Remembering George Van Sant
George Van Sant was well known in the area for his outstanding public service in the Marine Corps, at Mary Washington College, and in local politics. To many of us, however, he was best known as an advocate for the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.
Van was a founding member of the Friends of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. In 1969, he helped to rally citizen support and establish a local Friends group that lobbied the Library of Virginia to consider the Fredericksburg region for a demonstration library. Clearly, his infectious enthusiasm was persuasive, and the Regional Library was established in 1969.
In 1971, Van traveled throughout the area as a spokesperson for the fledgling Regional Library system to increase Friends membership and to rally support for local funding. His efforts culminated in the signing of the agreement establishing the CRRL as an independent Regional Library system.
Under Van’s energetic leadership, the Friends of the CRRL began providing a reliable stream of revenue for the library, dollars which provide enhancements beyond regular operating funds. To this day, the Friends of the Library fund instructive and enlightening experiences such as the long-running Monday Night Music on the Steps concerts, and provide furnishings that make the library branches welcoming and comfortable places to visit. The Friends’ most recent project is the sprucing up of the Headquarters lobby to provide more public computers, attractive browsing areas, and space for self-checkout machines.
In 1985, Dr. Van Sant was appointed to the CRRL Board of Trustees, representing the City of Fredericksburg. He served on the Board for a total of twelve years, including terms as Chair and Vice-chair. During his tenure, the library evolved into a sophisticated regional system linking branches with the latest in network technologies, boosting the book collections, and providing excellent customer service to our fast-growing region.
In 1988, propelled by his leadership, the participating jurisdictions hammered out an agreement which provided for the total renovation of the CRRL Headquarters facility in Fredericksburg, as well as commitments for major branches in Stafford and Spotsylvania counties. The promised new libraries followed quickly: the Headquarters was re-opened in 1991, Porter Library in north Stafford was built in 1992, and the Salem Church Library opened in 1994. Since then, two renovated libraries and three brand new libraries have opened, providing a total of eight library branches for citizens of the region.
As a Library Board member, Dr. Van Sant advocated forcefully for the library as an essential public service deserving of priority status for funding. Perhaps his most valuable contribution to the CRRL and to all Virginia libraries was his determined and successful campaign to achieve full funding for libraries from the General Assembly. He repeatedly made contact with the area’s delegates and senators and traveled frequently to Richmond to speak on the importance of state-level library funding. He was recognized by the Virginia Library Association for his library advocacy, being named Trustee of the Year in 2000 and awarded Life Membership in 2005.
In addition to these stellar accomplishments, Dr. Van Sant was personally kind and generous, always ready with a humorous story to tell. His booming voice was well known at the Friends Book Sales, where he would enthusiastically announce the availability of tote bags and other bargains. On the occasion of the 2008 publication of his memoir, “Taking on the Burden of History, Presuming to Be A United States Marine,” Van spoke at the annual Friends meeting, regaling the audience with stories both witty and inspiring. His leadership, vision and commitment are responsible for the success of public library services in the CRRL region. Library lovers will always be grateful for his many contributions to the region and to the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.