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Posted on: June 14, 2022

New Library Branch to be Named In Honor of Generous Local Family

Eudell Watts, III, and sister Marie Grigsby with photo of their late parents.

Progress continues on a new Rock Island Public Library (RIPL) branch inside the future Two Rivers YMCA facility at 2715 30th Street in Rock Island, including the announcement of an official name.

The RIPL Board of Trustees has officially voted to name the future location as the Watts-Midtown Branch. The name honors the enduring support shown to the library by the late Lorene Evans Watts, and her son, Eudell Watts, III, as former and current members of the library board. 

Watts was honored by the Library and the Rock Island Public Library Foundation at their recent Food for Thought fundraiser on June 9 with the name announcement. To celebrate the event, the Foundation voted to designate the 2022 fundraiser proceeds toward the Lorene Evans Watts fund for Children Materials held by the Library Foundation. 

Community service and social justice are somewhat of a Watts family legacy. “Mom always found a way to help people, and that rubbed off on us and on Dad. It really rubbed off on everybody. They went about it in a quiet way,” said daughter Marie (Watts) Grigsby. 

“They helped more people than we’ll ever know, added Eudell, noting that his mother was well known throughout their neighborhood as an after-school and summer tutor, and for the informal food program she ran for neighbors in need.  A former neighbor and teacher once told him, “that there were days when we didn’t know if we would make it, if not for Mrs. Watts.”  

After her appointment by Mayor James Haymaker, Mrs. Lorene Watts served on the library board from September 1968 through late 1973. Mrs. Watts completed terms as board secretary from 1969 through 1971, and as vice-president during the library’s centennial year of 1972-73.  She served on the board’s personnel, books and periodicals, finance, and Operation Read committees. Before joining the RIPL board, she also served on the first Rock Island Human Relations Commission from 1960 to 1965.  Professed to the secular order of St. Francis, she served as a delegate from St. Joseph Church to the Synod 6 Diocese of Peoria General Assembly in March 1974.  

Eudell Watts III was appointed to the library board of trustees by Mayor Mark Schwiebert in October 2003. He is currently serving his third term as president of the trustees’ board, and also represents the library on the Rock Island Public Library Foundation Board of Directors. Mr. Watts has contributed his culinary talents to the Foundation’s Food for Thought fundraisers, and established the Lorene Evans Watts Memorial Fund for Children’s Materials with the Library Foundation.  Established in honor of his late mother’s contributions to education, the fund is now worth in excess of $50,000. The library receives an annual disbursement from the endowment. 

About the Project: 

The former Tri-City Jewish Center is now owned by the YMCA, with the Rock Island Public Library to occupy a portion of the building through a space-sharing agreement. Renovation is in progress. The YMCA and the Rock Island Public Library will share occupancy to provide additional locations and services to their existing operations, which include the library’s Downtown and Southwest buildings, and the Library2Go bookmobile.  Barring unforeseen delays, completion is expected in late 2022. 

The joint capital campaign has raised $7.8 million in private funding. Fundraising efforts are continuing to address additional funding needs created by supply chain and inflation issues. For more about fundraising for the Watts-Midtown branch, visit the library Support page.

Construction updates about the project will be posted on the library website at the Locations and Hours page

For other questions, please contact Rock Island Public Library Director Angela Campbell, 309-732-7300, or Rock Island Public Library Foundation executive director Kathy Lelonek, 309-752-3014.

Biographies: 

Lorene Evans Watts: Born in Pilot Point, Texas on October 9, 1907, Lorene Evans attended Walnut Grove School in Roanoke, Texas, a one-room school donated and built in 1909 by her paternal grandfather, J.D. “Bob” Jones. She graduated in 1926 from Kewanee High School, where she lived with her paternal grandparents to avoid school segregation in Texas. From 1929 to 1935, she returned to her hometown to teach at Walnut Grove School. She earned her teaching certificate at Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black university, attending part-time from 1926 to 1932. Married to Eudell Watts Jr, in 1935 in Kewanee, the Watts later moved to Rock Island where they raised Marie, Eudell III, James, John, and David. In 1959, she enrolled as a senior at Marycrest College in Davenport, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in education, graduating with her daughter, Marie. At the urging of her St. Joseph’s pastor, she resumed her educational career at St. Joseph’s Grade School, teaching third-grade there from 1959 to 1963. 

Mrs. Watts was a lifelong learner, taking art, French, and art education courses at The Sorbonne in Paris, Augustana College, and Black Hawk College. She passed away May 31, 1976. 

Eudell Watts III, has served on the RIPL Board of Trustees and Rock Island Public Library Foundation board for 19 years. He was appointed to the RIPL Board by Mayor Mark Schwiebert in October 2003, and is in his third (non-consecutive) term as president. Over the years, he has owned and operated multiple local businesses, most recently, Old Arthur’s BBQ Sauce, and volunteered for the St. Joseph’s evening meal board of directors, Rock Island and Illinois Jaycees, Franciscan Hospital Board, Quad City Chapter of the American Red Cross, and Breakfast Optimist Club.  A lifelong Rock Island resident, Mr. Watts has maintained an enduring focus on social justice. He was the youngest member and only person of color on the committee to establish Franciscan Hospital (now UnityPoint Health – Trinity Rock Island.) 

Watts earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology at St. Ambrose University, a master’s degree in sports management and sociology at Western Illinois University, and a culinary arts degree from Scott Community College. He is the father of Lorelei, Eudell IV, Tracy, Janice, David, and Isabel. 

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