Costa Mesa library supporters, officials help ring in outdoor music installation at Dungan

Donna Stapleton and the Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries members play instruments at Dungan Library.
Donna Stapleton, who first presented the idea for the outdoor musical instrument play area to city officials, conducts Thursday while the Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries play instruments outside the Donald Dungan Library.
(Sarahi Apaez)

Costa Mesa resident Donna Stapleton was visiting her sister in Wisconsin in the summer of 2017 when she chanced upon something special outside a log cabin library in the tiny town of Cable, population 825.

“We noticed there were these instruments outside, so my sister and I walked over and started playing them,” she recalled. “We were having a great time — these instruments sounded so good.”

For the record:

11:24 a.m. Sept. 6, 2022An earlier version of this story indicated Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries received a grant from the county’s Arts Commission. The grant was awarded by Supervisor Katrina Foley.

Normally such a story would end there. But Stapleton, a devoted fan of reading and then-president of the nonprofit Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries, embarked on a mission to bring a similar outdoor feature to the City of the Arts.

Pagoda bells are a part of a new outdoor musical instrument play area installed outside of the Donald Dungan Library.
(Sarahi Apaez)

She and fellow “Friends” helped raise enough money in 2019 to purchase a small set for the Mesa Verde Library. City staff installed the set-up, a collection of chimes and percussion instruments visitors could play with rubber mallets.

The feature was so warmly received, the group set their sites on a larger outdoor installment at the county-run Donald Dungan Library. With six separate features, including a metal “harp,” contrabass chimes and lily pad cymbals, the assemblage came with a hefty $30,000 price tag.

In a special dedication ceremony Thursday outside the library near the Lions Park playground, Stapleton explained to library supporters and city officials how community members rose to the challenge to make the funding happen.

Members of the Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries — which supports and raises funds for programs at the Dungan and Mesa Verde libraries — pooled donations and secured a $15,000 OC Arts grant through the office of 2nd District Supervisor Katrina Foley.

Local officials and library supporters at a musical installation outside the Donald Dungan Library.
Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley presents a certificate of recognition Thursday to Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries President Cheryl Fletcher during the unveiling of the musical instrument play area outside the Donald Dungan Library.
(Sarahi Apaez)

The grant helped bring them close to their goal, but they needed one more push to cross the finish line. Stapleton published a plea in a quarterly Friends newsletter and got a message from longtime member Richard Alexander, who offered up the needed funding.

“We were just blown away,” Stapleton recalled, explaining the offer was made in dedication of Alexander’s wife, Charlotte, who passed away in 2012 and had loved libraries and the written word.

Foley explained the instrument installment is just one more addition to a recent series of improvements made at the new library site.

“When we had the opportunity to build this library and to build this playground, I knew we were doing something special for Costa Mesa and for all of Orange County,” she said. “We need to put these instruments in all of our libraries across Orange County.”

Mason Kelly plays with the new outdoor chime instrument outside of the Donald Dungan Library.
(Sarahi Apaez)

After remarks from Costa Mesa Mayor John Stephens and City Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds, in whose 5th Council District the Dungan Library is located, attendees Thursday were treated to a musical performance.

Library supporter and ad-hoc band leader Cheryl Ooten explained all but one of the instruments have been tuned to produce harmonious tunes in a pentatonic, or five-note, scale. A set of manta ray chimes, which resemble a xylophone suspended by cables, contain seven notes for players who wish to perform a more complete melody.

“If the kids play, it’s just a beautiful, gorgeous, wonderful sound,” she added.

Ooten said the library plans to create a flier visitors can use to learn more about the instruments and how to create their own music.

Mayor John Stephens and Richard Alexander Thursday outside the Donald Dungan Library in Costa Mesa.
Mayor John Stephens presents a certificate Thursday to Richard Alexander, whose donation helped create a new outdoor musical sound sculpture play area at the Donald Dungan Library.
(Sarahi Apaez)

After the demonstration, people took turns banging out tunes with the rubber mallets, laughing as the soft sound of chimes lifted upward on the breeze. Alexander watched the festivities from a seat near the library, his lap filled with proclamations commemorating his generous donation.

“The inspiration [for this] is my wife, Charlotte,” he said, recalling how she filled countless notebooks with writings he’s still reading 10 years later. “She was a lifelong learner and a big advocate of public libraries.”

He recounted how “Charlie” helped start a book discussion group at a Newport Beach public library and probably would have had some snide comment about being honored in a ceremony.

“[But] she would smile warmly and be surprised,” he added.

Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries with Mayor John Stephens and Supervisor Katrina Foley at the Donald Dungan Library.
Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries joined Thursday with Mayor John Stephens and County Supervisor Katrina Foley to unveil a new musical instrument play area outside the Donald Dungan Library.
(Sarahi Apaez)

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