Barry McNamara  |  Published March 18, 2021

A ‘Townie’ Gives Back

Longtime area librarian Pam Van Kirk ’76 and her husband support Monmouth College for the role it plays in community.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Long before it was her home for four years, Monmouth College was a special place for Pam Slaughter Van Kirk.

CAMPAIGN DONORS: Pam Slaughter Van Kirk, a 1976 Monmouth graduate, is pictured with her husband, ... CAMPAIGN DONORS: Pam Slaughter Van Kirk, a 1976 Monmouth graduate, is pictured with her husband, John Van Kirk.The 1976 graduate grew up just a few blocks from the College. At the age of 5, she vowed it would be where she’d go to college, following her three brothers.

Now, a full six decades from her first experiences with the College, Monmouth is still a special place for Van Kirk, and she and her husband, John, are supporting it through a planned gift as part of Monmouth College’s Light This Candle Campaign.

“I’m just so proud of the direction the College has gone,” said Van Kirk, who lives in Monmouth and winters in the Phoenix area. “Walking around campus is much different than when I was there in the 1970s. There’s been an amazing transformation. With that in mind, my husband and I decided to put money toward Monmouth College in our trust. … Monmouth College set me on my trajectory in life. Being a townie, the College was such an important part of growing up for me, and John also understands the symbiotic relationship between the town and Monmouth College. I look at it as a win-win.”

Finding her calling

Van Kirk said her father turned down an opportunity to work elsewhere so that his family could stay in Monmouth.

“My happy childhood memories are intertwined with Monmouth College,” said Van Kirk, who counts sledding on campus and selling donuts in the women’s dorms among those memories.

“It was important for my parents that we all graduate from Monmouth, and we did. And we’ve all been successful.” Pam Slaughter Van Kirk

Remaining in town allowed her brothers to precede her to Monmouth – George Slaughter ’59, Adin Slaughter ’60 and Carl Slaughter ’67. Adin was later a member of Monmouth’s English faculty and, said Van Kirk, “was dorm director of Gibson Hall during the infamous Holiday Inn episode.” (Resembling a motel, students surreptitiously erected a Holiday Inn sign for the dorm’s 1966 dedication.)

“It was important for my parents that we all graduate from Monmouth, and we did,” she said. “And we’ve all been successful.”

Van Kirk’s success did not come in the career she first imagined.

“I wanted to be a gas station attendant,” she said. “I thought that was so cool. You get to wash windows and pump the gas.”

As she majored in English and elementary education at Monmouth and became further removed from her dream of working at the local Shell station, Van Kirk wasn’t sure what would come next. Warren County Public Library director Camille Radmacher encouraged her to think about library science.

“She called me into her office and talked to me about pursuing a scholarship,” said Van Kirk, who went on to receive a scholarship to Rosary College – now known as Dominican University – in the Chicago suburbs, where she received her master’s degree in library science. “It was a perfect fit for me, and I’ve never thought about doing anything else.”

A career leading libraries

Van Kirk’s first job was serving as the first children’s librarian in Canton, Illinois.

“I was given carte blanche to transform a space into the children’s library,” she said. “The custodian must’ve hated me, because I asked for all the shelves to be moved three different times that first year.”

Van Kirk also made stops as the librarian for Warren School, just outside Monmouth, and in Colorado, before returning to the area to work at the Galesburg Public Library, where she served as director for 13 years.

“That position really played into all the experience I had and all the talents I had,” she said. “I loved working with children, parents, staff and the public. I really lucked out.”

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