Friday, May 01, 2020

Mary Leb – a welcome smiling face in the Reference department – will retire May 1 after 24 years with the Fond du Lac Public Library. Normally a milestone such as this would be celebrated with a staff potluck, cake and lots of laughs. But, life under COVID-19 means long-distance farewells.

Leb, a Fond du Lac native, started at the FDL library when she was working on her master’s in Library Science degree, which she received from UW-Milwaukee in 1998. Now known for her expertise in local history and genealogy, Leb says that specialization didn’t take root until she worked with supervisor Kay Conrad, who opened her up to the wealth of resources available.

Over the years, Leb’s been involved in several major projects, including the city’s L.I.F.E. report in 2007, the Vital Statistics Index for Fond du Lac County and the library’s monthly History at Home programs. She also worked on acquiring a grant to digitize some of city and county directories and other early books of Fond du Lac, which now are part of the state digital collection at UW-Madison.

Leb said her genealogy work has been particularly rewarding.

“There have been visitors from all over the United States and the world,” she said. “I was able to help many of them find information on their families using our resources, especially the county directories, cemetery indexes and county history books.

“I’ve had a few instances where I was able to connect people with relatives they didn’t know they had,” Leb recalls. “I was working with someone visiting from Georgia. As we were talking, there was someone from Oshkosh doing research on the same family. They connected and exchanged information.

“Another time, I had recently answered a genealogy question from California, and a visitor came to the library requesting information on the same person. After getting permission from the person in California, they exchanged email addresses.”

Leb recalled one of the most-unusual questions that came to her while working the Reference Desk.

“Someone wanted a recording of what he described as our accent. I was able to piece together a few examples from some old cassette recordings,” she said.

Library Director Jon Mark Bolthouse said, “Mary’s deep knowledge of Fond du Lac history and her expertise in genealogy will be truly missed by library staff and our community. We wish her well as she embarks on this new chapter in her life.”

Leb said that while she’s looking forward to retirement, she knows she’ll miss the genealogy patrons, library volunteers and her coworkers.

Pictured at left: Mary Leb takes a minute during the Fond du Lac Public Library’s 2019 Fondue Fest Doggy Oasis to pose with grandson Greyson Leb.