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Mark Payne ’71 was contentedly enjoying retirement from a career as a commercial construction contractor when a neighbor nudged him.

Would he, asked the woman with whom he had a “library-centric friendship,” raise money to build a new library for their little burg of Interlochen, Michigan? She had seeded the effort with a gift of $500,000.

“That was a commitment that I respected and I felt that, with her commitment at that level, maybe I’d help out,” he said.

So Payne, who was an English literature major at DePauw, evolved from being an avid reader and frequent user of Interlochen’s library to chairman of a capital campaign.

“I had never done it and I really had no interest in doing it,” he said. “This is totally out of anything that I would ever have anticipated participating in.”

So he took classes in fundraising and mounted a campaign that raised $3 million, $800,000 from grants and foundations and the rest from nearly 800 donors. Checks came from as far away as California and Florida, but virtually all donors had some sort of connection to Interlochen, a popular spot for summer vacations.

The town, best known for the Interlochen Center for the Arts, is in the northwest part of lower Michigan. (If you think of lower Michigan as a left-hand mitten, it’s roughly where the pinkie would be.) 

The old library, a pole barn erected in the mid-1980s, hosted book clubs, children’s programs and community events, Payne said. But it was structurally insufficient to hold the area’s annual snowfall of 150 inches. “The doors didn’t work in the winter and it had a lot of problems. But, you know, it was a library. So in a small community it was a big deal.”

Many people were skeptical when the campaign began, sure the property taxes they pay as part of the Traverse Area District Libraries would rise. But “this was all privately funded. This had no impact on our taxes whatsoever,” Payne said. “That was a big selling point in our fundraising.”

He ultimately toiled for five and half years, with the first 18 months or so spent organizing for the public campaign that lasted about four years. The result – a 10,000-square-foot energy-efficient structure that houses thousands of volumes and accommodates events for Interlochen’s 600 residents and their neighbors – opened last December.

“Mark's vision and determination took the concept of a new library from idea to reality,” said Andrew Morrison, Payne’s summer neighbor and the father of Drew Morrison, a member of DePauw’s Class of 2019. “Mark has made a difference and positive contribution to the lives of these people. A small, semi-isolated town now has a remarkable new library, thanks in large part to Mark Payne.”

Leaders the World Needs

is a regular feature of DePauw Magazine, which is published three times a year.

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