WE NEED YOUR HELP — Support your hometown newspaper by making a donation.

Ruth Kirsch, pioneer of North Merrick library, dies at 95


Ruth Kirsch, a life-long book lover who helped create the North Merrick Library decades ago, passed away on April 3, 2021.  She was 95 years old.

A longtime Merrick resident, Kirsch was instrumental in the creation of the library. It was at a North Merrick school board meeting during which volunteers were sought to form a committee to establish a public library when she alone raised her hand. Kirsch volunteered her husband, Len, a public relations professional, to head the effort.  Soon, others joined.

What became a grassroots campaign through the neighborhood succeeded, and in November of 1964, residents voted to approve a budget to open the new North Merrick Public Library.

Kirsch was one of the first employees to join the library when it opened in 1965 at its original location on Merrick Avenue near Hill’s grocery.  She witnessed its growth from a small storefront location with an old-fashioned card catalog to a full-blown public library — complete with computers — at its current home on Meadowbrook Road, where she worked full-time as the circulation director until her retirement in 2006. 

Several years ago, she attended the library’s 50-year anniversary commemoration, which honored Len, who passed away in 2015, by naming a reading room after the library founder.

“My mother believed that libraries add vibrancy to a community’s intellectual life,” her daughter Annie Kirsch said.  “From her highly visible spot at the circulation desk, she welcomed generations of adults and children of all ages into the library community with a friendly, helpful spirit and felt it was her privilege to do so.”

Matching dedicated readers with new titles she thought they would like was one of her greatest joys, Annie recalled.

“She would say, ‘I’ve got something for you,’ to an unsuspecting patron who stopped at the circulation desk to chat,” Annie said. “Then she’d watch the person’s face light up with surprise and more than a little delight because she had remembered what they enjoyed reading.”

One library colleague from way back also remembered her fondly. Merrick native Barbara Smith worked closely with Kirsch behind the front desk as the library’s page.

“She was unique, thoughtful and kind,” Smith said. “She always supported the library and it’s programs, and she taught me a lot about customer service. I spent years with her — she felt like family.”

At the library, Kirsch was a “mentor” to Smith who remained a friend after she left the position in 1985.

“She was ahead of her time,” Smith added. “Her love of reading in the library was everything to her.”

Born in 1925, Ruth grew up in the Bronx where she graduated from Walton High School.  She attended Hunter College in Manhattan, from which she received a bachelor’s degree in Spanish. Ruth worked as assistant to the president of Solis Entrialgo, a New York-based buying office that procured fabrics made into apparel and sold at El Encanto, a well-known department store in Havana, Cuba.  Ruth married Len in 1950 and had two children, Stephen and Annie.

Human kindness and a deep empathy for others were her touchstones since childhood, her daughter said.  Growing up poor during the Depression, she stood in a handout line with her father and expressed sympathy for a little girl she knew whose shoes she noticed were torn.  They exited the line, but compassion, especially for those less fortunate than herself, remained with her.

Annie also recalled Ruth’s affection for actors, old-time songs, theatre and film. She dabbled in acting as a youngster, once playing a pirate in “The Pirates of Penzance,” learning the full repertoire of Gilbert and Sullivan’s score.  “She loved to recite Shakespeare with dramatic flair and teach me songs from old musicals of the 30s and 40s,” she said.

Her interest in government and world affairs and a curiosity about the meaning of life were a constant as well, Annie said.  “She could laugh at life’s ironies, but also savor the small moments that bring joy,” she recounted.

When it came time for retirement, Kirsch had to be persuaded to leave the library, not wanting to leave what became her second home.

“She did not want to retire,” Smith said. “When you talk about someone who they’d have to drag out kicking and screaming, she was one of those people,” she recounted with a laugh.

A service was held earlier this month at the burial.

Courtesy Annie Kirsch; Andrew Garcia contributed to this story.