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Influential local librarian dies at 89

By The Mercury

Margaret Elizabeth Gates, director of the Manhattan Public Library for a quarter century, died Saturday in Boulder, Colo. She was 89.

Gates’ career in libraries began as a K-State student in 1945 when she joined the staff of the Manhattan Public Library, then situated in the Carnegie Building at Fifth and Poyntz, as a clerk.

She also worked at a theater and on a local farm driving a tractor. Upon graduation with a degree in physical education, she studied library science at the University of Illinois, receiving that degree in 1947.

Gates worked at libraries in Greeley, Colo., Wichita, Topeka, Joplin and Sedalia, Mo. In Missouri she drove a bookmobile that serviced 38 counties and parts of the rural Ozarks. She returned as director of the Manhattan library in 1965. At the time it was involved in relocating into its present facility at the corner of Juliette and Poyntz.

Beyond overseeing that move, which was completed in 1965, Gates was also closely involved in forming the North Central Kansas Library system, a 12-county cooperative network of libraries headquartered here. She is also credited with having built up the library’s collection and computerized it in 1981, giving patrons access to books statewide.

In 1988, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce chose her as its citizen of the year.

She retired in 1991 and set about completing the other major project of her life, visiting every one of the nation’s counties.

That passion began as a child. Born July 23, 1923, in Manhattan, Margaret was adopted by Kansas State University botany professor Frank C. Gates and wife, Margaret T. Gates.

Her family traveled across the United States to collect plants for her father’s herbariums. On a county map of the United States, he recorded the date the family visited each county. Through her adult life, Margaret kept this tradition.

When Margaret retired in 1991, she tried to finish her goal of visiting every county in the U.S.  After losing her eyesight to macular degeneration, her long-time Manhattan friends, Charlie and Alice Michaels, drove her to Nebraska and South Dakota in 2007 to visit her last 18 counties.

Family members said Margaret loved books, cars, traveling and scuba diving. She was a member of a sheriff’s patrol in Missouri, where she dove to recover anything from cars to bodies during underwater missions.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Frank C. and Margaret T. Gates. She is survived by her brother, David M. Gates of Ann Arbor, Mich.; one nephew; and three nieces.

Family members invited those wishing to share a memory of Margaret Gates to do so by emailing

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