Dec. 15, 2018 — Siuslaw Public Library’s long-time employee Mary Colgan-Bennetts passed away in November. A warm and insightful soul, she served most recently as circulation supervisor and was instrumental in creating and organizing the library’s popular public art displays and interactive demARTS program.
The most recent demARTS event was held at the beginning of October, when the Florence branch’s display area was officially renamed the Mary Colgan-Bennetts Gallery. Colgan-Bennetts was on hand, via Skype, for the dedication and her upbeat attitude and love for the arts were still apparent, even while fighting a deadly health situation.
Siuslaw Public Library Director Meg Spencer was not only Colgan-Bennetts colleague, but her friend.
“I feel like I learned from Mary every moment I spent with her. She was a model of grace, cheerful public service, and old-fashioned common sense with some Irish wit thrown in for good luck,” Spencer said. “She made this library shine brighter with her passion for art and her commitment to the community. I miss her every day; we all do.”
Colgan-Bennetts’ appreciation of the many different forms of art and literature was deep and inclusive. When speaking with her, there was a sense that she was always more pleased when she was discussing a new book or an artist she had met for the first time.
Even more enjoyable to her was the chance to share those books and artists with members of the community and her friends.
This desire to share some of the beauty of life with others was one of the reasons Colgan-Bennetts started demARTS, a day dedicated to artists and demonstrations, and worked all year to bring a wide variety of artists to the hallways, display cases and walls of the library. These public spaces rotated artists and the types of art shown, showcasing well-known local artists and introducing many others to the public.
Kevin Mittge, the library district’s adult services librarian, first met Colgan-Bennetts nearly 20 years ago and the two became good friends, sharing life’s ups and downs for the last decade.
“I first met Mary when I came to work at the Siuslaw Public Library in 2000. Over the next several years, I became friends with Mary and her husband Buzz Bennetts and enjoyed their company in Florence. I’ll never forget when a young cousin visited from Germany,” Mittge said. “Mary and Buzz invited us to join them at their weekly dinner at Paisano’s, a pizza restaurant in Old Town. They were both so kind and welcoming.”
The past and how it impacted the present was also one of Colgan-Bennetts’ great areas of interest. She was never happier than when discussing a trip she had taken to visit her mom, or a day trip taken unexpectedly with her best bud to a cemetery to check out some ancient headstones or a special garden she had discovered online.
Mittge is also a member of the Siuslaw Genealogical Society and remembers when the duo turned their attention to the field of genealogy.
Colgan-Bennetts’ husband had passed away and the study of family history became a passion for the two friends.
“After Buzz’s passing, Mary decided to become more involved in family history research, joined the Siuslaw Genealogical Society, served as an officer and was a wonderful, creative volunteer for all of the society’s activities,” he said. “She was very proud, in particular, of her Irish heritage which came through her father’s family, the Colgans.
“I had attended national genealogy conferences over the years and Mary thought it would be fun to attend also, so we took two long road trips to the National Genealogical Society’s conferences in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Mary also particularly enjoyed the genealogical conferences and seminars put on by the Oregon Genealogical Council in Eugene.”
The pair’s interest in genealogy was just one of the pastimes that inspired the two to take to the great unknown. Simple curiosity was another.
“Mary and I shared some interests besides genealogy, in particular, road trips,” Mittge said. “Either one of us could suggest a road and see if the other was interested. Some of these were to garden shows, Oregon historical sites and, in the last couple years of Mary’s life, to Oregon’s covered bridges.”
Colgan-Bennetts’ deeply held affinity for the color, beauty and diversity of the world manifested itself in the photographs she took and the many crafts that she enjoyed.
Her love for the scenic countryside that she visited with Mittge was one of her favorite subjects and once she turned her eye to a subject, she was always searching for new elements of her discovery to investigate and to share with patrons of the library.
“Mary’s goal was to visit all the covered bridges in Oregon,” Mittge said. “While she didn’t make it to all of them, she visited the majority, and was able to show her covered bridge photos at the library in July 2017.”
Her recognition of the natural ability, and the inherent individuality of artists, allowed Colgan-Bennetts to support the physical creation of art of all types. Her desire to introduce new interpretations and new approaches to artistic genres was central to her overall approach to art and to presenting that art to the public.
It was also why so many residents of Florence participated in demARTS each year — that and the fact that nearly everyone who knew her cared deeply for her and will remember her.
Mittge summed up his feelings and those of many others with a simple statement.
“Mary was a good friend. I, and everyone who knew and loved her, will miss her deeply,” he said.
Spencer has been in contact with the Colgan family during this time of loss and will be sharing with the community information regarding arrangements once they have been finalized.
Spencer did say that the district will be holding a special tribute for Colgan-Bennetts and will coordinate those plans with the family.
“We will plan to close the library for one Sunday in mid-January to hold a remembrance for Mary,” Spencer said. “I am waiting for final word from the family. It will be an open house, Irish Wake and celebration of life. We will be sure to get the information to the paper when we know the date. It will also be posted on the library’s website, Facebook, etc.”