Sophie’s South Park in Andover has its own public library. This is not the kind where you need a card to check out a book and there are no late fees.
What this neighborhood park offers is a book exchange program. All you have to do is open the glass door on a small wooden box shaped like a little house and grab a book. If you have a book of your own that you can put back in the box, that’s great. If not, you can still take a book and return it when you are done.
Carol and Russ Schmeichel both spent their careers in education and are avid readers, so they were intrigued when they saw articles in the Star Tribune last fall about a nonprofit organization called Little Free Library.
Carol mentioned the article to her brother-in-law Ron Torkelson. The next time he came to visit, he was carrying a wooden library box. Russ painted it and their son-in-law Nate Birkmeier shingled the unfinished roof.
Carol and Russ went before the Andover Park and Recreation Commission to ask if they could place the library box in Sophie’s South Park. The commissioners and Todd Haas, assistant city engineer, had not heard of this concept, but were intrigued when they read the newspaper article. The city eventually built a base out of river stone for the library box to match the new park shelter once funding was available.
The Schmeichels found a place to get a plaque engraved that is at the top of the library with the words, “Little Free Library. Sophie’s South Park. Take a Book, Leave a Book.”
Over the past month since it went in, neighbors and people from other areas have been at the park. The Schmeichel home has a nice bay window facing the park where they can see people coming and going. Anybody that comes to the park walks over to see the “Little Free Library.” They placed a piece of paper inside to explain what this small box is, and they saved some books for children and adults that they put in the box to get the exchange program started.
Betsy Staley has lived in a home across from Sophie’s South Park for one-and-a-half years. She thinks it is great that she is able to bring her three-and-a-half-year-old son and two-year-old daughter over to the park, grab a book from the library box and sit down to read to her kids.
“It really does develop community to have a neighborhood park,” Carol said.
The area around Sophie’s South Park is inhabited by newly built homes, so the new and improved park is a good meeting spot for new neighbors, Carol said.
The Schmeichels moved from Jamestown, N.D., to this Andover neighborhood in the fall of 2007 to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
When they arrived at their new Andover home, Sophie’s South Park was a vacant lot. When the weeds got to be five or six feet tall, Russ hacked them down and mowed the park. They asked if the city could make some improvements, but money was tight with the city committed to funding other park projects. The city was able to level out the field and make it a better open field at least.
Over the last three years, the city has been able to make a number of improvements. There is now a playground, a swing set, a picnic shelter, picnic tables and two basketball hoops. The city only budgeted enough to buy one hoop. Russ found the second basketball hoop abandoned along the road. The owner told him he planned to give away the hoop and Russ could take it. Andover public works staff installed the hoop at Sophie’s South Park.
Carol and Russ Schmeichel and some neighbors have planted flowers to make the park even more beautiful. The Schmeichels water and mow a portion of the park nearest to their property. City staff maintain the rest of the park.
“They do a first class job,” Carol said of Haas and the public works staff’s work to improve the park.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org