Violet Schuele Riker brought public library service to Jefferson Township. According to research by Gloria Mikowski, a member of the Jefferson Township Historical Society, Riker set out to establish a library during the Depression under the federal government’s Works Progress Administration.
According to the 1940 census, Riker was born on August 2, 1910. At 29 years old, she lived on Russia Road with her husband, Richard, and their children: Richard Carl (3) and Elizabeth Claire (4). Another child, Rosalie Ann, was born three years later.
Mikowski notes that Riker, an organizer and first president of the Milton Parent Teacher Association, was asked by Morris County Library Services to find a location. She did, and then solicited the assistance of her PTA colleagues to gather books. They set up a library station in the hallway of the White Building at 54 School House Road, which had previously served as a four-room school. (It later became the Board of Education’s administrative offices and, since the 1980s, has been a senior center and county nutrition site.)
When construction began for Milton Elementary School in 1955, the public library was moved into the front porch of Riker’s home on Berkshire Valley Road (in the vicinity of today’s Village Way and a strip mall). After 14 years of growth, another move was required to accommodate additional books and space for patrons. The vacant Hot Lunch Building behind the new Milton School was renamed Violet Schuele Riker Public Library in her honor.
The next expansion was into the old Milton House on the corner of Dover-Milton and School House Roads. Built by Bryant Norman during the Gold Rush days, his home had served as a hotel in the late 1800s and then housed summer boarders. According to Mikowski, the basement was flooded after heavy rains. The books were dried out and the library was moved again by volunteers, including local Girl Scouts.
According to former mayor Horace Chamberlain, in 1960 a century-old farmhouse on Dover-Milton Road was leased to the Library Association for $1 by Ellsworth and Evelyn Brown, descendants of previous owner Amos Chamberlain. The Friends of the Library, organized in 1959, and other volunteers refurbished and equipped the house. Mikowski, who worked there as Riker’s assistant for many years, recalls one of the library’s biggest events: the day Violet bought a porta-potty for the bathroom-less building. Eventually, the Library Association purchased the quaint structure.
To extend library services to the Lake Hopatcong area, Riker worked with volunteers to establish two branches under the Library Association. According to some residents, one of the branches was located above Tyler’s Lakeside Barbershop and Ronnie’s Golden Touch Hair Salon on Route 15 near what is now Bowling Green Parkway. The Morris County Free Library loaned additional books and provided other services, and both branches received funding from the township.
Mayor Chamberlain proclaimed June 13, 1979, as Violet Schuele Riker Day, and a dinner in her honor was held at Michelangelo’s Restaurant on Berkshire Valley Road in Milton. In his speech, the mayor noted Riker’s service as vice chair of Jefferson’s Tercentenary Committee. Other beneficiaries of her hard work included the Garden Club, Milton Quiltin’, and Friends of the Riker Library’s annual arts and crafts shows. She introduced preschool story hours, movies for senior citizens and children, summer reading programs, bookmark contests for kids, and the county’s bookmobile service. Riker made the library more attractive and useful to college students, the business community, do-it-yourselfers, and those who read for enjoyment, the mayor added. Rosalie Ann Riker Paddock recalls that her mother was also responsible for starting the hot lunch program at Milton School.
In 1980, a new solar-heated public library opened in the municipal complex on Weldon Road, where the Violet Riker Meeting Room was named in her honor. The Amos Chamberlain homestead later became the Jefferson Township Historical Society museum – and, to this day, does not have indoor plumbing. The cherry tree on the property was planted by Violet’s family in her memory, said Mikowski.
Riker moved to Sparta in 1979 and continued her volunteer efforts by helping the handicapped in Sussex County for the next 20 years. According to journalist Elizabeth McGreal (The Sunday Trends, September 1984), after being a patient in the rehabilitation center at Newton Memorial Hospital, Riker established and led the We Care Club to provide support, social and recreational activities, and public education. One of her seven grandchildren, Rebecca Paddock, recalls that Riker advised the governor on disabilities. Using a walker, a wheelchair, and canes, she also fulfilled her dream of traveling, including a trip to Germany in May 1984.
Riker died on November 27, 1999, at the age of 89 in Garland, Texas. She left an indelible legacy for the communities and people she loved and served, taking on projects that some considered impossible and bringing them to fruition. Rebecca Paddock describes her Grammy as a powerhouse. “If she saw something that needed to be done, she stepped up to the plate and made things happen.” In Violet’s own words, “All someone has to do is say that it can’t be done, and I’ll do my utmost to see that it is.” Bobbi Paddock-Mulqueen remembers her grandmother as an outstanding woman who “did not have a judgmental bone in her body” and accepted people as they were.
Today, the Jefferson Township Public Library is a thriving place where people gather to explore, interact, and imagine. It offers a variety of programs and events in addition to print and digital information that is free, available, and accessible. According to library director Seth Stephens, more than 7,000 patrons have library cards in addition to the many others who make use of print and audio resources, technology, services, adult and children’s programs, activities, and more.
The library’s bimonthly newsletter is appropriately named “Violet’s Porch.”