provided to the people of the area.
"Then this past year there was financial difficulty (again) in the county, and the commissioners initially did not place libraries very far up on the 'must have' scale.... and again we were threatened with the loss of our branch. To say the least, it got our citizens moving again."
Park and a dedicated crew succeeded in raising upward of $175,000 to save the branch, in addition to recruiting and training volunteers and selling engraved bricks to build the beautiful patio in front of the library. "It is not funded at the level of yesteryear, but it is enough to keep it open and stocked. And with the support of volunteers to assist the trained librarians, we're still in business," he said.
Around town, Park is known not just for his work - but his laugh. Mayor Pro-Temp Margo Williams spoke about it affectionately in the citation she delivered at the Burney award breakfast. "Whenever we think of Leland, we have to include a soundtrack because of that laugh that starts in his soul and rumbles out in the most infectious way," she said.
"You know, life is good, and there's always something about which to smile and in which to find humor. ... Even at or within yourself," said Park.
Park's passion for libraries and life is perhaps exceeded only by his love of the town of Davidson. "My mantra about Davidson is that 'working here keeps you young, and reminds you that you're not.' And you thus end up with wonderful friends who are not peers. Few places afford you that."
Despite not having kinfolk nearby, he is quick to point out that he does have family - his Davidson family.
Your Davidson family thanks you, Leland. We are all a better community because of you.