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Public library director pays tribute to late historian Marguerite Cockley

By Diane Saylor Daniels
For The New Republic

If I were asked to provide an epitaph for Marguerite Cockley, it would read simply "A Life Well Led."

Many of us at best with grace earn a living, raise a family, make a home. These are no small things and are to be admired. But unless circumstances dictate otherwise, at least one of these tasks is expected of each of us.

But Mrs. Cockley was an individual who chose to set upon herself a charge that became a life's work, one which she put aside only at the last, shortly before her death on April 5 at the age of 93.

Mrs. Cockley made a home, raised a family, and later in life, earned a living when she became the first librarian at the Meyersdale Public Library in 1962, a library which she had helped create in 1939. She built it into a library which would come to hold its own against any branch of the Carnegie Library. She and her husband, Eber, were charter member of the Somerset County Historical and Genealogical Society, and she helped create and later edited its excellent publication, The Laurel Messenger. She was a respected member of the United Church of Christ and played key roles in this century for both Amity UCC in Meyersdale and St. Paul's Wilhelm UCC.

Into all of these roles, though, she wove her major charge: she was a keeper of history. She helped move a library, a church, a community and a fmaily into the future, but she understood clearly, at all times, from where they had come.

As the present library director, I see her work still, certainly in the excellent core collection which she built, but mostly in her room. It's called the "Pennsylvania Room," but it is not of Pennsylvania. It is of us. People from across the United States, even from abroad, have found that room here in this library on Center Street.

Family Histories, obituaries, census records, newspapers, county histories, maps, endless archival materials (not endless, really -- we have catalogued over 3,000 non-book items.) comprise a master collection of genealogical and local history materials. We now have Mrs. Cockley's personal collection, as well, and I see first-hand the true volume of her work -- an incredible correspondence spanning decades.

Imagine a family as a rope and each of us a thread pulled out from one of many cords making the rope, unraveled, but not broken. Marguerite Cockley had helped people from across the country reweave those threads and wrap them together back to the core. This man, this woman, this gravesite, this home; she worked with these pieces as if at some giant puzzle of which we are all a part. She led people back along a path of family into these mountains and farther and created a collection with which they might find this path themselves. She laid out the map; she pointed the way; she said, "This is home."

Mrs.Cockley was buried Saturday morning, April 8, in the village of St. Paul, perhaps 200 feet from the house in which she was born, the parlor in which she was married. I stood by the grave and looked across the fields at a grey sky that held back the rain. I reflected with some awe at how long and full and wonderful this woman's journey had been, and how right it was for her to have come back home at last.

This page last updated on April 29th, 2013 at 11:32 AM
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