In the early 1980s, then Library Director Richard Rademacher and the Library Board of Directors knew that City funding was tight and private funding might be a solution. In 1985 the Library Board set a fund raising goal of $1,000,000. They established an endowment anchored with an estate gift of $75,000 from Augusta C Anthony. In 1987, Eric Larson, an attorney with Bever Dye, recommended the Library Board take measures to receive a large estate gift and establish a separate foundation. On March 17, 1987, the Library Foundation became a reality. In 1988, the gift, from the estate of Ceila and Leonard Levand, was received by the Foundation. The annual distribtuion from their gift, now valued at $4 million, provides funding for the Library’s Summer Reading Program, which continues today. By 1991, the Foundation Board knew they needed an employee, someone who understood the library, could coordinate fundraising and was willing to work part-time. She was already working at the Library as the Volunteer Coordinator for the Friends. Carol Nazar became the executive director and served in this position for the next 15 years. She then served for the next 6 years in an advisory capacity to the Foundation Board. She left in 2015 upon her retirement from the Wichita Community Foundation and move to the Kansas City area.
Marge Setter (deceased) took up the challenge of private support for the Library when she joined the Foundation Board in June of 1992. By 1993 she was serving as president and directing the activities of the Board in raising $1.5 million to meet a National Endowment for the Arts challenge grant. With the successful completion of the grant during her tenure, $2 million was added to the endowment. Director of Libraries Dick Rademacher, Library Board presidents Diana Forshee and Jim Gustavson, officers of the Board Ed Francis (deceased), Eric Larson and Jan Randle, and Carol Nazar were honored on April 19, 2012, for their vision and work in making the Library Foundation a reality.
Dr. Leah Barnhard joined the Foundation as President and Executive Director in May of 2008. Work continued with funding from a Knight Foundation grant to improve Library awareness. City of Wichita Cultural Funding awards, 8 NEA Big Read grant awards starting in 2008 and numerous small awards in support of Library programming and materials collections provided support not available through the Library's tax supported budget. In addition, the Library Foundation has provided almost $5 million in endowment funding to the Library since 1987.
Don Barry joined the Foundation Board in 1997 and became Chairman in 1998. Then, at the end of 2009, as the Library embarked on its mission to build a new central library building, the Foundation began its work to provide private sector funds to assist with the project. A $5 million campaign grew into an $8 million dollar campaign with gifts from the Dwane and Velma Lunt Wallace Foundation and the Naftzger Fund for Fine Arts. On July 6, 2016, a groundbreaking ceremony was held at 711 West 2nd, the new home of the Wichita Public Library's Central Library - our new Advanced Learning Library.