WHITE TOWNSHIP, NJ (Warren County) – The headquarters branch of the Warren County Library system is being renamed in honor of former freeholder Richard D. Gardner, a long-time advocate who worked to expand library services during his tenure.
Gardner arrived at the naming event unaware of the honor, as the new name was a closely-held secret until the moment the new sign proclaiming “Richard D. Gardner Library” was unveiled. The Board of County Commissioners will make it official with a resolution at their Oct. 27 meeting.
“I’m so awestruck,” a stunned Gardner said as the crowd applauded, saying the renaming of the library branch for him was “the icing on the cake, it made it all worthwhile.”
The headquarters branch opened on April 20, 2013 along with the adjacent Department of Human Services building, with a ribbon-cutting conducted by then-Freeholders Jason J. Sarnoski, Edward Smith, and Gardner. Sarnoski continues to serve on the Board of County Commissioners, as the county’s governing body is now known.
Commissioner Director James R. Kern III called Gardner and Smith forward to join him, Sarnoski, and Commissioner Lori Ciesla in pulling the blue cloth away to reveal the new name, saying it was fitting that the freeholders who opened the library in 2013 assisted in unveiling the new sign that will go on the front of the building. Gardner hadn’t noticed that his family and friends, who arrived earlier, had slipped out of the library and into the crowd present to witness the unveiling.
“We thought it was important to name the library after someone who really represents institutional knowledge, and really is what a library is all about,” Kern said just before the unveiling.
Gardner began his first term as a Warren County Freeholder on January 1, 2003, and retired December 31, 2020 after a record six terms. He was the first freeholder to win a fifth term and then a sixth term in the “small board” era that began in 1917 with the election of three at-large freeholders, instead of freeholders from each municipality. He is second in length of service during the entire 196-year history of Warren County, and is the last person to ever serve as Warren County Freeholder Director, because of the state-mandated shift to the title of County Commissioner that took effect this year.
Sarnoski, whose 10 years alongside Gardner is the most of any of the six freeholders who served with the library’s new namesake, noted that Gardner was liaison to the county library system for his entire 18 years on the board.
During Gardner’s tenure, he formed the Projects Committee to study the county’s facility needs and oversee a number of capital projects. Sarnoski noted that under Gardner, a new Northeast Branch of the library system opened May 21, 2011 to provide a 9,355-square-foot replacement in Independence Township for an existing branch; the Headquarters Branch opened on April 20, 2013, providing a 17,500-square-foot library branch and administration offices; and the new Southwest Branch opened in August 2018 with a grand opening on September 22, 2018, providing a 14,090-square-foot library branch in Greenwich Township. Plans for upgrades to the Catherine Dickson Hofman Branch in Blairstown began during Gardner’s tenure and are moving closer to fruition, Sarnoski said.
All the expansion was done without accruing public debt. Moreover, the library system added more municipalities that previously were not members when people saw how beautiful the new branches were, Sarnoski said.
“From now until the end of time, Rick Gardner and the Gardner name will be associated with Warren County, and no one will ever forget it,” Sarnoski noted, telling Gardner, “You deserve that honor, and I congratulate you.”
“There are not enough things that we can do to recognize the contribution that Freeholder Director Gardner did for this county,” Ciesla said.
The library headquarters was “a long time coming, as the library had been quote-unquote ‘temporarily’ located in the Courthouse Annex in Belvidere for approximately 39 years.” The renaming also was delayed, as the Commissioners had planned to announce plans to honor Gardner when he went off the board at the end of last year, but delayed the announcement because the pandemic prevented having a ceremony, Kern said.
“This is such an amazing honor,” Gardner said, but added, “I felt it was my job, my job to do the right thing for the public.”
Gardner thanked the county commissioners for honoring him, and thanked his family for giving him the opportunity to pursue public service. His wife, Janette, children, and grandchildren, along with many friends, attended the dedication ceremony as a surprise to him.
Gardner also praised the library staff and the county Library Board for the “phenomenal” success of the library system and the development of the branches, saying, “We wouldn’t have this without their strong dedication.”