Nancy Watkins: A Career Built on a Solid Foundation

Library’s Chief Financial Officer Retires After 16 Years

The story of Nancy Watkins’ career as Chief Financial Officer for the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library cannot be told without referencing the grand re-opening of the library building in 2002.

Following her hire in 1994, Nancy worked tirelessly behind the scenes supporting a $23 million bond initiative, which was passed by Shawnee County voters in 1996. She later served on a team that collaborated with internationally known architect Michael Graves and the local firm that retained him.

“We were all very surprised when they brought Michael Graves in,” she said.

When the notes for the bond were purchased, it boosted the library’s revenue – temporarily – to $35 million; it was the most money Nancy has ever had to account for, she said.

The library began adding onto the building, transforming it to the world-class library that the community knows and loves today. Community support opened the door for the construction of public meeting spaces, a café, a bookstore, a gallery and much more room for books, movies and games.

Among the many challenges of that time, safety was always front and center in Nancy’s mind, she said.

“One of the happiest days was at the end of phase 2 of the move. We moved everything from the old building to the new building, and there wasn’t one single worker’s comp claim,” she said.

Her many years of service to the library and to other organizations for which she volunteers earned Nancy recognition as a Woman of Excellence in 2010 at the YWCA’s Annual Leadership Luncheon.

Among her mentors and those who influenced her career were Eudocia Stratton, Bruce Kauffman and David Leamon, all of whom served as director of the Jackson District Library where she worked from 1970 to 1994. Leamon actually persuaded Nancy to leave her hometown library and her family for Topeka after he assumed the role of director of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library in 1992.

“I thank all of them just pushing me to do more than I thought I could do.”

Now, Nancy is ready to push onto another phase in her life.

“When this year’s audit came around, it was my 41st. At the point I reached 40, I said ‘I’ve done this enough,’” Nancy said.

So, she told Gina Millsap, current executive director, she would stay around to wrap up 2010. In April, she received her “final report card” when the audit was accepted by the library Board of Trustees.

Nancy plans to return to Jackson, Mich., after retirement. She purchased a condo there in February and will spend much time unpacking and getting reacquainted, she said. She plans to volunteer and perhaps take a part-time “fun” job. She also looks forward to rejoining her church, she said.

The bonds will be paid off in 2019. Nancy says she knows that her successor, Sheryl Weller, will continue the legacy of accountability at the library.

“It’s been a very good transition. Sheryl is excellent, and she’s doing an excellent job.”

Sheryl will face challenges of her own, Nancy said, including a downward trend in property values, which means a decrease in tax dollars going into the library coffers.

“The budget has become a challenge. We look for ways to continue to offer good service to customers,” Nancy said. “But, the library will continue to serve a role in this community. The staff and boards have always risen to any challenge. That’s one thing I’ve always observed.”

Nancy received her bachelor’s in business administration in 1993 from Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, Mich. She also holds an associate’s of arts in accounting.

Library hours are Mon. through Fri. 9 am to 9 pm, Sat. 9 am to 6 pm and Sunday 12 pm to 9 pm.