By Morgan Bryce
For more than 40 years, Lewis Cooper, Jr. Memorial Library has served as Opelika’s hub of reading, learning and research.
The building that houses the library was designated as Lewis Cooper, Jr. Memorial Library on May 10, 1976. Costing more than $500,000 to construct at the time, the 15,000 square foot structure houses approximately 46,000 books. Included a reading section, art gallery, audio-visual room and exhibit with historical items pertaining to Opelika.
The library was named after former Opelika mayor Lewis Cooper, Jr., who served as mayor from 1967 until his death in office in 1975. A born-and-bred Opelikan, Harold Cooper, Lewis’ son, said his father’s passion for his community drove him to go the extra mile in everything he did as mayor.
“My father was very accommodating to me and everyone he met,” Harold said. “He was always working to improve the city and make it a desirable place to live. If you lived in Opelika and got your name in the paper for doing something noteworthy or beneficial to the city, he would write you a letter and congratulate and thank you for what you did.”
After becoming Opelika’s mayor, Harold said Lewis made it one of his top priorities to restore the city to its former glory, and his Opelika upbringing and connections made while growing up in Opelika proved to be invaluable to his cause.
“My father, in his years of working for the Coca-Cola Company, worked his way up to the plant manager for the plant here in Opelika. After he got to be mayor, he used connections he made as the plant manager and secured funds for different projects in the city, such as redoing the vast majority of buildings downtown and constructing a new building to house Opelika’s library,” Harold said.
After nearly eight years of serving as Opelika’s mayor, Lewis passed away in his office on a Saturday afternoon on Aug. 9, 1975.
“I knew my daddy knew a lot of people and meant a lot to Opelika, but at his memorial service, there were many, many people there who told me how much my father’s contributions to both the people and city of Opelika meant to them. It was very meaningful to be able to hear those things from people,” Harold said.
Now, almost 40 years later, Cooper’s vision of improving the quality of life in Opelika is realized in the library named after him. Library director Rosanna McGinnis said she sees the impact that the library has on the community and what it means to Opelika.
“The people who visit our library are so friendly and know our staff by name. The small-town feel of this library, the friendliness of the patrons and the staff here make it a wonderful place to work,” McGinnis said.
The library hosted its 40th anniversary party on May 14, but McGinnis said that there will still be more opportunities to help celebrate the library’s anniversary this year.
“This library is here to benefit the city of Opelika and its citizens, and later this year the library we will be involved in some food drives and other charitable events to give back, because that’s the primary reason we’re here: to give back to the community.”
In regards to future plans for the library, McGinnis said she feels that the best is yet to come.
“I want to see the library grow to be more diverse in what we offer. I think people thought we were only a place to get books, and it’s true, but we have so much more to offer. We offer online-learning courses and look to expand those in the future. We plan on offering more in terms of reading programs, and of course, continually expanding the collection of books, entertainment and information we have here at the library. But we will always focus on the primary reason we’re here – to give back and enrich the minds of lives the people in Opelika,” McGinnis said.