The Life and Legacy of Ralph V. Lents

Mr. Ralph Lents has been on our minds lately- hasn’t he? In an earlier blog, we discussed how a little man in a plain brown suit has been watching over the Lents Branch on North Bend Road, long after he passed from this life. You may have heard by now that the current Lents Branch building will be closing its doors on September 1 to make way for a building that will better meet the needs of Boone County taxpayers. What we haven’t talked about is who Ralph V. Lents was and what motivated him to sponsor a sweet little library in the heart of northern Boone County.

2_174_Mr__and_Mrs__R_V__LentsIn 1974 with the aid of the Walton Advertiser and encouraged by former students and friends, Ralph Vernon Lents wrote and published his autobiographical memoirs. Born in Marshall County in 1896 to fourth cousins Rufus and Ada Lents. He was named for Ralph Waldo Emerson and Rufus and Ada hoped their young son would go on to great things. Lents recalled the first few years of life were lonely and very poor living on a rural and often wet farm where Rufus Lents raised corn, tobacco and hay. As poor as the family was and as many times as they had to move to find better land and a better life, school remained an important focus in young Ralph’s life. Throughout the years, young Ralph would excel at his studies, often winning spelling bees and outshining classmates in Latin and Algebra. While in school, he would still need to help bring in tobacco and cotton on the farm, as well as, pick up extra work as janitor of the high school in Hardin, Ky. As a career and vocation, he chose his greatest love, teaching.

In his memoirs, Lents reminisced about his adventures before coming to Boone County, Kentucky. Those adventures included a broken engagement, a broken marriage and a nearly deadly bout of typhoid fever. Mr. Lents had a passion for squirrel and rabbit hunting, as well as, fishing. He would take every opportunity to go hunting and fishing with friends, neighbors and even students. Ralph Lents met his second wife, life-long partner and Boone County native, Mollie Newman, while teaching in Pendleton County. They married in 1925 and soon they both graduated from Murray State Normal School, a teaching college- now known as Murray State University.

Hired by school trustee J.P. Dolwick in 1926, Ralph and Mollie Lents settled in to teaching at the Constance School located on the Ohio River, near the Anderson Ferry. The couple taught for 34 years and spent the remainder of their lives in Boone County. They didn’t have children of their own, so they dedicated their lives to teaching others. People still talk about how they would see Mr. Lents standing on the school playground holding all of the little girls’ purses as they played at recess. Others remember how he would hand out pennies and political information at Halloween — R.V. Lents was an ardent Democrat throughout his life.  The couple were active 4-H Club leaders and never missed a Boone County Fair. A pavilion at the Boone County Fair Grounds is named after Mr. Lents.

As life-long learners and educators, the couple saved up approximately a million dollars to be used to build a library branch in Hebron. For a man who grew up without shoes and picked cotton, a million dollars was a lifetime of savings. In 1989, five years after Ralph V. Lents passed, the R.V. Lents Branch of the Boone County Library System was dedicated in his memory. Through the years, the Lents Branch has offered story times and programming to young children and homework help to students, as well as, books and helpful resources to their parents. At BCPL, we like to think that Mr. and Mrs. Lents would be pleased how their branch has served the community and the children and grandchildren of their former students. Their legacy lives on through the lives of all the people who have  made use of the books and services provided by the Lents Branch.

–Bridget

Bridget Striker, graduate of the University of Kentucky, has been with BCPL since 2001 where she uses her background in archaeology, historic preservation and GIS mapping to ferret out elusive bits of Boone County history as the Local History Coordinator. Bridget serves as Vice-Chair of the Boone County Historic Preservation Review Board and Executive Board Member of the Rabbit Hash Historical Society.

Ghosts in the Lents Branch?

Boone County Public Library’s Lents Branch is special for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the generous donation made by Ralph V Lents to construct it.  Built in 1989 as BCPL’s second branch, Mr. Lents was very involved in the planning for the facility before his death in 1984.  It was very important to him that the people of Boone County have the chance to explore their interests, learn and grow.  His commitment to the project was fierce and unparalleled and seems to have continued even after his passing.

For years, staff and customers have reported strange activities inside the Lents Branch and on the property.  There are lights that flicker on and off.  Cell phones don’t always get great reception and electronics fail at a much higher rate than in other library branches.  Some people report feeling like someone is behind them or in the building with them on quiet nights.  Custodial staff have been touched or heard their names called when in the meeting room late at night. Still others claim to have seen ghosts or mists. Renowned ghost hunter Patti Starr claimed to have seen a little man in a brown suit standing in the corner of the meeting room.

These happenings have become so common that staff started to joke that it might be Mr. Lents.  But could it really be him?  Is he still checking on the library after all this time?  The only way to find out is to investigate!  On March 7th, a group of volunteers, PINK (Paranormal Investigators of Northern KY), worked with library staff to check the building for paranormal activity and the presence of spirits or ghosts.  A full range of diagnostic equipment was brought in to analyze and research the premises.

Video cameras were set up all over the building along with audio equipment and various devices intended to capture any movement, sound or image that might indicate a spiritual presence.  A medium came as well to try to make contact with any apparitions that might be lingering around the library.

In the meeting room, where much of the reported activity has occurred, the team had flashlights flicker in response to questions, cold spots and a spirit box would respond directly to questions. When the spirit was asked its name, the response was “Ralph”. When asked what road runs past the library, the box clearly said “North Bend”.

Later the team moved into the main portion of the library by the front desk. It was here that the medium felt the presence of a female who felt like she was “in charge”. Here too, flashlights would respond to questions and motion sensors would go on even though no one from the team was moving. Who could this be? Tillie Tanfani was the branch manager at Lents from 1989 to her death in 2004. Is Tillie watching over the library she so loved? Are Ralph Lents and Tillie Tanfani watching over the little branch in Hebron? If they are, they are most assuredly the library’s guardian angels.

PINK is currently analyzing the information they collected and will present a big reveal with their results when they are finished. Watch for a future blog post on this subject!

–Bridget

Bridget Striker, graduate of the University of Kentucky, has been with BCPL since 2001 where she uses her background in archaeology, historic preservation and GIS mapping to ferret out elusive bits of Boone County history as the Local History Coordinator. Bridget serves as Vice-Chair of the Boone County Historic Preservation Review Board and Executive Board Member of the Rabbit Hash Historical Society.