Costa Mesa resident Donna Stapleton was visiting her sister in Wisconsin in the summer of 2017 when she stumbled upon something special outside a log library in the small town of Cable, which has 825 inhabitants.
“We noticed there were these instruments outside, so my sister and I walked over and started playing them,” she recalls. “We were having a great time – those instruments sounded so good.”
Normally, such a story would end there. But Stapleton, a dedicated reading fan and then president of the nonprofit Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries, embarked on a mission to bring a similar outdoor element to the City of the Arts.
She and her fellow “friends” helped raise enough money in 2019 to purchase a small set for the Mesa Verde Library. City staff set up the installation, a collection of chimes and percussion instruments that visitors could play with rubber mallets.
The feature was so warmly welcomed that the group moved its sites to a larger slice outside the county-run Donald Dungan Library. With six distinct features, including a metal “harp,” contrabass chimes, and lily pad cymbals, the assembly came with a hefty $30,000 price tag.
At a special ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday outside the library near the Lions Park playground, Stapleton told library supporters and city officials how community members rose to the challenge. to secure funding.
Members of Friends of Costa Mesa Libraries — which supports and raises funds for Dungan and Mesa Verde library programs — pooled the donations and secured a $15,000 grant from the Orange County Commission on the Arts, facilitated by 2nd District Supervisor Katrina Foley.
The art grant helped bring them closer to their goal, but they needed an extra push to cross the finish line. Stapleton published a plea in a quarterly Friends newsletter and received a message from longtime member Richard Alexander, who offered the necessary funding.
“We were blown away,” Stapleton recalls, explaining that the offer was made in honor of Alexander’s wife, Charlotte, who died in 2012 and loved libraries and writing.
Foley explained that the installation of the instrument is just one addition to a recent series of improvements to the new library site.
“When we had the opportunity to build this library and build this playground, I knew we were doing something special for Costa Mesa and for all of Orange County,” she said. “We need to put these instruments in all of our Orange County libraries.”
After remarks from Costa Mesa Mayor John Stephens and Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds, in the 5th council district where the Dungan Library is located, attendees were treated to a musical performance on Thursday.
Library supporter and ad hoc group leader Cheryl Ooten explained that all but one of the instruments were tuned to produce harmonic tunes in a pentatonic or five-note scale. A set of manta ray chimes, which resemble a xylophone suspended by cables, contain seven notes for players who wish to perform a fuller melody.
“If the kids are playing, it’s just beautiful, beautiful, wonderful sound,” she added.
Ooten said the library plans to create a pamphlet that visitors can use to learn more about the instruments and how to create their own music.
After the demonstration, people took turns playing with the rubber mallets, laughing as the sweet sound of the chimes rose in the breeze. Alexander watched the festivities from a seat near the library, his knees filled with proclamations commemorating his generous donation.
“Inspiration [for this] is my wife, Charlotte,” he said, recalling how she filled countless notebooks with writings that he still reads 10 years later. “She was a lifelong learner and a great advocate for public libraries.”
He recounted how “Charlie” helped start a book discussion group at a Newport Beach public library and likely would have made a sarcastic comment about being honored at a ceremony.
“[But] she would smile warmly and be surprised,” he added.
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