Generous donation to benefit library

One of the largest private donations to the Merced County Library in recent years will bring several improvements to the department's main branch.

New Jersey resident Robert Baxter, who died in August 2010, included in his will a $50,000 donation to the Merced County Library, an entity that has faced crippling cuts over the past year as county leaders looked for ways to reduce the budget deficit.

The will included other large donations, such as $50,000 for the Merced County Historical Society, $50,000 for the Merced College Foundation and $250,000 for Stanford University.

Supervisor Deidre Kelsey said the county sometimes gets sizable donations, but not usually for the library. Large donations often go to the Merced County Historical Society.

"Library donations are generally a lot smaller," Kelsey said. "The fact that it went to the main library branch is significant because it's going to pay for some much-needed improvements that we would like to see happen."

Those improvements include computer furniture, books, CDs, DVDs, landscaping and Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility upgrades at the main branch including a new front entrance and parking spots, according to a board agenda item from a November meeting. "It's a very welcome addition at this time -- that's for sure," Kelsey said.

According to his Aug. 27 obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Baxter, 69, was born and raised in Merced County and held a doctorate in classics from Stanford University. He taught at Smith College in Massachusetts for about 10 years. In 1979, he became performing arts critic for the Courier-Post newspaper in Cherry Hill, N.J. He retired in 2008 and taught opera history and the history of singers at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia.

"He was a critic -- an opera critic -- for many years," his attorney, Renee Vidal, said. "He had a love for the arts and had a large collection of opera memorabilia that went with the bequest to the college."

Baxter didn't have children and had only distant family, she said. Attempts by the Sun-Star to reach his relatives were unsuccessful.

"He wanted to do good for the areas in Merced and he supported some of the nonprofits here locally that he was close to," said Vidal, who'd known Baxter for about two years. "He was always so poised and just such a wonderful, nice man. He was generous."

Jacque Meriam, Merced County head librarian, said the donation is the largest to the library since she came aboard five years ago.

With recent cuts to library hours and staff, the donation comes at an important time for the library, Meriam said, adding that the library will cautiously spend the money, but save some for a rainy day.

His sizable contribution is one part of him that will live on in Merced County.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.