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Quiet book-lover leaves big legacy

In accordance with a promise made 33 years ago, the Ashland Public Library is now the recipient of a gift left by Kay Lee Katherine Ruhl Lindberg, who in in 1984 willed her estate to the library. Lindberg died on Jan. 16 at the age of 73 and this week her 1906 Craftsman home at 489 Allison St. in a beautiful, historic neighborhood just a few houses away from the library in Ashland comes on the market.

Her gift reflects her lifelong love of books and reading, of the Ashland Public Library and the town of Ashland where her neighbors cared for her and valued her. It's listed at $390,000.

Lindberg, or Kay Lee as she was known, was an intensely private individual and she died without heirs. Kay Lee’s partner, Elizabeth Lucretia Jones, died April 4, 2012. Except for their immediate neighbors and closest friends, Liz’s and Kay Lee’s deaths went unnoticed. No obituary and no public record marked their passing.

The 1,327 square foot home sits on a .21 acre lot, just down the alley above the library. The home needs work but has old growth, planked fir board floors, the original wainscoting, fine grained pocket doors and lovely brass details of an earlier time. When Kay Lee died earlier this year, the home was filled with books, thousands and thousands of books that were hers and Liz’s, bookshelves on almost every wall.

Jeanne Beavis counted herself among Kay Lee’s good friends at Medford’s junior high and high schools. “I admired her, but she had a separateness about her,” Jeanne remembers. “Kay Lee was studious, smart, intellectual and ahead of her peer group in her interests and thoughts about the world.”

Kay Lee Ruhl graduated Medford High School in 1960, and the Mail Tribune showcased her in a fall fashion plaid dress, belted at the waist. Her close cropped hair framed a delicate face and huge eyes. Kay Lee was headed for the University of Oklahoma to study psychology and as with many childhood friendships, few remember keeping in touch with Kay Lee later in life even though she came to live in Ashland just a few years hence.

Elmer Theodore Lindberg and Kay Lee Katherine Ruhl married in 1964, the license witnessed and issued in Jackson County, Oregon. E. Theodore Lindberg, as he was known, was in 1962 the director of the Rogue Art Gallery at 220 West Main St. in Medford but he soon moved on. In the mid-'60s he and Kay Lee were at the California College of Arts and Crafts, then Vancouver, Canada. Elmer Theodore and Kay Lee Lindberg purchased the Allison Street property in 1974, and it was that year that Ted Lindberg was granted Canadian citizenship. In 1984, Elmer Theodore Lindberg deeded the property to Kay Lee Lindberg. Ted Lindberg’s 2008 obituary makes no reference to his time in the Rogue Valley or to Kay Lee, though her friends say they stayed in touch and Ted visited Ashland almost every year.

Kay Lee’s love affair with books was life long, and meeting Liz Jones in the mid-'70s would have seemed a match made in heaven. Liz Jones ran Blue Goose Books in the 1970s and many remember the shop first on Ashland Street and later near the Plaza. Dale Evans, a local book collector wrote, “Liz Jones, the humorous, chuckling, tubby, crop-haired Blue Goose proprietress, had a faint dark moustache and smoked long brown cigarettes.” Liz was a marvelous contrast to Kay Lee’s reticence, quiet manner and tall, slender frame. Neighbor Melody Noraas spoke about Kay Lee recently, “None of us knew Kay Lee as well as we might have when Liz was alive because Liz was the big personality.”

Greg Williams, former owner of the Ashland Greenhouses on Nevada Street, says that Kay Lee worked with the family for more than 30 years, retiring when the greenhouse was sold in 2008. Judy Kennedy, who probably knew Kay Lee and Liz for longest and was closest to them says “Kay Lee never drove and walked both ways between Nevada and Allison Streets, stopping in at the Ashland Public Library on her way home. She just loved the library. Literature was so important.”

In her last years, Kay Lee became reclusive and read even more voraciously. Next door neighbors Dan and Pam Greenblatt generously cared for her needs and Melody and Judy shopped for her and picked up books from the library and Bookwagon. All share Kay Lee’s love of the Ashland Public Library, Melody saying, “Libraries are important, they’re not just a place for books. They’re probably one of the most important community centers, a leveling place where people of all kinds, all levels of society are equal and have access to knowledge.” The Ashland Public Library was a place where Kay Lee felt comfortable.

Bequests, estates and significant donations intended to benefit a specific branch of the Jackson County Library District or generally for all Jackson County’s public libraries are handled by the Jackson County Library Foundation. For more information on how you can make a legacy gift to your public library, visit www. jclf.org, call Foundation director Amy Drake at 541-774-6572 or speak with your attorney.

— Maureen Flanagan Battistella is a freelance writer in Ashland. Reach her at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.