William Luebke’s legacy is so large that most of it remains in boxes stacked in special collections, in the basement of the Yakima Central Library. Only about 15 percent of the collection is on shelves at this point.
YAKIMA — When longtime Yakima businessman William Luebke died in 2017, associates remembered his work in auditing and accounting and the years he managed the Yakima Meadows horse track. But for most of his life, he also was a student of Pacific Northwest history.
In May, Yakima Valley Libraries received a remarkable collection from Luebke’s estate — more than 5,000 books about Washington and Oregon histories, Lewis and Clark, the Civil War, railroad and transportation histories and early exploration on the Pacific Coast.
“The man was a collector,” said Terry Walker, archive librarian for the library system. “He kept a record of every book, where he bought it and how much it cost.”
Luebke’s legacy is so large that most of it remains in boxes stacked in special collections, in the basement of the Yakima Central Library. Only about 15 percent of the collection is on shelves at this point, Walker said.
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Because the collection is so large, the library is developing a plan for shelving and making it available to patrons. In the meantime, Walker and archive technician Bonnie Hood are cataloging items in the Luebke collection amid their other regular duties.
“Bonnie and I have been doing a cart a week, maybe 30 books to a cart, for three weeks now,” Walker said.
Born in 1933 to a prominent banking and farm family in Chehalis, Luebke attended William Jewell College in Missouri and Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, where he studied economics and history, according to his obituary.
He moved to Yakima and managed the Yakima Meadows horse track before moving into auditing and accounting. He was a photographer and genealogist, as well as a Pacific Northwest history buff.
“This guy was really dedicated to quality and quantity,” said Jo N. Miles of Toppenish, author of several scholarly articles and a book, “Kamiakin Country: Washington Territory in Turmoil, 1855-1858.”
Miles never met Luebke but knows about his collection and was eager for a closer look.
Walker noted that Luebke’s family could have sold the collection “for a pretty penny, but book collections rarely are sold intact; they’re sold in chunks” reflecting buyers’ interests, she said.
“The family wanted to keep the collection together as a memorial to their father,” she added.
Centered on the westward expansion of the U.S., the collection spans the time of fur traders and explorers to the arrival of railroads and their early history, Walker said. Along with local lore, it includes information about all the Mountain States, the Bureau of Reclamation, several book sets and every issue of the Oregon Historical Quarterly starting with Volume 1. It features some issues of Pacific Northwest Quarterly and signed first editions of fiction related to the West by such authors as Archie Binns.
“He has a terrific amount of material on railroad history,” Walker noted. “This railroad collection is pretty unique.”
Luebke’s legacy is in outstanding shape as well.
“The materials we’re getting are in excellent condition and will last for years. Some will go into circulation,” Walker said.
Making space for all of it will take some time.