The following is an excerpt from A Brief History of the Holmes County Public Library by Fred W. Almendinger about former head librarian Vilma Pikkoja.
“It would be quite difficult and certainly much too lengthy a task to mention ALL the many able people whose interest and tireless efforts over the years have made the Holmes county Library the important community institution which it has become. The various librarians who have administered the library, the many persons who helped with financial aid especially during the ‘lean’ years; the employees who for a very small compensation devoted countless hours in service to the library. All these and many more have by their sincere and unselfish devotion to the cause brought the library to its present highly regarded position as a center of information and culture in Holmes County.
There is one person however who, because of her most unique background and by reason of her untiring service over and by doing the call of duty, should be given a special place in this or any future history of the Holmes County Library. I refer to Mrs. Vilma Pikkoja who assumed the duties of head librarian in April of 1958. Mrs. Pikkoja was born in Estonia, one of the three small countries bordering on the Baltic Sea, which have (much against their will) been absorbed into the Soviet Union. Her father was manager of a textile mill, chairman of the town council, and for a time mayor of their native city. A man of such background obviously would be interested in education for his children. After graduation from the local high school, Mrs. Pikkoja attended Dorpat University where she majored in library science and was in due time certified to be a public librarian. She was about to begin study for a master’s degree in library science when World War II began in the late summer of 1939. Russia invaded Estonia in 1940. For the next four and one half years the tides of war swept across the little country during which it was estimated that 120,000 Estonians were deported from their homes and were replaced by Russians. Other thousands became refugees and sought homes in other countries.
Eight years before the war Mrs. Pikkoja was married to August Pikkoja, at that time a school administrator in Estonia. The turmoil of war separated the young couple from their families and eventually even from each other. After many terrible experiences, which included for Mrs. Pikkoja walking entirely across Germany, the couple were almost miraculously re-united and were given employment by the United States military government in Germany.
In 1949, a representative of Church World Service interviewed the Pikkojas concerning the possible residence in the United States. they passed the tests and arrived in the U.S. and more specifically in New Philadelphia Ohio, in September of 1949. A month later, she obtained a position the New Philadelphia public library. She did extension work at Geneva College in Pennsylvania and at Kent State University in Ohio. In April of 1958 she accepted the position of head librarian of the Holmes County Library.
When Mrs. Pikkoja took over her duties in Millersburg the library was at a low ebb. Circulation had dropped from 101,000 in 1950 to about 56,000 in 1957. In her first year as head librarian, circulation increased to 82,000 and by 1959 reached a total of 134,000. It was through her efforts that the five branch libraries discussed earlier were set up as was the bookmobile, also mentioned earlier. The idea of having each of these branches emphasize some particular phase of library service was part of her plan.
In 1959 Mrs. Pikkoja prodded some 26 different groups to raise a fund of about $700.00 to enable the county library to join the Central Ohio Film Circuit which brought to the library some two dozen films each month for loaning to individuals and organizations. A total of 61 films were shown to 2,125 persons during the first two weeks after the service was inaugurated Another of her achievements was to persuade the County Commissioners to allot the entire intangible tax to the library. Along with her regular duties she set up a German story hour every Thursday at the Chestnut Ridge Branch. This was primarily for Amish children, thus giving her a chance to use her fluent German in her work. However, the two most important projects in which she took part were, FIRST: the plan, including fund raising for the new location of the library in the Patrick building, and SECOND: the securing the library the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award.
The new library building was bequeathed by Mrs. Daisy Patrick (who died in 1954) to her niece, Mrs. Sadie Close and niece’s husband the late William Close, with the provision that after the death of Mr. & Mrs. Close it should be given to the Holmes County Library Association to be used for library purposes. The Association rented the building from Mrs. Close and began plans to move the library from the basement of the Court House ( where it had been located for 24 years into new quarters. For months, under the guidance of Mrs. Pikkoja, there was a continuous round of activity in preparation for the move. A sizable fund was collected by an organization calling itself ‘Friends of the Library’ to help defray the cost of rehabilitating the room sin the Patrick Building a cost which eventually totaled about $12,500.00. Other people throughout the county also contributed time and labor to make the move possible. Amish women scrubbed floors, 4-H groups helped with the furnishing, and the Millersburg Branch of the Flexible Company donated furniture. The target date for dedication for the new facility was set for Saturday, April 15th, 1961.
Meanwhile, a plan was going forward to secure for the library the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award which in addition to the prestige involved, would give t
o the library the sum of $1,000.00. This was an award established by the Book-of-the-Month-Club in honor of Dorothy Canfield Fisher in recognition of the critical need of funds for the purchase of books by small libraries throughout the U.S.A. Only ten libraries in the entire United States were chosen to receive the award; so it was a signal honor that it brought to the Holmes County Library On Saturday April 15 1961, in a ceremony at the new library, two events of great importance in the history of the library were celebrated. The new building was dedicated and the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award was received. Holmes county Common Pleas Judge W.W. Badger was the emcee for the occasion. Dr. Harry Duncan, vice-president of the Library Board and long time supporter of the library, officiated at the dedication of the Patrick Memorial Library Building. The chief speaker for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award presentation was William Donahue Ellis, president of ‘Editorial Service, Inc.’ and author of historical novels on Ohio. It was indeed a memorable day in the history of the Holmes County Library and one not to be forgotten by any who were present on the occasion.
Mrs. Pikkoja continued to make the library a real service institution for the county. Among her many activities and projects should be mentioned here was the creation of an Archives committee for the purpose of publishing books pertaining to the history of Holmes county. Two such books were eventually published: AN HISTORICAL STUDY OF HOLMES COUNTY by Fred W. Almendinger in 1962 and FLASHES FROM THE PAST by Donald C. Egger in 1963. Although in an indirect way the library encouraged and supported the production and sale of these books, no library funds were used to cover the expense of publication.
It was perhaps inevitable that a person with the ‘drive’ possessed by Mrs. Pikkoja should eventually move on to new fields of endeavor and so it was with regret that her resignation was accepted by the Library Board in October 1963. Hers was indeed a record of great accomplishment for the library and the entire community. “