'Pretty handy:' Mason's efforts bring fresh finish to Shelton library

SHELTON — Kyna Lesko joined the Friends of Shelton Libraries to help with the annual book sale.

She never imagined that three years later, she would be an integral part of the Plumb Memorial Library renovation — spending dozens of hours cleaning the ornamental wood that adorns the walls in the building’s historic section.

“They were looking for help … so they called me,” Lesko, a retired mason, said about her latest volunteer effort. “It was tedious … a real challenge.”

Lesko, a Shelton resident since 1966, used a toothbrush on the “grooves and delicate places” and Scotch-Brite to help make the wood look nearly brand new. She was only restricted by the six-foot ladder, so higher spots fell on others to complete.

“The sweat was pouring off me,” she recalled. “I just do what I do … I like to help and I’m pretty handy. I’m proud of what I did. I’m not looking for any praise, I just do it and walk out.”

It did not help that Plumb Memorial Library’s central air system is broken, forcing the library to close on days of excessive heat, which has been often this summer.

Lesko’s wood cleaning was the latest in a laundry list of renovations to Plumb Memorial Library, the original section of which was built in 1895 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

These renovations come on the heels of renovating the library’s main meeting room, updating the entrance foyer from the lower level and children’s department, adding new technology and installing an elevator.

Library Director Joan Stokes said the library received $18,000 in federal COVID relief money for the purchase of a new book drop box, three air purifiers and two Vinal chairs for the larger meeting room.

Most recently, Stokes said the main level rooms in the original part of the building were painted, the wood was cleaned and the floors refinished. In the old teen area the floors were replaced and new lighting was installed. The final touches should be completed within the week.

When it came to wood, Stokes said no commercial operations “wanted to come in and touch a job this big.” That was when the Library Board turned to one of its friends — Lesko.

“We all knew she had done work like this … she is a handy woman … so we asked if this was a project she would like to take on,” Stokes said. “Thankfully, she said yes.”

That was in April. Lesko spent the next two months coming in and, on her hands and knees, scrubbing, cleaning and polishing every bit of wood she could reach.

Lesko started with the Connecticut Room, the smaller room with the fireplace, and the results were “incredible.” So much so that the materials in that room are being moved into the center area in front of the large, old entrance door, which is now unused. Stokes said the ornate, now clean wood needs to be seen.

Overall, she worked four to five hours a day — 134 hours in all — for two months. She was paid by the friends group for her work, but says her efforts were the benefit of a library that is a source of enjoyment for so many in the community.

“I started in one small room … it was bad … but as I finished that one area, I said to myself, ‘I can’t stop,’” Lesko said. “I had to keep going, and I just kept moving on. Sometimes I’d come in and spend four or five hours on one panel, another day on a door or a whole wall.”

Stokes said she would watch Lesko dump buckets of water after each cleaning, adding the contents looked like Lentil soup.

After Labor Day, both libraries will be open one night a week.

Plumb Memorial Library will be open Tuesdays, noon to 7 p.m., and the Huntington branch will be open Thursdays, noon to 7 p.m. Curbside service at Plumb will be cut back to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com