George McKee and I met every Wednesday at a group church meeting for over 16 years before he passed away. George was a certified tree arborist and ran McKee Tree Service near Blowing Rock. He had great knowledge of trees and their growth. I watched for articles on trees and usually had one to give him each week. One year in December I gave him an article about a particular old tree that I found in The State magazine.
I said, “Well, here’s your Christmas present for this year George. It will probably be the cheapest one you get.” George held the article in both hands and peered down at it and replied, “Yes, but the rest of them just give me stuff. You give me things to read!” He told me once he usually read each article in his truck while taking a break at work. To George having something good to read was better than gifts or money.
This Saturday on Nov. 13, the Friends of the Iredell County Public Library will have their annual “Fall Book Sale” from 9 to 5 at the library in Statesville. The sale will be held in the large meeting room to your left just after you enter the building. Facemasks are required for safety and you can bring a box and fill it up for only a $5 flat rate. All money the Friends make from the sale goes to support the library.
One person you would always see at any Friend’s book sale at the library was Lester Chambers. Lester operated Lester’s Bookshop for 35 years in and around downtown Statesville. His store moved a few times, but in 1999 he was at 118 W Broad St., occupying the floor below Ben Stimson’s Photography Studio.
In 2002, Lester closed his bookshop due to age and health issues. He couldn’t keep from sharing his love for books though and on Nov. 27, 2009 he reopened Lester’s Bookshop at 320 Signal Hill Drive behind the Cozumel Mexican Restaurant. Lester later closed this shop as well telling me that he was retiring.
I was at the Reference Desk one day later when I looked back and saw Lester pushing one of the library’s book carts toward the door. He had it piled with books he had just purchased from the Friend’s sale. Soon Lester’s Fine and Rare Books was back open at 120 W. Broad St. in downtown Statesville.
Lester and I both shared a love for Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allen Poe. We both agreed that Jeremy Brett. who portrayed Holmes on Granada Television from 1984 to 1994, made the best Holmes. He and I would sometime speculate on the mysterious circumstances of Poe’s death.
O.C. Stonestreet once described Lester saying, “Lester dressed and groomed himself as befitted a proper Englishman. Typically, he was attired in a sports coat and sweater vest and ascot. His pencil-thin moustache was always trimmed and his shoes shined.” If Lester had walked into a scene with Jeremy Brett at 221B Baker Street, he would have fit right in.
In January of 2018, Lester’s book store closed for the final time after the sale of the building at 120 W. Broad. Lester passed away soon after at 83 on Jan. 26, 2018. A large number of books from Lester’s last store was recently donated to the Friend’s of the Iredell County Public Library and will be sold this Saturday. Since Lester purchased some of these books at previous Friend’s sales this will make the second time they have been sold to help the library.
Long-time Statesville native and attorney John Gray Lewis Jr., also donated his collection of over 1,700 books to the library shortly before his death on July 13, earlier this year. Some of the books were added to the library’s Local History Departments Collection while many will be for sale this Saturday.
The Iredell Friend’s of the Library have been of special assistance to the library’s Local History and Youth Services Departments over the years. Much of the Youth Services Summer Reading Program’s prizes, books, performers, and party supplies have been paid for by the Friends.
I estimate that the Friend’s have donated nearly $13,000 to Local History over the past 19 years. The money was used to purchase scanners, metal cabinets, and photographic archival grade storage supplies to house the Stimson and Tharpe photo collections. This Saturday’s book sale will include many nonfiction history books.