Tina and Byron McNew Permanent Book Fund

I’m sitting at Tina and Byron McNew’s dining room table and we are surrounded by hundreds of books.  A diverse collection of novels and poetry, mysteries and histories, biographies, photography, cookbooks….  Tina told me that they usually pass books on after they read them, so I ask if these books are simply waiting for their next owners, and she says, “Heavens, no.  These are the ones we haven’t read.”

Tina and Byron created the Tina and Byron McNew Permanent Book Fund in October 2011 to provide books to the Montrose Regional Library.  Bookplates honoring their gift adorn each one, with subjects as eclectic as the McNews’ personal library:  vintage cakes, modern art, reflections on pets at the end of their lives, a children’s book about World War I.  And over the course of our interview, I realize that “eclectic” describes not only the books in the McNews’ library and the ones that their Book Fund purchased, but these two fascinating people.

Both Byron and Tina have deep roots in western Colorado.  Byron was born in Collbran, in a private hospital that still exists today.  Tina’s mother was born down the road in Austin, and lived in a farmhouse in the Tongue Creek Valley near Cory.  Her grandfather was a ditch rider on Grand Mesa.  Byron always has been interested in “hot things,” so he learned blacksmithing and then became a farrier (professional horseshoer), learning his craft from the last farrier in the US Army.  As a child, he often visited the public library in Grand Junction, during his family’s regular trips “to town.”  He says he liked books by Edgar Rice Borroughs, and about cavemen.

Tina grew up in Boulder and describes hours at the Boulder Public Library—a “magical” place.  She learned to read at a very young age and checked out “precocious” books, such as Dickens and Hemingway.  Her favorite early book memory is visiting a family friend who had the entire collection of The Wizard of Oz books.  Each time she went there, Tina was allowed to “check out” one of the volumes.  At this point in our interview, she brings out a lovely set of books from her childhood, including The Jungle Book and Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales.  She won’t give these away.  Nor does she give away her poetry books.  She’s passionate about poetry and loves that the Library is, too.  She enjoys the Library’s poetry “open mics” and author readings.

Byron and Tina met in Colorado Springs, fell in love, and married.  They knew they wanted to settle close to the San Juan Mountains, and they began their search in Grand Junction, where Byron’s grandmother lived, but the mountains called them closer and they wound up in Montrose in 1973, where Byron shoed horses and worked construction jobs before deciding to pursue a computer science degree from Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University).  Tina supported him through school, and then Byron went to work for the City of Montrose and the Western Area Power Administration.  Tina had careers in banking, social work, and law enforcement, but dreamed of being a professional artist.  Keeping with her eclecticism, Tina has practiced nearly every art form:  beadmaking, mosaic, fiber arts, sculpture, “altered books”, all kinds of painting…  When Tina gets an idea, she runs with it, and one of her inspirations resulted in a beautiful mosaic on the front of their Spring Creek Mesa home.   But though her art is important, she says that books are even more so.   “Books are a necessity,” she says.  “If I had to choose one thing to not be without, it’s books.”

Byron has also pursued his passions.  At first, it was sailing, and he and Tina logged many hours on local lakes and reservoirs in a little Koralle sailboat and a Hobie catamaran.  Then, Byron set his sights on aviation, and built his own airplane, a Glasair GlaStar, which he continues to fly.  Byron has his own artistic talents, and is an excellent photographer.  He learned photogravure, which is a process for printing from an intaglio plate prepared by photographic methods.  In fact, Tina and Byron had a joint art show at the Ridgway Public Library, which I had the pleasure of attending.  Byron also has cast Tina’s sculptures.  How handy to have a blacksmith around for that sort of thing!  Byron’s latest creative endeavor is bread making.  He’s learning all there is to know about sourdough, and he’s reading Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza by Ken Forkish.  He also is reading The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman by Nancy Marie Brown and 109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos by Jennet Conant.

Tina and Byron always “have several books going at once.”  Tina is reading Julian Barnes’ Arthur and George, and when I called to check on some details for this story, she told me about another book she’s reading:  The Eighty-Dollar Champion:  Snowman, The Horse That Inspired a Nation. She says that “people are fascinating” and she recently enjoyed The Autobiography of Helen Keller.  She just finished Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession by Craig Childs for her book club, and she can’t wait to dive into Gulp:  Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach.

The McNews have traveled extensively, and during a trip to Scotland several years ago, they became friends with two employees of the Glasgow Women’s Library who told them of the Library’s overcrowding and need to move to a new space.  Tina and Byron decided to lend their support and make a donation to help them relocate to a larger building.

For Tina and Byron, the Montrose Regional Library is much more than books.  They like that it’s a community meeting place where everyone is welcome.  “The librarians are very helpful, and the Library is so homey and cozy,” Tina says.  “I think that people think that since the Library is a public institution, it’s well-funded, but libraries don’t have enough money.”  They like that their Book Fund is invested in perpetuity, and will provide income every year.  “We want to give everyone the chance to read books,” says Byron.