COLUMBIA CITY - With classical music played by harpist Dawn Haupt and string ensemble Music D’Arco, the Peabody Public Library welcomed patrons to the dedication of the recently completed Robert E. Brittain Memorial Auditorium. The nearly two- hour program included introductions of the library board and staff and those who did the construction work. It concluded with a tribute by many of his former students to Robert Brittain, who passed away in April and for whom the auditorium is named. At the end of the program Brittain’s brother, Richard, unveiled the bronze plaque which will hang just outside the auditorium entrance.
Board President Laurel Steill, acting as emcee, gave the stats about the addition. The now completed 5,740 square foot addition in the basement of the building brings the usable space to 30,490 square feet.
“Every inch of it will be used,” Steill said.
Janet Scank introduced the library staff and the construction team who worked through the project remarking there were “only a few times we wanted to hit each other” during the process. She appreciated that the crew was “as proud of this building as we were.”
Mayor Fleck spoke about his love of the library, going back to his childhood when a disappointment in Little League led him to the library, where he really began to learn to read.
“It opened up the world,” Fleck said.
The second part of the program gave honor to the man for whom the auditorium is named. Though he never married, Robert Brittain had many children in his students and many came to pay their respects to the teacher, speech and drama coach and community servant who gave so much to his hometown.
A flyer distributed at the program listed Brittain’s involvement in the Blue River Church, Columbia City Kiwanis, Peabody Library board of directors, Literacy Council board, Bowen Center board, CCHS Alumni board, Campus Ministry Program IPFW and Indiana Tech boards and the honor of 1995 Sagamore of the Wabash.
Tom Lough, a teaching colleague of Brittain’s, introduced the group noting their span of ages. Brittain had “quite an influence over many decades,” he said.
Mark Parker and his wife Tammy, both teachers, came from some of Brittain’s earliest classes and they described the love/hate relationship which time turned into admiration and respect as the high standards he required of his students gave them the edge in college and life to excel.
“I’m proud to have been one of ‘Bob’s Boys,’” Mark Parker said.
Micah Thomas, now assistant principal at Huntington North high school, spoke of his excitement about this space which will allow for community meetings, debates and theatrical productions. He also spoke of English teacher Brittain’s hate for the “to be” verbs, remarking as he held up an iPhone, “A former student of Bob’s out there is writing an app for elimination of ‘be’ verbs.”
Dan Frioli, CCHS graduate of 2000 claimed Brittain taught “Romeo and Juliet” instead of “Hamlet” because of his detest of the ‘to be’ verbs.
“Bob Brittain didn’t just ‘be,’ Frioli said. “He challenged, inspired and always taught. ... Let’s not disappoint him.”
“He had a great capacity to motivate people … He wanted to make young people think about how to make their world better.” — Mark Plozay, CCHS grad from the ’90s.
“No one had to ask him what he believed, he lived it.” — Tracy Harber Armitage, CCHS grad from the ’80s.
“He was the speech and debate Godfather.” — Carly Hively, CCHS 2006.
“Bob Brittain helped me find my voice.” — Mackenzie James, CCHS 2006.
“He was not just a coach, he really cared, loved and respected” his students. — Austin Andreas, CCHS 2011.
Brittain’s brother, Richard was given the honor of unveiling the memorial plaque bearing his brother’s likeness and an inscription written by Frances Brown, long-time library supporter and colleague of Bob Brittain’s. He thanked everyone for their kind words, calling the students “all my brother’s kids.”
The inscription reads:
Robert E. Brittain
Sept. 27, 1945 — April 20, 2010
A Unique Life Well Lived
Healer — Helper
Feeder — Teacher
Burden Bearer — Resource Sharer
Servant — Friend
The youngest student to speak, May Cheng, CCHS 2011, summed it up well, “His name lives on in our hearts and on this library.”