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Kingsford’s Maureen Gauzza Remembered

Maureen Gauzza, 75, the force behind the original effort to convince Hillsborough County to build a library in the area, passed away after a lengthy illness on July 3.

Her husband, Charlie, and she moved into Kingsford in August of 1998.

Her arrival fundamentally changed the community.

Gauzza, along with residents who made up the early executive committee of the Upper Tampa Bay Regional Library Friends chapter, heavily lobbied the Hillsborough County Commission and won both funding and a Westchase location for the original UTB Regional Library, which opened in January 2005.

Speaking at the dedication of the later library expansion in 2014, Hillsborough County Commissioner Hagan credited Gauzza for bringing the library to the Westchase community. “She really was the inspiration. She was relentless. She was a bulldog,” he stated. “She’s the primary reason we’re here.”

A native of Yonkers, New York, who grew up in Ossining and Croton-on-the-Hudson, Gauzza, she met her husband, Charlie, who was in the navy, in 1962 and they married in 1966. Her early career was with AT&T but she became a stay-at-home mom with the birth of their first daughter, Sharon, in 1970, followed by another daughter, Christine, in 1972.

Meanwhile Charlie Gauzza worked for IBM. When IBM opened a Tampa branch, Charlie’s career brought them to Palm Harbor in 1981, where their two daughters grew up. They lived right up the street from the Palm Harbor Library. “That’s where she developed her love of libraries,” said Charlie.

Subsequently, wherever they visited, Charlie said, they would visit the town’s local library.

The year 1998 brought the Gauzzas to the Kingsford subdivision of Westchase.

Longtime neighbor Rama Patterson recalled her friend. “Maureen loved to be with friends and do things. She was just a fun-loving and wonderful person.”

Patterson and Gauzza were two members of a trio of Kingsford friends, a group that soon also included Pat Pekala. “She was a fun-loving person,” agreed Pekala.

Pekala met Gauzza through a Kingsford block party she was reluctant to attend because she was still so busy unpacking from her own recent move to Westchase.

Pekala went anyway.

“I met her and we both started talking and we had a lot in common,” she said. “We all moved in during the same year. For some reason we began talking about the fact that there was no library around here.”

Pekala said the trio began talking about how to rectify that shortcoming and soon a lot of others came on board. “We became friends around it.”

The three, along with Kim Muenter, a resident of Harbor Links who attended an early meeting of library advocates, became the four officers of a group formed after the Hillsborough County Library Board told them it was necessary first step in making a Westchase-area library a reality. Thus was borne the Upper Tampa Bay Friends of the Library chapter.

Gauzza was its president, a position she held for a decade.

“I don’t think we’d have a library today if it weren’t for Maureen,” said Patterson. “She was passionate about us needing a library. She just stuck right with it.”

“She was a major player behind the scenes in Westchase. If it weren’t for her, there wouldn’t be a library in Westchase,” agreed Lexington Park resident Bob Argus, a former member of the Westchase Community Development District (CDD) board of supervisors and the first Westchase Community Association (WCA) president after the association shifted from developer to resident control.

Patterson recalled Gauzza planting the seeds of the UTB Regional Library. “She had been very involved with the public library when they lived in Palm Harbor. I believe it was 1999 and she invited several of us to her home to discuss the possibilities. And she kind of had a plan about how to go about it.”

“We kind of had a grass-roots email system to mobilize residents,” she recalled.

“She was a spitfire,” said Muenter. “She was retired supposedly but the library was a full-time job for her. I think she worked eight hours a day on it.”

Pekala also credited the support offered by the members of the Westchase Seniors Group, a social organization founded by Patterson and her husband, Lewis.

But Patterson, Pekala, Muenter and Argus agreed: Gauzza led the way.

“She spearheaded it all. Without her it wouldn’t have happened,” said Muenter.

“Maureen was constantly speaking to the library board about the need for a library out here,” said Argus.

Argus said she, along with early library supporters, gathered the Northwest’s demographics that proved the area needed a library and presented the material to the board. “Because of Maureen, it became apparent to the library board that we needed a library in Westchase.”

Yet it was a campaign with milestones that played out over a long time. The first step?

