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The Indelible Impact of Winifred Walters

After 26 years of service, Winifred Walters is retiring from the board of the Friends of the Oakland Public Library. Yes, that was an earthquake you just felt.

Board colleagues describe Winifred variously as “dedicated,” “incredibly organized,” “steadfast,” “calm,” and “kind,” but the word most often used is “thoughtful.” Her knowledge of the work of the Friends is encyclopedic, and she shares it with the kind of, well, thoughtfulness one might expect. Few among her colleagues haven’t had the experience in a meeting of her leaning in and saying, “Just so you know…” before delivering an explanation whose clarity is matched by its economy. Mercifully, then, she’s not going far.

When Winifred moved from San Francisco to the East Bay in the 1990s she noted that her branch library’s hours were quite limited. Looking for volunteer opportunities, she attended an information session at the Main Library where she determined that volunteering at the Bookmark Bookstore fitted her schedule best. It was a propitious choice: she still volunteers there to this day, happy to serve what she describes as “the face of our organization.”

In short order, Winifred became a board member, recruited by then-president Terry Preston, who served as something of a mentor in board and library matters. Typical of her thoroughness and preparation, Winifred asked to read the bylaws before she signed up! No prospective member had ever made that request before, Terry told her. She served as board president from 1999 to 2005, a busy time that included the passage of Measure Q, which still provides a substantial proportion of OPL’s funding. In 2006 Winifred’s association with OPL deepened when she joined the library’s administrative staff. It was an exciting time as she helped raise $3 million in private funds for books and furnishings for the 81st Avenue branch, which opened in 2011. She retired from OPL in 2017.

Winifred Walters in 2014, OPL Program: Bike Ride with Author Elly Blue from Chavez Branch to 81st Ave Branch (photo by Sharon McKellar/OPL)

When asked which accomplishments of the Friends during her tenure stand out, Winifred notes both the overall increase in membership and that members are able to join at a number of different levels, with giving at the higher levels having grown over the last two decades. Perhaps most important, though, is that the Bookmark Bookstore survived the existential threat posed by the current pandemic with the aid of the careful stewardship of the Friends bookstore committee, manager Phyllis Couillard, and volunteers.

While Winifred’s departure leaves a giant hole in our counsels, fortunately she’s not riding (or bicycling) off into the sunset. Rather, she’ll continue to volunteer at the Bookmark, and I know this most modest of women will always be ready with sage advice if asked. Thank you, Winifred, from your legion of fans among colleagues and friends for all you’ve meant to the Friends and to OPL. We will miss you.


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