The land swap agreement would allow the Missoula Public Library to remain open while a new 121,000-square-foot, four-story facility is being built on the block directly to the east.

A former Missoula public school teacher and librarian donated $500,000 to the foundation for the Missoula Public Library for children’s programming.

Lorraine Jay, who worked at Lewis and Clark School for around 20 years, left the foundation her half-million-dollar estate, the largest donation in the foundation’s history. She died this summer.

Foundation Chair Frank Scariano said the gift shows how loved the library is, as well as how important childhood literacy and education is to Missoula.

“The library plays a key part in that,” he said. “It really has far-reaching effects for the children’s department.”

The money will be the foundation’s first permanent endowment, Scariano said, meaning it will be invested and held forever solely to fund kids’ programs.

He estimated the endowment should add $20,000 to 30,000 a year to childhood education funds in the library.

“It should last forever,” Scariano said. “It’s exciting, isn’t it?”

Foundation Director Karl Olson said Jay set up a meeting “out of the blue” to discuss the endowment last spring, knowing she was nearing the end of her life.

She was intent that her money be spent on kid’s programming, he said, so he gave her a brief tour of the children’s section at the library.

According to Polk’s city directories, Jay started working at Lewis and Clark school as a teacher in 1956, the year after she and her husband Robert moved to Missoula. He was an associate professor at the University of Montana in the Education Department.

Andrea Phillip, Lowell School’s librarian, attended Lewis and Clark in the 1960s. She remembered Jay in an email as a “kind, inspirational, multi-talented woman who made learning fun and meaningful.”

Phillip said Jay managed the small Lewis and Clark library out of her fifth-grade classroom, until an addition was built to house a full library.

Jay became the full-time librarian in the late 1960s and worked for MCPS until 1981, according to the city directory, the year after her husband retired from UM. He died in 2001.

Olson said Jay lived quietly in a rest home in Missoula when the endowment planning began, checking out books from the library through Homebound, their service that brings library materials to retirement homes.

“She was pretty private,” Olson said. “And we’ve been told that she herself didn’t want to the gift to be about her so much.”

The library foundation was created in 1992, specifically to handle receiving and spending these kinds of donations, Olson said. The donation won’t be spent on construction of a new library.

The endowment will be spent on programs, staff, books or other resources for which the library administration sees a need, he said. They apply for the funds through the foundation’s board.

“It’ll be there a hundred years from now, generating,” he said.

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