by Caitlin Huston
For the town of Walton, Gordon Southern acts as much more than a librarian.
Jane and John Wilson, the couple who nominated Southern for a 2012 Good Neighbor Award, said he is the go-to source of information on housing, town events or history. And with a track record of bringing Wi-Fi to the community, tutoring college students and modernizing the library, Southern, a retired Lewis-Cass school teacher and the Walton-Tipton Township Public Library Director, puts that information into action.
After 35 years of teaching and even a run for the Democratic nod for State Representative, Southern said he took on the librarian position for a change and a challenge. That change came as Southern boosted marketing, increased circulation numbers and hosted events.
“Instead of being a quiet little library in the corner, we were out in the world,” Southern said.
Acknowledging that some people have called him “bull-headed and stubborn,” Southern said he was inspired to reinvent the library because of his drive to do better.
“Everything I touch, I’ve just got this drive,” Southern said. “I’ve got to make it better.”
He soon led the changing library to host adult programs including a painting club, author talks and lessons on computers and e-readers. For youth, Southern hosts programs like the summer reading club and offers tutoring for kindergartners through college.
Southern has a special connection with college students, as the college-tutoring program started after he promised factory workers during his 2004 state representative speech that he would help them return to school. He said he enjoys teaching the college students math and using real-world examples to help them understand the problems.
“It’s fun, especially the math because there is a challenge to it,” Southern said.
He was also an integral part of bringing free Wi-Fi to the community of Walton. After the library received a public Wi-Fi grant, Southern told local residents that he would expand access to the entire community if they raised the funds for the tower and transceivers.
Beyond the grants, Jane Wilson said Southern stands out for his willingness to tackle problems and get involved.
“He’s not afraid to physically get out there and paint and clean up things,” Jane said.
After initially meeting Southern at the library five years ago, Jane and her husband John refer to Southern as the “Angie’s List” of information and the “Welcome Wagon.” Jane said he has information about everything going on in town and uses that to help people, citing a time when he helped find a home for a resident who was about to be evicted.
As Southern tries to recall the number of organizations he’s involved in — he named at least seven, including the American Legion, Main Street and the Lion’s Club — he said he feels that Walton promotes the volunteer spirit.
“This community has a sense of voluntarism too, and I think that’s how I got into so many things,” Southern said.
Southern said he keeps the spirit of getting involved and carries that with him.
“It was expected you were going to do well and you were going to do for others,” Southern said.
John Wilson said Southern’s involvement has helped make Walton into a great community.
“Without him at Walton, Walton wouldn’t be half of where it is,” John said.