“They wound up putting Northwest Hillsborough on the unfunded capital improvements list [for a library],” said Argus of the first hurdle. “Once it was on the unfunded list, additional pressure was put on the seven county commissioners to fund it.”

“She looked at the demographics. She looked at the library’s budget, their numbers,” said Muenter. “She knew her stuff. She was prepared. I think that surprised the county officials. Yet she would charm them at the same time.”

Charlie Gauzza recalled with a laugh that it was Maureen who located the original dollars for the library within the library budget when she called out the large reserve fund the library board had amassed.

The library was originally funded for 10,000 square feet, roughly the size of Austin Davis Library, which then served a more rural part of the county.

Then there were additional steps. Prior to construction, Gauzza and her volunteers convinced county commissioners to vote additional funds to add 5,000 square feet to the 10,000 square feet originally budgeted.

The UTB Regional Library opened in January of 2005 at 15,000 square feet. During its construction, Charlie Gauzza recalled, Maureen walked through the site in a hard hat. “She took one look at the children’s room and said, ‘We have a lot of children in Westchase. That’s not big enough.”

Muenter added that Gauzza not only influenced the library’s location, but county officials even rans their plans for its interior design and decorations past Guazza and her group – such was her command of other town’s library facilities.

As UTB Friends president, Gauzza, her Friends chapter and the UTB Library Foundation under Woodbay’s Brett Scharringhausen, another early library advocate, didn’t rest after the original library’s opening. Declaring that the originally designed library wasn’t large enough to meet the demand in a growing Northwest Hillsborough, Gauzza and the foundation also raised funds and lobbied for a significant expansion that brought the UTB Regional Library to a total of 26,000 square feet. The 11,000 square foot expansion was dedicated in May of 2014.

It featured an extra large children’s room (the old children’s room was converted to the existing computer room currently across from the check-in desk).

“She loved children, number one. She wanted to do something for the community and the library would be that big thing because it would include everyone,” said Pekala.

Gauzza loved the library, she added, because it was the one thing that could serve all ages and people from all backgrounds and ethnicities. “In that way, she brought the community together in here.”

In January 2015 library officials dedicated a room, located at the main entrance of the library, in Gauzza’s honor in appreciation of all of her great contributions to the facility. The Maureen Gauzza Community Room is used for many of the library’s special events.

Patterson added, “I kept saying this library ought to be named the Maureen Gauzza Library. I was very happy a few years ago when they named the library room the Maureen Gauzza Community Room.”

In 2014, Gauzza stepped down as president of the UTB Library Friends chapter around the time she was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia. She had resided at Arbor Terrace Assisted Living facility on Sheldon Road since December 2016.

In announcing her passing, Charlie Gauzza wrote to friends, “She will be so very much missed but I know in my heart she is in God’s Kingdom with her mom, dad, and two brothers and will always be looking down on us and waiting for the day we will be together again. She was a loving, wonderful person to everyone that knew her. I feel truly blessed that we could share all those years of life together and will miss her and her loving ways, smiles and laughter so very much.”

Her daughter Sharon stated to WOW, “She was a special lady indeed and will be missed every single day. We had a running family joke that the UTB Regional Library was her ‘third child.’ She loved that library and we were so proud of her grassroots efforts in bringing it to fruition! It's such an amazing legacy that will live on forever in our community.”

Gauzza’s viewing was held Friday, July 7 at Macdonald Funeral Home and her funeral occurred the following day at St. Lawrence Catholic Church. She was interred at Curlew Hills Memory Gardens, 1750 Curlew Road, in Palm Harbor.

She is survived by her husband, Charlie, of 51 years, and two daughters. Her daughter Sharon Gauzza Potts resides in West Park Village with Gauzza’s grandchildren, Justin, Jared and Julia Potts. Gauzza is also survived by her daughter Christine Harvey, Christine’s husband John, and grandchildren Christopher, Savannah and Alexandria Harvey of Highland Village, TX.

Gauzza is also survived by her brother, Gus Beirne and his wife, Jill, of Spring Hill, FL, and her sister-in-law, Rita Beirne of Summerville, SC.

She was predeceased by her beloved parents, Margaret and Augustine Beirne and beloved brothers, Frank and John Beirne.

Thank you, Maureen, for building a stronger, better community for all Westchasers, young and old. You were a true Friend to us all!

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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