CONWAY, S.C. (AP) — Dorothy Rankin had a system.
Every few weeks she’d take the short drive to Conway Memorial Library and peruse through the massive collection of books. Southern, Amish and Christian fiction novels were her favorite. Rankin would flip through the books, searching for something.
“’If my initials are there, I’ve already read it,’” Tracey Elvis-Weitzel recalled Rankin telling her. “‘If they’re not, then I can read it.’”
As Rankin got older, and less able to walk up the library’s steps, she would drive to the back parking lot and call the librarians and ask if they wouldn’t mind picking out a few books for her and to be sure to check for her initials.
Elvis-Weitzel, the assistant director of the county libraries, said Rankin’s request was an easy fix because they adored her. Over time, she would teach the other library employees Rankin’s system.
“When you open the front cover, and you look for the ones that don’t have her initials,” she remembered teaching them. “She was not very picky.”
Rankin died last April at the age of 90. Her love for the library was thick, so much so that she wrote in her will that her home near the Conway Elementary School be given to the library so it can be used for administrative offices. But county staff determined that the home couldn’t be used by the library after assessing the home and its corner lot, and must be sold. The proceeds will only go toward Conway Memorial Library.
The sale “represents the best practical utilization by the library,” county officials wrote in a memo regarding the sale.
Donating the home makes perfect sense to Donna Helms Cady, who was raised in Conway and grew up with one of Rankin’s daughters, Lela Schoeck. She says donations ran in the family. Cady spent many days and nights at the Rankin home, sometimes for pajama parties. She remembers seeing a portrait of a library hanging on the wall of the den.
That library was the Sadler Memorial Library in Thomasville, North Carolina, and was originally built partly due to a donation from Rankin’s parents.
The library, and her love of reading, was part of Rankin’s personality. A book was never far from Rankin’s hands, Cady said.
“Wherever she was she just loved it,” she said. “She’d stay up late so she could finish the ending of a book. She was a voracious reader and I think she instilled that in her children.”
Rankin’s son, South Carolina State Senator Luke Rankin, said his mother’s love of reading was passed down to him and his siblings.
“Reading was cool,” he said. “A book in your hand was not a square thing.”
County land records value the 2,553 square foot home and property at $260,000, which is about 5% of the library system’s annual budget. Though the home has not been put on the market, it may be listed as soon as November once county council approves an ordinance allowing the sale.
Those who knew Rankin when she was alive said her gift to the library is fitting with how she lived her life. She was always kind, generous and invested in her community, several people who knew her said. It felt only natural, then, that Rankin would tie her legacy to the Conway institution she loved the most: the library.
“It spoke volumes to me about the love that she has for her community and the legacy that she leaves as a person,” Elvis-Weitzel said.
David Nye, a real estate agent in Conway who grew up with his back door facing the Rankin’s back door, said both Rankin and her husband, O. A. “Rock” Rankin, were pillars of the community. Nye was friends with the Rankin’s children and when he and his wife got married, Rankin threw them a party at her home.
“She was the glue that kept everything going on a day to day basis,” Nye said.
As Rankin’s health declined, it became her nurse’s job to travel to the library and pick up books for her to read. That meant Elvis-Weitzel had to train another person on Rankin’s system.
Rankin’s donation of her home to the library isn’t her first. Elvis-Weitzel and other library staff said Rankin would occasionally slip a folded up check — sometimes $50 or $100 — into the hand of a library staff member as a donation.
“She loved her library,” Elvis-Weitzel said. “She loved her family. She loved the people that weren’t in the library.”
As he and his siblings sorted through his mother’s belongings and old family possessions, Luke Rankin said they found a past-due notice for a book from the early 1960s that was sent to one of his sisters. He joked that his mom left the family home to the library because she felt guilty for not paying the fee.
“She was just a classy, elegant woman who had a penchant for reading and a long, long time fan of, and customer of, the Conway Library,” he said. “If it was bedtime, mama had a book in her lap. I don’t know how she read as fast as she did.”
With the house he grew up in heading to market soon, Rankin said that he hopes its sale will let his mother’s legacy live on.
“Hopefully, the new buyer will pay handsomely and obviously they’re buying something that will benefit the next Dot Rankin’s,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll pay it forward.”