New bench at library memorializes Talawanda teacher and volunteer

OXFORD — A bronze bench placed in the local Lane Library honoring the memory of a middle school language arts teacher and lover of books was formally dedicated last Sunday.

The bench was donated in celebration of the life of Shari Farmer who taught at both Stewart Junior High and Talawanda Middle School in the Talawanda School District and retired after having also served as an intervention specialist. Following retirement in 2005, she kept busy working with books donated for the Friends of the Library sales and with helping Patricia Gifford in her business, Swittens.

“It was donated to Oxford Lane Library by The Friends of Lane Library and Swittens in celebration of the life of Shari Farmer. Shari touched many young lives as a Talawanda middle school language arts teacher for 30 years. In retirement she found passion in creating beautiful woolens, particularly mittens, from recycled sweaters with my local company, Swittens. She was also a leader in sorting and prepping book donations for resale through the Friends,” Gifford said.

Swittens creates a variety of woolen products from sweaters including mittens, fingerless mittens, ear warmers, scarves and crossbody purses.

“Sheri was a thrift shopper extraordinaire,” Gifford said of her. “She was really an excellent language arts teacher. In retirement, she was a Friends of the Library book sorter. She would return family Bibles that had gotten mixed in with donations. She found rare books for Wilson’s in Shandon. She really enjoyed it.”

Farmer died last year after years of battling myeloma and Gifford said she wanted to do something tangible her husband, Tom, and family could see. The Friends of the Lane Library wanted to do something and talked to library staff for ideas. In discussions with the family and Oxford Lane Library Manager Rebecca Smith, the idea of a bench was created.

“It’s a bronze bench and heavy. The truck came to deliver it but there is no loading dock. There was no way to get it off the truck. Finally, a librarian took a book cart out and rolled it to the little patio by the library. The patio does not get used much, so Rebecca found a place in the vestibule. It has sat there for a couple months,” Gifford said. “Kids come and sit on the bench. One mother told me her kids go to the bench first when they come to the library and then again when they leave. Sheri’s three grandchildren, ages 2, 3 and 4, sat on the bench (at the dedication).”

At the dedication, Gifford said they made beautiful things together for Swittens, calling Farmer a dear friend, creative partner and inspiration, as well as a beautiful role model for dealing with adversity.

“The Swittens workshop became a refuge for Shari after she was diagnosed. Making a pair of mittens or anything else was calming, creative and healing. As broken bones mended, the goal was to make it down the steps to the basement workshop. She would take her finishing work to chemo treatments, where she also eagerly accepted sweater donations from nursing staff and sold numerous mittens,” Gifford said. “She shared the frustrations of her disease over the table, we sometimes shed tears, but she always talked about the next treatment opportunity or more importantly her daughters and grandchildren. She was forever optimistic, finding the positive in every situation.”

Gifford said at the dedication her friend’s background in books and reading led to a natural retirement service with books through the Friends of the Library.

“In addition to her writing, Shari was an avid reader, loved books and her book group,” Gifford said. “After her retirement, she started volunteering at the Oxford Lane Public Library as a member of The Friends of the Lane Library. She became quite accomplished at sorting books, finding treasures and throwing away moldy volumes in preparation for the Friends’ monthly sales.”

Farmer died Feb. 17, 2021 and her obituary listed the following survivors: Thomas A. Farmer, her devoted husband of 48 years; her two daughters, Emily E. Farmer (Kyle Melton) of Columbus, Ohio, and Ann M. Conrath (Adam Conrath) of Columbus, Ohio; three grandchildren, Caroline Conrath, Charlie Melton and Forrest Conrath; and her older brother Roger K. White (Laurie) of Apple Valley, Minn.

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