Community loses a giant, 30-year library director Mark Nesse

(This story was published Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018 in the Herald newspaper.) 

By Julie Muhlstein
Herald columnist

Nesse died Sunday at an Everett residential care facility. He suffered a stroke in October 2017 and had battled cancer. He was 75.

Mark Nesse, the Everett Public Library’s longest-serving director, speaks to a crowd on Aug. 10, 1991, at the grand opening of the newly renovated library. Nesse died Sunday at age 75. (Everett Public Library photo)

Memorial service

A memorial service for Mark Nesse is scheduled for 2 p.m. Nov. 10 at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 2521 Lombard Ave., Everett.

It was 2007 when Nesse retired as the library’s director after 30 years in that role. He also had served on the Everett School Board from 1992 to 1999, and was president of the Rotary Club of Everett in 1988 and 1989.

“Everett was blessed when Mark arrived as the new director of the public library in the 1970s,” said Larry O’Donnell, a local historian and retired educator. “A perceptive, witty and compassionate leader, he contributed so much. The community has lost a giant and many of us have lost a dear friend.”

“I found Mark to be a man for all seasons,” said Jim Langus, who worked as a top Everett city administrator with former mayors Ed Hansen and Bill Moore. “He was an individual who could fit in anywhere. He had a nice smile and a big hearty laugh. Mark was a gentleman, a good person and genuinely interested in dedicating personal time to community service.”

“He was a super community booster in all sorts of practical ways,” said Eileen Simmons, who followed Nesse as library director and retired a year ago.

Abigail Cooley, the library’s current director, didn’t get to work with Nesse, but said he was beloved by staff and the public, and that “his work reached beyond Everett.”

“Even in Baltimore, my former library director, Jim Fish, knew about the wonderful things Mark did for the Everett Public Library,” Cooley said.

During Nesse’s tenure, the library expanded to south Everett with its Evergreen Branch. Nesse also headed a major renovation of the downtown library that was completed in 1991. The 1934 building, with an updated design by architects Cardwell/Thomas and Dykeman, maintained its historic elements.

The soaring, arched addition was named the Mark Nesse Reading Room when he retired, Simmons said. The late Bob Overstreet, a longtime Everett City Council member, was responsible for the tribute, she said.

Nesse is survived by his wife, Kathy Pemberton; daughter Rachel Nesse; twin sons John and Eric Nesse; and three grandchildren, Peter, Violet and Reid. Rachel and her husband, Tedd Kelleher, live in Olympia. John Nesse, formerly in the U.S. Marine Corps, is in the Army in Killeen, Texas. And Eric Nesse, a former middle school principal, works in school administration in Portland, Ore.

Rachel Nesse described her father as a wonderful dad and big problem-solver. With a rangy build, he was 6-foot-5 and wore size 15 shoes. He’d offer to drive from Everett to Olympia just to bring her firewood, even if she didn’t need any.

“Generous would be a very good word to describe Mark,” said Pemberton, who’d been a widow for about a decade when she and Nesse married three years ago. “He loved being able to give the scholarships to kids at Rotary. He was the type of person, if you said, ‘Gee, I’d like to have a work bench in the garage,’ two minutes later he’d be out buying the stuff to make the work bench.”

She and Nesse had once been Everett neighbors. Nesse moved to Olympia after retirement. Divorced, he returned to Everett, where he was busy with community activities.

Nesse earned an undergraduate degree at Pacific Lutheran University and taught junior high in Tacoma before serving two years in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia. He got his master’s degree in library science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Before moving here, Nesse worked at the Durham County Library in North Carolina and at the Beverly Public Library in Massachusetts, his daughter said.

Margaret Riddle, a retired Everett Public Library historian, said the library’s Northwest Room would not have existed without Nesse’s support. “He came in February 1977 and hired us the next month,” said Riddle, who worked with the late David Dilgard for decades in the Northwest Room, delving into the area’s past.

Riddle, who retired the year Nesse did, recalled his delight when his tenure surpassed that of long-ago library director Mabel Ashley. She had the job from 1919-1946. On the date Nesse’s time at the library bested hers, Riddle said, “Mark held up his calendar and it said ‘Mabel, eat my dust.’”

Riddle and Simmons also said Nesse worked with what’s now the Community Foundation of Snohomish County to establish the Library Endowment.

Roy Yates, who served 19 years on the Everett School Board, recalled Nesse as a good friend and board member. “He was my Rotary sponsor,” Yates said.

“He was really a good community person in the sense that he took an interest in a number of things,” Yates said. “He was also a very fun person.” Yates recalled helping Nesse move books into the basement of the old J.C. Penney building during the library renovation.

And Yates said it was Nesse who organized the Rotary club’s effort to provide sailors with transportation, giving them rides to Sea-Tac International Airport and other places when they returned to Naval Station Everett from sea duty.

Simmons recalled Nesse’s successful effort to to find “Pegasus,” an old Ford Model T and the library’s original bookmobile. A “car guy,” she said Nesse also worked to restore a World War II-era Jeep.

Theresa Gemmer, now a substitute librarian in Everett, said Nesse spearheaded the Pegasus restoration. “When she was ready to hit the road, I rode with him at the helm out to the Everett Mall for the annual Night Out Against Crime,” Gemmer said. She remembers holding onto the dashboard and the passenger door. Mostly, she remembers “the big smile on Mark’s face as he piloted that old Model T.”

Pemberton said her husband had started working on an autobiography, “and the whole first part was about cars.”

Nesse kept up with politics. The only thing he watched on TV was CNN, said Pemberton, who recalled frequent errands to get him The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Fellow Rotarian Henry Newton, an Everett attorney, said Nesse was president of the club when it raised money to help establish Everett’s Rotary Park on the Snohomish River. “He did a great job,” Newton said. “He was a born leader, he really was. He had a great sense of humor, and he also had a real ability to use humor to get things done.”

Rachel Nesse remembers getting email from her dad, when she was in college, letting her know he was happy that attendance was up in the library’s summer reading program.

“He just loved the Everett community,” she said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;