The Nokomis Club of Redmond is celebrating its 110th anniversary at the end of this month.
The club started in 1909, when seven Redmond women gathered to form a book discussion group. Inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1855 poem, “Hiawatha,” the women named their literary club “Nokomis,” after the wise grandmother of Hiawatha.
Since a June 3, 1909 meeting, the Nokomis Club embarked on a social, literary and public venture, which later resulted in Redmond’s first public library.
“Their theme and value was the community” said Nokomis Club president Alexa Munoz. “I think the other thing the women tapped into was a desire to take care of and assist the community.”
Doris Townsend, chair of the club’s scholarship committee, said the club was formed during a time when Redmond was “very rough.”
“These women in the community were the movers and shakers,” she said. “They started investing in activities with children and brought more attention to that. “
Their vision was and is to follow the inspiration of Nokomis, who was a wise woman of “vision, kindness, and strength,” according to Longfellow’s poem. The club’s mission is to promote and support education programs and projects and to address social needs in the community with commitment, empathy and strength.
And that is what the club has been doing for 110 years.
Members of the club met biweekly and then monthly. Initial projects included studying literature, sewing and buying clothes to donate to the Industrial Home in Des Moines, and then fundraising to fund school and community improvements. Improvements included donating $100 toward construction of a new school gymnasium, constructing a fountain in Anderson Park that included drinking fountains, donating to Redmond High School’s athletic association, and paying off the $29.21 debt on a school piano. All improvements were funded with meeting dues, community dances, card parties and good cooking.
By 1927, the club’s objective changed to the formation and administration of Redmond’s library. A vote to establish a library was submitted on March 25 of that year.
Nokomis leased Postmaster Herman Reed’s two-room building, located between the Trading Post and Lentz’s Dry Goods on Leary Way, for $10 a month. The women went around town collecting books, purchased 80 books for $35, and ordered $115 worth of books.
Redmond’s first library officially opened on Oct. 29, 1927. The library was open four days a week for a total of 10 hours each week. Club members took turns volunteering as librarians. During the first year, the library boasted a circulation of 7,009 books, according to the club’s meeting notes.
With two years in Reed’s building, the library proved too small. In Sept. of 1929, the library moved to the Grand Central Hotel Ballroom on the northeast corner of Leary Way and Cleveland Street. The book collection then expanded with a loan of 300 books from the Washington State Traveling Library.
The 1932 Nokomis club president, Mabel Johnson gave a talk about working toward getting the library a building of its own, so a committee was appointed. Approved in December 1932, the committee laid out the “depression-era” cost for the first building owned by the club.
The total cost paid for labor, lumber, wiring, hardware, plumbing, painting, light fixtures, and alcohol was $420.13. The land at the corner of Kirkland Avenue (now Northeast 80th Street) and Cedar where the library was built, was donated by Alfred N. “Fred” and Irene W. Brown.
The new library was dedicated on Feb. 12, 1933. By 1940, the Redmond library held 3,890 volumes, served 1,400 patrons and had a circulation of 7,610. A large clubhouse was added in the back by 1937. The clubhouse was used for fundraising dinners and dances. The space was also rented out to the community.
After negotiations, the Redmond library became part of the King County Library System in January 1947. Club members continued to house the library without being compensated for rent or utilities. Nokomis also met in the library building for club meetings. A 1958 judgement of the King County Superior Court confirmed that the club owned the property.
Redmond Library’s 17,000-volume collection was moved into Redmond’s first building at 16425 NE Street on April 23, 1964. Since that relocation, the club was tardily billed for $1,830.97 for back taxes in January 1972. Members then decided to sell the building to the Chamber of Commerce, which was to “pay the back taxes, provide $300 each year for 15 years of scholarships to be awarded by the club, and allow the club to meet in the building for four hours on the last Friday of the month for 15 years,” according to the meeting notes.
Since 1975, the club awarded scholarships to Redmond High School students. Diana Hancock was the first senior to receive a Nokomis Club scholarship. The club continues to award scholarships to this day.
The women stayed active in raising money for scholarships. The club also donated $2,150.71 to the Redmond Senior Center for furnishing that is mostly found in the game room. On Sept. 29, 1995, Nokomis club members were notified that they were no longer permitted in the Nokomis building to host their meetings.
In 2016, the history-filled Nokomis building was demolished on Jan. 8. Munoz compiled and wrote “The Nokomis Club of Redmond: A Century of Community Service 1909-2009.”
“We all need food, clothing, and shelter,” Munoz said. “But beyond that, what women really do is work on community and [address] problems within a community. That really is what the essence of what these women did.”
Munoz said over the 110 years, 250 women participated in the club.
“They really created the value of education and social services that are important in this community,” she said.
Townsend added that you truly get a “pulse” of the community when you talk to the women in the community.