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Side of Ranch

Little Free Libraries continue to grow in the Lakewood Ranch area

Lakewood Ranch Little Free Library founder Elizabeth Henderson and Neel Menon dedicate the new library in Bob Gardner Park to Jai Menon, Neel's brother who died in 2016.
Lakewood Ranch Little Free Library founder Elizabeth Henderson and Neel Menon dedicate the new library in Bob Gardner Park to Jai Menon, Neel's brother who died in 2016.
Photo by Jay Heater
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We live in a community where we get used to some very great, big things.

By big, I mean really big.

Big parks, big festivals, big charity events.

Consider that much of it seems natural in an affluent community like Lakewood Ranch and vicinity.

It's pretty darned nice, to be honest.

But your vision can become blurred to the point where it's hard to recognize the little things. Perhaps it is your next-door neighbor bringing your trash can up to your garage door because you get home late from work.

Maybe it's that little rock you found below one of your hedges that says, "Your smile is beautiful."

It's someone holding the door for you at the grocery store because you are loaded down. It can be those concerned calls you get because a loved one is in the hospital.

Or it can even be a library. A little library.

The fire early in the morning on July 5 consumed not only the Greenbrook Adventure Park pavilion, but the Little Free Library that was placed under the pavilion by the Lakewood Ranch Little Free Library Club.

On a day-to-day basis, I doubt many people think of this club's contribution to the community, with the exception of those families who have made a Little Free Library stop a part of their weekly routine.

I would admit, I haven't given the Little Free Library much thought since the East County Observer ran a story about the new one in Greenbrook in April. I was concentrating on the big thing, which is the new Lakewood Ranch Library, a $17.3 million, 50,000-square-foot facility.

Savana's Ronan Knauf pulls a book from the Little Free Library that opened July 22 at Bob Gardner Park in Lakewood Ranch.
Photo by Jay Heater

The big library will open late this year and it will be heralded with marching bands and proclamations. And rightly so.

But that doesn't diminish the worth of the Little Free Library, which often is the size of a very big medicine cabinet.

You've heard it before, it's the thought, and the love, that goes into the construction and the maintenance of such a thing. Who would do it?

Certainly, the founder isn't going to get a medal. There won't be a Nobel Prize for Peace. You won't increase your chance of hitting the lottery.

But ask Elizabeth Henderson, and she might be able to explain why she founded the Lakewood Ranch Little Free Library club. Or better yet, go to Bob Gardner Park on White Eagle Boulevard in Lakewood Ranch and wait for a family to open the door of the Little Free Library that just opened there July 22.

Watch and see the smiles of children as they pull books off the shelves. See the satisfaction of parents, knowing this little pearl of a gift has brought joy to their children.

The morning after the fire destroyed the Adventure Park pavilion, I talked with several families as they walked up to use the park. Most said the Little Free Library always was included in their visit. They worried whether it would be rebuilt, and they talked about their appreciation for those responsible for building and stocking it.

Henderson and Arielle Monserez appreciated every comment. The Greenbrook Little Free Library was dedicated to Irene Farese, Monserez's mother. Farese, an avid reader, died of pancreatic cancer in June 2022. Many of the books in the Greenbrook Little Free Library were owned by Farese.

On July 22, the appreciation flowed as well. This time, the Little Free Library had been dedicated to Jai Menon, who died in 2016. He loved science fiction books, and the new Little Free Library had been stocked with those.

His brother, Neel Menon, cut the ribbon for the new Little Free Library, and his parents, Girish and Raji Menon of Magnolia Ranch, watched with knowledge that this place of joy would always honor Jai.

After the ribbon cutting, little Ronan Knauf reached high to the bottom shelf of the Little Free Library, knocking over a container of pens, but securing a children's book.

"We're new to this area," said his mom, Savana's Kristen Knauf, but he loves a library. And here, he gets to play outside, too. This is such a great asset to the community."

Henderson has experienced a lot of emotions since the Greenbrook library opened, then burned, and the Bob Gardner Park library opened.

"This is the true sense of community," Henderson said as she looked around at about 50 people who came to celebrate the opening of another Little Free Library.

So onward she goes, with the plans for another Little Free Library to open in the Country Club East/Edgewater park in August. She also noted that the Adventure Park Little Free Library already has been rebuilt and will be ready to open whenever the Adventure Park pavilion is rebuilt.

Considering what an important asset the pavilion was to Greenbrook residents, that shouldn't be too long.

They only had a few months to fall in love with their Little Free Library, and now those who live in the neighborhoods surrounding Bob Gardner Park are likely to do the same.

When they do, they will see a little plague at the top center of the Little Free Library. It reads, "Jai. Always and Forever in our hearts."

On second thought, perhaps it is not such a little thing.



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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