June 23, 2010 Edition

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Tompkins to retire from library

Ethel Tompkins retires June 30 after 20 years of service to the Lawrence County Library. A reception will be held in her honor on June 27 from 2-3:30 p.m. at the library.
Vivian Heyl
Staff Writer

Ethel Tompkins will retire from the Lawrence County Library at the end of this month. For nearly 20 years Tompkins has helped students and researchers find answers to their questions.

"I first met Ethel as a library patron," said Library Director Ashley Burris. "As a high school student I looked to her for assistance with various school projects. When I became director I knew I could depend on her to assist patrons with their questions."

Tompkins went to work at the public library on January 2, 1991. Hired by then Director Karen Holliday to work three days a week, Tompkins' responsibilities included the bookkeeping for all the county library branches.

"Even though I was hired for only three days a week, I started working five and a half right from the start," Tompkins said.

Holliday described Tompkins as extremely meticulous in her accounting. "This is the way she approached all of her work," she said. "She always gave 110 percent to anything she did."

By 1994 she had been named reference librarian and had a regular work schedule of Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and a half-day on Saturday.

"The best part of my job is getting to help people," Tompkins said.

Patrons at the library have come to depend on her for help with all types of research. Tompkins, who is a history buff, has spent most of her years at the library honing her knowledge of Arkansas history and Lawrence County history in particular. She is also very knowledgeable in genealogy research.

Catherine Richey who visits the library on a weekly basis said, "I for one am going to miss her a lot. Ethel is unfailingly helpful and willing to go the extra mile for those of us who are trying to find out something or do something at the library."

In addition to her interest in the history of her state and county, Tompkins also has considerable knowledge of black history and women's history.

"I have spoken at public schools and colleges for many years on these subjects," Tompkins said. "Whenever I'm asked I try to go."

Tompkins' family moved to Hoxie in 1953 from Post Oak. The family settled in just in time for her to become part of one of the earliest desegregation decisions to be made in public schools. When the Hoxie School Board chose to obey the Brown v. The Board of Education decision made by the Supreme Court in 1954, Tompkins became one of 21 black students to be integrated into what had been an all white elementary school at Hoxie.

The film "Hoxie: The First Stand" by David Appleby brought the Hoxie desegregation back into the public forefront in 2003. Tompkins is often called upon to speak to groups across the country about the experience and what it meant to American history.

Tompkins graduated from Hoxie High School in 1961 and attended Shorter College in Little Rock before joining the Navy for a tour of duty from 1965 to 1969. After leaving the service she spent two years in San Diego before moving to Los Angeles to work for a data collection company. In 1990 she returned to Lawrence County to care for her parents.

Travel has always held an abiding interest for Tompkins and one of her few regrets is that she did not get to make a much anticipated trip to The Serengeti with National Geographic Magazine. The opportunity was lost when violence erupted in the area.

Tompkins overseas adventures did take her to Greece in 1977 and to Spain in 1980. She says she would very much like to visit the Australian outback after she retires.

When asked what she enjoys doing for fun Tompkins replied without hesitation, "read."

Although she professes to have no favorite genre or author, her favorite book is "Testimony of Two Men" by Taylor Caldwell.

"This book continues to speak to me," she said. "It is a book that is always current because its story is ageless."

With only a week left before retirement Tompkins said she still hopes to continue doing much of the same things she has been doing including visiting the homebound and taking them books to read as well as visiting the nursing homes for activities and providing reading material.

"I am also looking forward to having more time to work on genealogy," Tompkins said. "I really enjoy it. It's like being a detective and solving a mystery."

A reception will be held on June 27 from 2-3:30 p.m. at the library and everyone is invited to drop by and visit with Tompkins.

"The patrons are going to miss her," Burris said. "She has always had an excellent rapport with them."

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