A new memorial at the Park Rapids Area Library recognizes gifts totaling $43,000 from the family of Barb Ranson, who died in 2010.
The black and gray metal artwork hangs from the ceiling beside the door to the library office, accompanied by two plaques bearing a photo of Ranson and saying, “In recognition of a gift to the Park Rapids Area Library in memory of Barbara Ranson, to encourage young women to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), from the Bloom Family Foundation and the Ranson family.”
Depicted in the sculpture are mathematical symbols, including the Greek letters pi, theta and sigma and the infinity sign; a microscope and a beaker, representing science; gears, representing engineering and technology; and a female silhouette.
“I’m glad to see something honoring mom,” said Barb’s son John during a family gathering Wednesday at the library. “It’s wonderful.”
“I think that my mom would be proud of this as a chosen charity,” said John’s brother, Ben Ranson. “She really loved teaching.”
“She was very sick, and had been for a while, but she loved the library and spent a lot of time here in her last days,” said Barb’s husband, Ed Ranson. “She loved to read. The library staff was just very, very kind. They made it possible for her to be here when she was quite sick.”
Ed recalled coming to the library from his workplace nearby to see his wife and help her if needed. “Barb had her own spot, back there in the corner, and they catered to her needs here,” he said. “We’re very grateful, because it allowed her to have good hours during the day in a place that she really liked.”
When Barb died, the family asked that memorials be directed to the library. In addition to that first round of about $8,000, the Ranson family and a family foundation started by Barb’s parents, Marge and Gordon Bloom, donated another $35,000.
According to Ed, Barb went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hoping to major in math. “They would not allow her to do it,” he said. “They told her, at the time, that ‘women don’t major in math here.’ So, she went into civil engineering instead.”
Later, Barb went to North Dakota State University, earned a degree in math, and taught at Bemidji State University.
“She also went to the public school in Sebeka and would teach all the kids about ham radio and electronics,” said Ben. “She really liked kids. She was, in her own small way, kind of pioneering. I think she would like to see young women learning about science and technology. I think she’d be happy with that.”
Some of Barb’s memorial money has been used to fund the library’s Superstars of STEM program, which branch manager Jodi Schultz said they hope to make an annual event.
“The next one is April 4, 2020, with Dr. Veronica Pinnick from NASA,” said library assistant Leann Willenbring. Pinnick has worked on the aerospace program’s Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer.
Ed met with library staff to explain what they hoped the memorial would be used for. Schultz recalled that he told them, “You know what the library needs, but it would honor Barb to try to do some things to empower young women in math and science.”
“We at the library have appreciated your gift,” she told the family. “We’re really working on doing some STEM (projects).”
Part of Barb’s legacy has also helped start the library’s 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program, which promotes pre-literacy skills that will help children become successful readers. The back page of the program’s reading journal/parents’ guide features a blurb in memory of Barb Ranson.
“Thank you for allowing us the freedom to create a plaque,” Willenbring told the family. “I think it goes in line with your stance on education, and letting people express themselves like Barb would have wanted.”
Willenbring sketched out the design for the memorial and gave it to Shane Graham, a teacher at Park Rapids Area High School. Graham entered Willenbring’s design into a computer in the school’s industrial technology shop, and the machines there cut the shapes out of sheet metal. Rick and Laurie Schneider with Painted Oaks furnished the two plaques.
“We’re tremendously grateful for what the library did for Barb,” said Ed. “This was sort of a happy place during a tough time. I’m happy that we were able to do something for the library, because they did a lot for us.”
He added, “The town has a great resource here. We think it’s important to support the library.”