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.
In 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 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.