He comes into the Webster Parish Library in Minden once a week, drops two books into the return slot and makes his way to the fiction shelves, where he finds two – never more than three – books to check out.
"I try not to take too many out," he said.
James H. McQuiller is a book lover, obviously, and reads when he's not maintaining his rather large yard ("I mow, have a little garden. I do all the work myself"). The yard work, he says, gives him something to do since he retired. McQuiller is 94.
What does he do when he's not caring for the yard or reading?
"Wearing out my recliner" (said with a hearty laugh). "I have a television ... I try to watch the news, but it doesn't agree with me a lot of the time."
The oldest patron of the Webster Parish Library may very well be McQuiller, who keeps his original blue library card in his wallet. It's a piece of thin cardboard, the size and shape of a credit card with a metal tab bearing the number 6957. Up until the not too distant past, the number on that piece of metal was used to track which library patron had checked out which book and when it was due.
McQuiller's well-worn blue card is hidden behind other wallet items and it takes a few minutes to find. Front and center, easily retrievable, is the yellow plastic Webster Parish Library card he was assigned in 2012.
McQuiller is partial to novels and has been a WPL patron for so many years "it seems like I've read every book in the library," followed by another hearty laugh. Like many, he cannot immediately recall the title of a favorite book or the name of a favorite author.
"Sometimes I get halfway through a book and think 'wait, I've read this,'" he said. "And other times I read a novel a second time—or more—deliberately."
He first discovered libraries when he was in grammar school.
"I had a card only when I was in school in Monroe and here," he said.
Between stints as a library patron, he served in World War II with the Marines, and worked much of his adult life in construction. I-20 is literally what brought him to Minden. He helped build it. There was no time to read until he retired.
"We moved around a lot," he said. "The jobs didn't come to me. I had to go to the jobs."
Leading a somewhat transient life meant not having deep roots or a lot of leisure time in Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee and Alabama, among other places he's lived.
"We moved here the second time because of the kids," McQuiller said. "I had to leave my family here to work jobs everywhere. It was a lonely life, I tell you."
McQuiller, laughing at the reminder he still is a Marine (once a Marine, always a Marine), said he joined in 1941 for a number of reasons: War seemed imminent. His brother had joined the Marines. He didn't want to be drafted. The Marines got better publicity than the Army.
"I liked the uniform," he admitted with another booming laugh.
Almost his entire service in World War II was in the Pacific. He was on Guadalcanal. He was part of the initial invasion of Guam, an attack to wrest control of the island from the Japanese. From there he went to Iwo Jima ("so tiny you could spit in any direction and it would end up in the ocean") very briefly, then back to Guam. He was home on leave when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. After the war, he served out his commitment at Treasure Island near San Francisco.
He was in the Pacific for 37 months out of the 48 months he was on active duty.
"I was a kid, I'd never been anywhere hardly," he said. "I will never forget, but there are times I don't want to think about it."
One thing McQuiller doesn't have to think about is voting in favor of the tax renewal in the May 3 election. For him and for many others in Webster Parish, the library is a lifeline.
In 2013, more than 300,000 items were checked out by patrons at the seven branches of the Webster Parish Library. In addition, 8,390 digital files (books, audiobooks, and music) were checked out. More than 200,000 visits were made to the seven branches and more than 7,700 children attended 189 library programs.
The millage up for renewal on May 3 serves as the only source of operating revenue for the library. The renewal is for 10 years and is the same amount, (12-mill) that has been in effect for a decade.
Polls on May 3 will open at 7 a.m.Subscribe to Read!