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Library bench dedicated to memory of Virginia Hosford, who led development of downtown park

November 30, 2011

A round table, perfect for the conversation Virginia Hosford enjoyed, stands in her honor at Georgiana Smith Park next to the library.

Family and friends of Hosford gathered Friday to dedicate the round picnic table and benches that bear an honorary plaque. Hosford, who died March 9 at age 73, rallied the forces needed in 2004-05 to create the park that she called "the heart of downtown." Hosford also helped lead the efforts to remodel and expand the Carnegie Library building.

"For her, this park was a family place," said Mike Schend, Hood River Library Foundation member, at Friday's bench dedication on the courtyard just west of the library's State Street entrance.

"She always wanted it to be a family gathering place, but even with all the benches there is no place to sit and gather. This is that gathering place," said Schend, who assembled the 300-pound bench himself.

The bench plaque reads: "In memory of Virginia Hosford: the inspiration behind the library park."

"We have so much to thank her for; she has enriched the Hood River community greatly," park designer Marion McNew said in a letter read by Schend.

"The legacy of her here in the park and in the library is going to live on for a very long time," said Library Director Buzzy Nielsen.

"It means a great deal to us as a family," said Virginia's husband, Don Hosford.

"She's done a lot of good things, and touched a lot of hearts," he said. "We're just real proud of her - everything she did."

Virginia, a Hood River High School graduate in 1951, was a teacher and in 1971 became director of guidance at the new Hood River Valley High School.

Virginia and Don's children, Mitch and his wife, Barb, of Hood River, and Carol Hosford Gachen, and her husband, Loren, of San Rafael, were on hand, along with Mary Ethel Foley of the Library District Board, and friend and fellow Sweet Adeline singer Marla St. John and her husband, Tom.

Don recalled that, "Wherever we'd go in our travels, Virginia always wanted to see the library. She'd say, 'We have to go see the Carnegie.'"

In tribute to Hosford, Schend invoked Hosford's own words.

"It was Sunday, Oct. 9, 2005, when we stood here with Virginia dedicating the Georgiana Smith Library Park," Schend said. "Virginia worked so hard to make this park a reality. It just seems appropriate to listen to Virginia's words on that day.

"This is a historic park next to a historic building in a historic district. You are in the middle of history. I don't think when people walk into the library a lot of them don't realize that every single thing was thought out, and we wanted the park to be the same way,"?said Hosford.

"The park has become the heart of downtown and there is hardly a time that people aren't enjoying the space or just strolling through on their way to the library or downtown. Virginia felt this was a gathering place where families could visit and relax. This picnic table helps fulfill her dreams of a family gathering place," Shend said.

"Her leadership to put this (park) together was great. We're real proud of what she did. She had the enthusiasm, the stick-to-it-iveness to follow through. She was on the phone, writing letters in the evening."

At her class reunions she even asked classmates to support the library by buying one of the engraved bricks that line the park walkways.

In 2010, while ill with cancer, Hosford still worked for the library, making calls (and some appearances) on behalf of the levy to form the Library District, which passed in November 2010.

"When she couldn't get out to the meetings, she'd call, and write letters. She talked to people. Her presence was made," Don said.

Nielsen said the table has been up for a month and a half and it already gets used extensively. With that in mind, the library installed a new wireless router so people can sit at the bench and get Internet.

"People work on their computers, they chat; it's a meeting place - a great legacy for Virginia."

Schend said, "There's no city park in this vicinity, and people pass this way downtown and to the library, and I don't think there's any day there isn't someone milling about, relaxing, reading a book, having ice cream, or whatever. It's a gem and it's a memorial to her."

McNew recalled doing landscaping on the Hosford home in 1991 and singing as she worked. Virginia, a member of the Sweet Adelines chorus, heard her and enlisted her to join the group.

"That was the start of my time as a Sweet Adeline, and that was beginning of my admiration for Virginia," McNew said. "I always admired her enthusiasm as well as her talent."

McNew recalled that it was the Stoltz family donation of land to the west of the library that enabled the Foundation to begin planning and fundraising to create the park, and McNew was chosen as designer.

"In that first phase, 2004-05, there were so many meetings to plan and finance it, and the actual creation couldn't have happened without the contributions of Virginia along with numerous other people," she said, citing the Foundation, former library director June Knudson and County Public Works director Dean Guess and crew, "and many volunteers," McNew said in her letter.

"However, what stood out for me was Virginia, with her immense focus and willingness to get things done, to find a solution, compromise where needed and make difficult decisions if necessary.

"Without her, it would have been far more challenging to create a complete Georgiana Smith Park," McNew said.

"It was a pleasure to have worked with her on this park renovation project, and I will always appreciate her friendship."

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