When I first entered the English Department as a Master’s student back in the fall of 2005, I had an idea that I was going to be an English professor. There were two things I didn’t know at the time. The first was everything involved in every step of the way, and second was how narrow the path is. I think most of my peers had a similar idea of their future and most had a similar veering off the path that I did.
Thankfully, the department did a lot of work acclimating my peers to the idea that most of us were going to be professionals in some sort of field that was not being a tweed-jacked English professor, smoking a pipe by a roaring fire, and pontificating to rapt undergraduates. Is that even an image these days?
I want to talk about transferable skills and working with a mission parallel to your own love of literature and criticism that may introduce you to some ideas that are outside of my original vision.
I am currently the Director of Data Analytics at a nonprofit providing service to the Intellectually / Developmentally Disabled community in the western suburbs of Chicago. This position is not one that you would immediately think of as part of the progress of someone who had majored in creative writing as an undergraduate and pursued graduate work in English. I have had to do extra schooling, and my path wasn’t always linear, but what has always stood me in good stead is the work I did at K-State.
Fundamentally, a key piece of any position is in storytelling and crafting a narrative. At every step in my career, I have been praised for my writing. I think a key component of being a good writer is having read a lot, but there’s nothing I owe to the improvement of my writing more than teaching Expository Writing. There’s nothing like really thinking about why student writing doesn’t work — and why it does — to make you reflect on your own work.
I’m not here to talk about that, but it gives context for what I do want to talk about.
After I’d been working at that nonprofit for a couple of years, my wife and I were looking to buy a house. We decided to buy in the town that the agency was located, and now we have lived in Brookfield for almost a decade. It’s not a home, though, until you invest in it. That’s why I decided to get involved with the library.
Back in 2015, various stakeholders had been working on a process to get a new building built for almost a decade. The current library was too small for all the programming they wanted to, and the kids’ section was right on top of the adult section and the roof leaked and there was no meeting space for the community.
I got involved with the library’s political action committee they had set up to advocate for a referendum to issue a bond to borrow money and build a nice new building on an adjoining property. Specifically, I was the head of the canvassing committee, working on getting volunteers to walk around the village and knock on people’s doors and ask them to please support the bond issue.
The election was in November of 2016, and as we watched the returns come in on our phones at a local restaurant, we also watched the national returns. The bond issue failed but that was overwhelmed by the news of the other election happening that night. We left dejected.
We regrouped though. The board at the time decided not to go for another referendum. Instead, they got the architects to work on a more compact building and found a new mix of funding. There were existing reserves to work with, a line of credit was opened, and a new fundraising arm was started, which I worked on. The community responded, and we raised almost two million dollars, without which the capital project would not have been possible. And without the lead donor, Linda Sokol Francis, and her gift of a million dollars, none of it would have been possible.
We broke ground in April 2020, as the final snows of the Chicago winter cleared, and the pandemic was starting to rage. We did not have a ceremony. But we did have one in July. We finally opened the new Linda Sokol Francis Brookfield Library. It’s a beautiful 24,000 square foot glass and steel monument to the community and all who volunteered their time and effort to make it real. I hope that it can stand in the community as a place of gathering and community center and programming and computer access and all the things a modern library stands for. But I hope most is that it stays a temple for books, so that the next kid can come along and get their library card and get their own books and disappear in the world, learn, and grow.
I don’t want to overemphasize my own role in the process. Though I served on two different committees and for the past two years as an elected Trustee, the building stands in witness to the the work of many. It has been a collective process from staff and the director to the volunteers and board members and funders. I am proud to have served in the capacities I have. It has helped make Brookfield into a home.
My part wouldn’t have happened, though, without the nurturing and guidance of mentors and teachers, starting with my parents and continuing today with the ongoing support of the professors in the K-State English Department. I am nothing without my broader community.
— J. Edgar Mihelic (MA ’21)