Total Size 16,000 sq. ft. 24,500 sq. ft.
Shelving 5,844 lin. ft. 10,691 lin. ft.
Book Capacity 47,000 volumes 90,000 volumes
Seating 79 102
Parking 32 spaces 24 spaces
Library Hours: Monday through Thursday 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.. The library is located at 401 Bramlett Blvd. in Oxford.
MUG: Walker J. Coffey
QUOTE OUT: “I saw it as a chance to do one good thing in the world and to do it in her name.”
Walker J. Coffey
on his $10,000 donation to establish a genealogical research room named for his late daughter.
Shingle: Lafayette County-Oxford Public Library
HED: Coffey Family Legacy
DECK: Renovations, donations make room for Skipwith Genealogical Society
By Jane Hill
OXFORD – Walker Jackson Coffey knows his history. He also knows the histories of the 650 families that settled in Lafayette County since its formation in 1836.
It was Coffey’s love of family history and his love of one member of his family in particular that inspired him to donate $10,000 to the Skipwith Historical and Genealogical Society.
The money will go toward establishing a genealogy research room named in honor of Coffey’s late daughter, Kerin Coffey Magdovitz, at the Lafayette County-Oxford Public Library once renovations now under way are complete.
“I saw it as a chance to do one good thing in the world and to do it in her name,” he said.
Coffey’s donation was matched by an AT&T Foundation gift of $10,000, another $7,500 donation from his son-in-law Lawrence Magdovitz and by smaller gifts from other members of the Skipwith Society.
The total fund of more than $30,000 will go to furnish and equip a genealogical research room where the auditorium now exists on the library’s second floor.
In addition to his financial contribution, Coffey is donating more than 3,000 books collected over the 30 years of his “second career” of being a genealogical and historical researcher.
The 89-year-old Coffey was an employee of AT&T for 40 years until he retired and he and his first wife moved back to his hometown of Oxford in 1967. Coffey is a longtime member of the Skipwith Society and has served as president of the 150-member organization more than once.
Beginning of a legacy
But even before his retirement, a seed planted by Coffey’s father sparked his son’s interest in family history. In 1934, Coffey took his then new bride to visit his family in Memphis. On that visit, Coffey’s father asked him to write down the family history as he related it orally one Sunday afternoon.
“So we sat there under the Bodock orange tree with the chickens running all around us in the yard and he gave me the family history, four complete generations – names, dates, everything – from memory. My father had a phenomenal memory,” Coffey said. “At that time I was working as a telegraph operator and I used a shorthand known as Phillips Code that operators used at that time to take down and send messages. He talked for an hour and half. When he had finished, I had filled up that tablet.”
The tablet lay in the bottom of a trunk for many years until a family move unearthed it and revived Coffey’s interest.
“Right away, I got interested in finding about the rest of the family as far as I could,” he said. During all his years of family research, Coffey said he has only discovered one possible error in the original family tree his father related to him in 1934.
Coffey’s interest has led him to author two books on genealogy and history. The first, “Journal of a Journey,” primarily relates the Coffey family history. The second, “Lafayette County Legacy,” is a detailed record of the 1,785 men from Lafayette and surrounding counties who volunteered to serve in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
Continuing the tradition
Coffey said he was hard hit when his daughter Kerin died suddenly and unexpectedly two years ago and both he and her husband discussed doing something in her memory.
When serious discussion began concerning needed renovation and expansion at the Lafayette County-Oxford Public Library and what should be done with the genealogical research materials housed there, Coffey said he was struck with an idea.
“The society did some study to determine what furnishings, shelves, tables, chairs, microfilm readers and so forth would be needed to furnish such a room and we came up with a figure of $30,000,” he said.
Oxford Mayor John Leslie said the growing interest in Lafayette County history and genealogical research as well as the impressive depth of the Coffey collection influenced the Oxford Board of Aldermen to dedicate $400,000 in city tourism tax money to the library renovation project.
The Lafayette County Board of Supervisors got the ball rolling on the project by applying for a $200,000 capital improvements grant from the state and putting up $133,000 in county funds, said head librarian Dotsy Fitts.
Building for the future
In addition to making space for a separate genealogical research room, the renovation will bring the library into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Fitts said.
The project also will provide much-needed space for the library’s growing volume collection, computer card catalog, and for a new auditorium and projection theater, Fitts said.
Fitts said the library has not had a major renovation in more than 20 years and that this addition will help expand the services of one of the most heavily used libraries in the state. The Lafayette County Library ranked seventh in the state in total circulation in fiscal year 1994, demonstrating that the library was used more than libraries in much larger cities including Hattiesburg, Columbus, Tupelo and Biloxi, Fitts said.
Projections put the completion of construction in April, but Coffey said he will be happy to have the Kerin Coffey Magdovitz Genealogical Research Room dedicated anytime this year.