Marian Ranck Gerhart, 99
November 25, 2023
Marian Ranck Gerhart departed this life on Saturday November 25, 2023, in her one hundredth year. Born in Lancaster, PA, on Sunday February 3, 1924, to the late Mr. and Mrs. J. Paul Ranck, she graduated from J.P. McCaskey High School in 1941 and enrolled in Millersville State Teacher’s College. Upon graduation, and with the encouragement of Millersville’s Librarian Helen Ganser, she applied to Columbia University’s graduate program in Library Science. Her application, however, was looked upon with suspicion since her transcript showed perfect grades. Yet, with the intervention of Miss Ganser, Columbia University accepted her into the program, awarding her a scholarship. Libraries became a fundamental, lifelong dimension of her world, yet they were her second love. Paul Gerhart (known affectionately as Pablo) was her first love. Marian and Paul, also a graduate of the McCaskey Class of ’41, married in 1949. Paul was employed as a controller by the Warner Lambert Company and for a time, they lived in New York City. But the company wanted Paul in Buenos Aires, Argentina, so Marian learned to speak Spanish and off they went to South America where the footloose couple enjoyed several happy years.
Upon returning to the United States, they made their home in Morristown, New Jersey, where Paul continued his work for Warner Lambert, and Marian made her mark transforming the small public library in Morristown into a powerhouse of learning and community activity. Marian became a respected leader in the field of library science and served as a mentor to many in the profession. Maria Norton, who Marian mentored from the time she was a 14-year-old library volunteer and became the Morristown librarian herself, shared: “She made teenagers feel like they were the most important people in the world.” She added, “We had to do inventories by hand, and she’d tell us, ‘This is so important and it’s critical that we get it right.’”
Marian and Paul moved back to Lancaster and enjoyed life in the Willow Valley retirement community where, once again, she donned her librarian hat, this time at Franklin & Marshall College. There she met a young student, Charlie Bickford, with whom she remained best of friends the remainder of her life. At Willow Valley she kept a beautiful flower garden and created, from scratch, a lending library that went on to be replicated in other buildings within the Willow Valley community. For her 30 years of service to the Willow Valley libraries she was named Volunteer of the Year by LeadingAge PA, a professional senior living organization.
She also gave back to the community through her engaged support of the Lancaster County Historical Society, now LancasterHistory. There she volunteered in the library and archives and served in various capacities on its board of directors, eventually being elected to the position of board chair. In 2007 she was named a Fellow of the Lancaster County Historical Society in recognition of her distinguished service to the organization.
Marian was a direct, no-nonsense kind of person who saw a need and gathered the resources to meet the need. Through her generosity in the 1990s, she and Paul singlehandedly funded the new technical infrastructure at the historical society, ushering the organization into the computer age. She remained one of its most generous financial supporters until the time of her death. Beneath her businesslike countenance she had a warmth and softness that a few got to see. On her 99th birthday she reminisced about her childhood, the lilacs outside the house where she was born on East King Street—saying “I never thought I’d live anywhere else,” and reminisced about Pablo, the love of her life. She leaves behind her dear friends Charles and Barbara Bickford, of Portsmouth, N. H., their children, a host of friends at LancasterHistory, and her caregivers at The Glen at Willow Valley.
A springtime gathering will be planned to celebrate her long and wonderful life. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to LancasterHistory at 230 North President Avenue, Lancaster, PA 17603, or the Morristown and Morris Township Library at 1 Miller Rd Morristown, N.J. 07960.
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December 02, 2023
In my 24 years and 4 months on the board of trustees of the Joint Free Public Library of Morristown and Morris Township and the many years before when I would come from Gladstone to sit and wait for my mother to be done shopping at Epstein’s and Lobel’s, the warm of the place seemed to come off Marion Gerhart. Just last week I was thinkin of her”glog,” made so sprightly to welcome one to end of year meetings. Over time the Library became my sanctuary with its always anxious to please helpers — through re-doing my undergrad art degree and then two more prosaic masters. I can still see Marion bouncing over to me earlier in kind righteousness asking where were the books I’d failed to return when a marriage broke up and kind friends packed my things and the book box unknowingly was put back behind some eave until “later.” Under Marion’s wing some of the later oddities at the Library would not have happened. It was Marion whose friendship it was with Alice Dustan Kollar which would have graced the Library with plantings and outdoor design — don’t dare say landscaping –that would be famous or at least “nice” today, adorned with Leucothoe, purple wisteria and maybe a bluestone patio or pergola under which to rest while reading away an hour. She was my example of how to bring people in and embrace and involve them in her enthusiasms and obligations. First Lydia, then John, then Dr Barbie and now Marion. Oh.
Adrienne Bliss Brown