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Marcellus Township Wood Memorial Library

History of the Library - Part 1

The Short Life of Russell A. Wood By Suzanne Lind

Introduction:  This is the first in a series of articles about the history and development of the Marcellus Township Wood Memorial Library.  These articles are intended to share some lesser known facts and stories from the library’s history.  Most of the information for these articles comes from the “archives” in the library basement.  Many old ledgers, newspapers, family albums, school histories and photos, pictures and memorabilia have been donated to the library over the years.  Minutes of library administrative meetings since 1895 are also stored there.  


One hundred years ago a young man from Kalamazoo and Marcellus, Russel Alger Wood, enlisted in the United States Army with the intention of fighting in World War I.  In October of 1918 he died of influenza in an army training camp in Morrison, Virginia.  He was 27 years old. 


Before leaving for the army, this young man wrote a will, which was signed on February 19, 1918.  In this will Wood left $7,000 “for the purpose of erecting and building a library building to be designated and known under the name of Russell A. Wood, or in memoriam of the said Russell A. Wood.”  This bequest was given to the Village of Marcellus, “upon the express provision and understanding that said Village of Marcellus shall furnish a sum of $3,000 in addition to said bequest to be used in the erection and building of said Library Building . . . “


The Marcellus Township did provide the additional funding required, and the Village of Marcellus has enjoyed the use of the library building, and its expansions over the years, ever since.  A lending library had been in existence in Marcellus since approximately 1895, but Russell Wood’s bequest made it possible for the library to be housed in a building designed for library use.  Later articles in this series will describe the library services available in Marcellus prior to 1918, and the process of designing and building the current library building.


There is a framed photograph of Russell Wood hanging in the Marcellus Township Wood Memorial Library.  Beside it is a framed copy of the will he signed.  Many people gaze at the photograph, read the will, and wonder how such a young man decided to leave so much money to a small Michigan township for a library.  (Adjusted to the current U.S. economy, this would amount to approximately $126,000.)


Not much is known about Wood and his family, but notes and articles in the library archives give a few glimpses of his life.  His parents were Sheffield and Charity Wood, who lived near Edwards Corners (the intersection of Flowerfield and Chamberlain Roads).  He attended Edwards Corners School and Sage Business College in Three Rivers.  He became an assistant manager of a Kresge’s store in Kalamazoo, but also, apparently, maintained the family farm near Marcellus. 


Samuel N. Lowry, who worked at the First State Savings Bank in Marcellus, and was a close friend to Wood as well as executor of his will, wrote a letter (March 14, 1919) to the man who informed him of Wood’s death.  In the letter Lowry says: 


“I read your letter . . . with great grief in my heart.  Had I known my friend, Russell, was in need of medical attention, I would have left my business and gone immediately to Camp Morrison, Va., and looked after him, but . . . he was dead before I knew anything about his being sick. 


“Russell was a young man without mother, father, brother or sister, and only had some distant cousins of whom he knew very little.  Knowing his mother for several years past, I felt deeply interested in him.  The last time I saw his mother, she asked me to see he kept the proper company, which he did.  He was a member of the M.E. Church of this village and was a young man of the best morals, never indulging in anything of a degrading nature.”  


It is likely that the $7,000 which Wood left for the library resulted from the sale of the family farm.  In his will, Wood instructed Lowry that, if the Marcellus Township “neglects or refuses” to give the additional $3,000 within two years of the time the will would be settled, the bequest would be cancelled.  In that case, Wood wanted Lowry to open a trust fund “for the benefit of, and to assist in providing for and to help the Orphan Children, made so by the war, or any other cause, or any benevolent society needing such help.”   He wrote that he trusted Lowry to ensure that such a trust fund “will not be squandered or used for purposes that will not benefit mankind.”


Thus, one hundred years ago this year, the Marcellus Township Russell Wood Memorial Library building began to take shape through the generosity of an idealistic young man.  Next week’s article in this series will tell more about how Wood’s death inspired an army doctor to work for better conditions in military hospitals. 


And, later in the series, items from a tiny notebook found in the library archives will give more glimpses into Russell Wood’s childhood and life in the Marcellus area in the early years of the 20th century.