Cornelius “Corky” Van Handel was a volunteer to rival any volunteer. He passed away last summer, at the age of 70, while volunteering with a road cleanup crew along the roadways of Green Bay. But most of his volunteering took place right here in New London.
Some may recall his presence in the classrooms of elementary schools throughout the district, either reading to students, or teaching them how to grow a garden. Others may have been fortunate to hear his laugh and witness a wink as he donned a Santa suit each December.
The children from BABES were special to his heart, and Corky was passionate about all children. He wanted nothing more than to make a difference in the life of a child. He proved this many times as a founding member of the Friends of the Library. He was their first president in 2003 and took the lead again in 2007. Over the years the library was able to bring in entertainers and storytellers, buy puzzles, books and book bins. The Friends also purchased support items for the library. The list goes on and on.
Corky had ideas on how to raise funds for the library. “Corky was the Brat King,” said Faye Wohlrabe, current Friends board member. “From the very first book sale and brat fry we had in September of 2003, he took on the grilling job. He even built the grill himself!”
After a few years, The Friends of the Library were able to fund the after school movie licensing fee and incentive prizes for the summer reading programs. One year they ordered dollar bills in a sheet from the U.S. Treasury and the children were allowed to cut off a crisp, new dollar bill when they accomplished their goals. “That was a big hit with the readers,” said Connie Zolkoske, current Friends president. “We had our biggest participation that summer.” Corky and his wife, Diana, purchased the library’s subscription to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal for years.
Zolkoske said it has been a big blow to the entire library not having Corky around. “He was the idea guy. He’d get so excited about raising money and putting it to good use for the kids.”
On Thursday, March 3, the Friends of the Library board met with Corky’s wife, Diana, to present a lifetime membership award, in Corky’s memory. The plaque was simple and Corky’s full name fills the first section. It was designed to hang in the library and be added to as time goes by.
“He would be very proud of this honor,” said Diana. “Corky was happiest when he was doing things for others.”
The plaque was discussed in Friends meetings prior to Corky’s death. He and other board members had decided it would be a good idea to have one, showing the progress of the volunteer group. “He wouldn’t have wanted us to spend a lot of money on it, especially if we could use that money to do things for the children,” explained Zolkoske. “He’d be proud to have his name on it though, so we’re glad we did this.”
Diana admitted she wasn’t the volunteering type and always marveled at how much her husband accomplished. “He got tricky after some years; he’d usually talk me into his volunteering before I knew what hit me. He made me think it was my idea.”
The Friends of the Library will continue their mission to provide the library needed materials and services to enhance the learning of those who utilize the library. Corky’s ideas to deliver books to the homebound and have books sales to raise funds will continue. He wanted children to have books to read, people who would help them and a fine place to go. He envisioned a new library and never gave up on that dream. He believed in continued education, himself achieving a Masters degree at the age of 68.
“We’ll never forget our friend Corky, and we’re still working to build that new library that supports our children and our community,” said Zolkoske.