Jenna Yeakley’s motto is, “Have courage and be kind.”
Her first date with the man who became her husband, Richard Yeakley, shows she practices what she preaches.
“We careened off the side of a mountain in Tennessee. We were close to the bottom of the mountain and his car slipped on black ice. We went off the road and there were trees all around” that they could have crashed into, she said.
Except they didn’t.
“It had been raining, and the leaves were slippery. They piled up underneath the car and stopped it. … It was completely a miracle” that neither she nor Richard were injured, said the youth services supervisor at the Longview Public Library.
They were both in their early 20s, students at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee.
“Ever since then, I really do see each day as a gift. We’re not guaranteed tomorrow,” said Yeakley, 28.
Despite this inauspicious beginning, she was both kind and courageous enough to go on a second date with Richard and eventually to marry him.
Yeakley graduated with an English degree; Richard received a communication degree with an emphasis in journalism. In 2012, they moved to Longview, Richard’s hometown.
Richard worked for the News-Journal — he recently took a job in media development for the city after working a couple of years as general manager of ArtsView Children’s Theatre — and Jenna taught fifth grade at Longview Christian School for two years. They married in 2013.
But Yeakley knew she wanted to be a librarian — it was in her genes. Her mother had been a children’s librarian for 10 years, leaving the field to raise her children.
“My brother and I grew up being avid readers, participating in library programs. It was just part of our lives” in Morganton, North Carolina, she said.
“I fell in love with the library and all it had to offer, and I wanted to do that for other kids,” said Yeakley, who supervises five other staff members in the library’s youth services department.
She enrolled in Texas Woman’s University’s online master’s degree in library science. She graduated in May 2016 and was hired as a library assistant at Longview Public Library that August.
Library Director Jennifer Eldridge supervises Yeakley.
“Jenna is extremely tenacious, very organized, she works very hard. … She’s equally passionate about working with children and adults,” said Eldridge, 31.
She has known Yeakley about three years, describing her as hard-working, a people person and someone who will do whatever needs to be done.
“I value (her friendship) so much because we both believe in the same things: service to our community, spreading literacy to everyone,” Eldridge said.
Yeakley says the best part of her day is interacting with children.
“They run up and show me their crafts, or tell me the books they are reading,” she said. Planning library programs and activities and creating and implementing new ideas are also close to her heart.
One of the programs she loves is the six-week-long Summer Reading Club. Registration for this year’s club opens May 1; the kickoff party is June 7.
It’s for children “zero to 18, and it’s completely free of charge,” Yeakley said.
“The whole purpose is to encourage kids to read over the summer so that they go back to school at or above their reading level,” she added.
The library offers daily programs “to encourage them to visit the library and have something fun and free to do throughout the day,” Yeakley said.
It’s so popular that sometimes she has to turn people away, because the city’s fire code allows the library’s meeting room to hold no more than 120 people.
“We have to come up with creative ways to fix that,” Yeakley said. So when the library offers a movie, for instance, it’s shown twice a day — once in the morning and again in the afternoon.
Yeakley is also a mentor and group leader with Partners in Prevention’s Forever Friends program at Foster Middle School. She and her husband also volunteer with the nursery and youth group at One Hope Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
Alicia Johnson, 33, coordinates Partners in Prevention’s mentoring program in Longview and Kilgore.
“We just gravitated toward each other. She had a great sense of humor. … It was almost like an instant connection,” said Johnson, who has known Yeakley for two years.
“Jenna is a very effervescent personality. … She has this calming energy about her that makes people feel they can be themselves,” Johnson continued.
As a mentoring facilitator at Foster, Yeakley works hard creating opportunities for the girls, Johnson said. And Yeakley is consistent; her commitment never wavers.
She has an ability “to communicate and problem solve in a way that allows people to maintain their dignity. That’s a beautiful thing about her,” Johnson added.
“She can be in the minority, whether it’s race or gender, and that doesn’t seem to bother her. Not all people have that,” Johnson said.
“I think that she is a jewel in our community. I’m very proud of what she’s doing.”
Yeakley likes to work out and to go camping with Richard at Beavers Bend State Park in Southeast Oklahoma.
She loves to read and listens to audiobooks as she drives. Her two favorite books are “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E.L. Konigsburg and “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley.
Though many people think Frankenstein is the monster, Yeakley points out “Frankenstein” is the young scientist who creates a human from body parts. When he sees how hideous his creation is, Victor Frankenstein recoils from it.
“I like that (the book) is from the monster’s perspective, and how he’s dealing with being thrust into creation and then being abandoned. It’s beautifully written, all the wonderful imagery,” she said.
One of her current goals is to become scuba certified, the result of a beginning scuba lesson during a recent cruise.
“It was so incredible. The fish are right in front of you, and you can experience tropical locations from a whole new perspective,” Yeakley said.
When asked what gets her out of bed every morning, she said, “The fact that God has given me another day of life to live. I want to honor and glorify him in my words and work.”