Philanthropic windfall: Library gets $1 million bequest 

A nearly $1 million bequest to the JMRL will go toward long-term projects for the library, such as improvements in infrastructure and more materials. Rammelkamp Photo

By Jonathan Haynes

The Jefferson-Madison Regional Library was the unexpected beneficiary of a nearly $1 million bequest from one of its Friends of the Library Endowment Fund patrons earlier this year. The donation came from the estate of Nancy Swygert.

Despite the large sum, Swygert and her husband lived a frugal life, never having children or even owning a personal computer. Naturally, she frequented the library. She became a fixture in the Gordon Avenue branch over the years, requesting books every week and taking advantage of the free internet access.

“Nancy was one of my favorite patrons of the Gordon Avenue Library,” says David Plunkett, JMRL’s director, who started at that branch. “She treated library staff exceptionally well.”

Swygert passed away December 28, 2016, shortly after her 79th birthday.

Although everyone knew Swygert viewed the library as a treasured institution, nobody foresaw her making a donation on this scale, says Plunkett.

The $984,098 bequest will bring the endowment fund’s total to almost $2.5 million. The library plans to allocate the money to improvements in infrastructure and expansions of library materials, although it will first have to amend its bylaws, which currently prohibit the use of endowment funds for capital projects.

In the past, money from the Friends of the Library Endowment Fund has gone toward scholarship programs for the NAACP and library staff pursuing a master’s degree in library science.

The endowment fund dates back to 1992, when a group of donors, or “friends,” invested $20,000 in seed money for a separate library fund. While it does not compensate for gaps in government funding, the endowment does furnish library projects with additional funds and serves as a streamlined receptacle for donations.

The endowment’s advisory committee intends to memorialize Swygert at the Gordon Avenue location with a collection and landscaping project in her name.

According to Mary Susan Payne, her attorney, Swygert loved Charlottesville, where she met her husband and worked as a lab technologist at the UVA Medical Center. She moved to the city some 50 years ago, after earning her master’s degree in biology.

A staunch environmentalist and lover of the outdoors, Swygert took full advantage of Charlottesville’s walkable urban design, walking to work and making a daily trek up O-Hill. In her will, she bequeathed another nearly $1 million each to the Wildlife Center of Virginia and the Nature Conservancy.

Swygert was particularly fond of books about nature. “She was such a remarkable fountain of knowledge about the natural world,” says Payne. “She could name every plant you could put in front of her.”