GREENFIELD — When Dr. Ralph Rea began practicing medicine in Greenfield, an office visit was $4. Getting a home visit from the doctor, who carried an old-fashioned black leather doctor’s bag until he retired in 1994, was only two dollars more.
As the late physician’s $11 million estate is distributed among charitable causes he supported, friends say the longtime Greenfield resident, who died Oct. 23, 2015, must have invested those amounts wisely over the years.
The Hancock County Public Library was recently named among the beneficiaries of the Ralph and Grace Rea’s goodwill — to the tune of $3.5 million. As preliminary planning for a new building for the library’s Sugar Creek branch in New Palestine continues, library officials are now confident the process will be able to move a little more quickly.
Some of the money will be set aside for improvements of existing facilities, such as roof repairs at the library’s main building in Greenfield, but much of the Rea family’s gift will be earmarked for the new branch, officials said.
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In August 2016, the library system purchased 5 acres from Justus Property Management on U.S. 52 in New Palestine, about a mile west of the current Sugar Creek branch location, using $700,000 from its rainy day fund. The process of building a new Sugar Creek branch remains in the early planning stages, said library director Dave Gray; currently, contractors are testing the soil at the new location and library officials are asking their staff and board members what they envision gracing the walls of the future library.
“(The gift) certainly gives us the option to speed the process up,” Gray said. “Having cash on hand will be helpful. The question is now, do we spend the entire gift?”
Collecting input from the library’s board of directors and current staff will drive how the new branch shapes up, from its size to its features, Gray said. One thing library staff know they want is much more space than the current branch offers.
About five years remain on the lease of the current Sugar Creek branch of the library, a 7,480-square-foot facility that once served as a drugstore.
The location, at 5087 U.S. 52, has for years proven cramped for the increasing number of patrons visiting the New Palestine branch, causing problems with limited parking and overcrowded events. From 2012 to 2016, the library saw nearly 20,000 more visitors each year walk through its doors.
Library staff and board members said the generous $3.5 million gift from the Rea estate will go a long way toward building a new branch to serve the New Palestine area for generations to come.
Dr. Ted Gabrielsen, a library board member and friend of the couple, said while the Reas were a loving couple, they were conservative in giving to philanthropy while they lived.
Gabrielsen said that makes the news all the more significant.
To acknowledge the generosity of the Reas’ gift, the newly completed meeting rooms in the Greenfield branch will be emblazoned with Grace Rea’s name, and the new Sugar Creek branch, when it is built, will be called the Ralph and Grace Rea Memorial Building, Gray said.
The library will acknowledge the donation additionally with a display of some of the couple’s personal items, including Purdue University memorabilia, a medical bag and a replica of the Mercedes Roadster the doctor drove when he was making home visits in the 1970s, Gabrielsen said.
Gabrielsen said Grace Rea was a lover of poetry and fond of the Hancock County Public Library, and that led to her request of acknowledging the library with a donation from the couple’s estate.
The couple had diverse interests — Grace Rea loved to raise orchids; Ralph Rea, in his later years, developed a fondness for bluegrass and New Orleans-style music and learned to play the banjo.
However, their defining characteristic during their years of running their doctor’s office was an unyielding dedication to the care of patients, Gabrielsen said.
“He wanted to be completely involved in the care of his patients,” he said. “He wanted to make sure they were cared for as if they were his own loved ones.”
And that legacy of caring for others lives on through the couple’s gift to the library, officials said.
“This is a monumental gift to the library from the estate,” Gabrielsen said.