BEDA BRENNECKE CORNWALL
The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.
At A Glance:
Born: November 21, 1907
Died: June 13, 1994
Maiden Name: Brennecke
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Married: Charles Norman Cornwall
Children: two (one daughter, one son)
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Las Vegas (Clark Co.)
Major Fields of Work: Civic affairs (public library founder) and Local government (elected school trustee)
Other Role Identities: Wife, Mother, Educator (teacher), Social Worker, Woman’s club leader, Appointed federal official
Beda (Tabitha) Brennecke Cornwall was born on November 21, 1907, in Tulare, South Dakota to Frederick William and Martha Brennecke. Her father was a German Evangelical Lutheran minister. She received her education at the University of Idaho, Southern Branch, at Pocatello and at the University of Denver, majoring in education and social services. She taught school for four years in Montrose, Colorado.
In 1932 she married Charles Norman Cornwall of Aspen, Colorado, a graduate of the University of Colorado Law School at Boulder. From 1935 to 1939, Beda worked under a federal appointment to do social work for the Farm Security Administration under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Beda and Charles had two children, a daughter, Gretchen, and a son, William Leo. They moved to Las Vegas in 1943 where Charles became a well-known attorney and served as City Attorney from 1944 to 1948.Her first year in Las Vegas, Beda taught school at Dry Lake. She became very active in USO work during and after World War II as well as Travelers’ Aide, Red Cross and other social and civic endeavors. She served on the Las Vegas City Recreation Board and was appointed through that group and the City Commission to see what could be done to have an adequate library to serve the city residents. She was instrumental in the formation of the Citizens’ Library Association, composed of interested members of various local charitable and organizations.
Under Beda’s leadership in 1948, the group launched an all-out drive to raise money for a library building. Scrapbooks of news clippings and organizational records currently housed in UNLV Special Collections give examples of that campaign. Hal Erickson, retired Director of the UNLV Library, reports:
“Reading through the minutes of the Citizens’ Library Association, copies of the letters sent to clubs, potential donors, and casinos, one easily becomes fired with enthusiasm for building a library…Beda was their leader…and she couldn’t have had a better group …newspaperman Al Cahlan, lawyer Milt Keefer, Laura Belle Kelch, Harvey Menente, Nellie Bunch, and others… The projects used to get money belong in a text on fund raising. Every organization adopted the library as its project and raised amounts varying from tens to thousands of dollars. One organization sponsored a contest to guess the 1950 Las Vegas census figures. Six slot machines set aside in a number of casinos each provided a week’s earnings. Bea Barron, wife of Last Frontier Hotel executive Ballard Barron, organized a door-to-door canvas which raised thousands of dollars.” (Kepper)
The city donated a building site at 4th and Mesquite in downtown Las Vegas. The dedicated Citizens’ Association raised $68,206 by public subscription and donations, representing over $3.00 per person in Las Vegas at the time, and the City added $30,000. The new library was dedicated to the City on June 1, 1952, at that time the largest and most modern library in the State of Nevada. Reba McKinster, who had come to Las Vegas in 1949 from Kentucky, served as the City Librarian for nineteen years and worked closely with Mrs. Cornwall in bringing library needs to her attention. (Shown below is Beda, 3rd from right, with members of the Citizen’s Association.)
In 1952 Beda was also Chair of National Library Week and was honored by the American Library Association for her contributions to public library service. She continued as chair of the Citizen’s Library Association Board, which functioned as the Library Board of Trustees for another 20 years until 1972 when the Las Vegas Public Library merged with the Clark County Library District.
Beda was President of the Service League (now Junior League) from 1950 to 1951. She also served as Chair of the Clark County Social Agencies and Chair of the Clark County Safety Council. She was given an award by the Shell Oil Company for her outstanding contribution to public safety.
Also in 1952, Beda was named Mrs. Las Vegas by the American Legion for her work in the community and was recognized as one of the three Outstanding Women of the Year by the Soroptomists, a professional women’s service club. The Hadassah Club of Jewish women also presented her an award of merit for outstanding service to the community.
In 1954 Beda Cornwall was elected to the Las Vegas City School District Board of Trustees and served until 1956 when the school districts were consolidated to form the Clark County School District. In 1954 she was also campaign chair for the Community Chest.
Beda was one of the founders of the Home of the Good Shepherd Auxiliary, serving as their president from 1963 to 1965. She was a member of the Children’s Service Guild, providing assistance to abandoned and neglected children at Child Haven run by the Clark County Juvenile Court Services. She was a member of the Founder’s Club of the Clark County Boys’ Club, where the Boys’ Club Library was named the “Cornwall Library” in honor of Beda and Norman Cornwall.
An avid flower grower, Beda was also a member of the American Rose Society, and entered her flowers in several state competitions.
In 1978 the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Library sponsored a special exhibit of artifacts, photographs, papers, etc. that illustrated the history of public library creation in Las Vegas. It also held a large reception to thank those longtime library supporters; Beda Cornwall was a special honored guest at that event.
Beda Cornwell remained an ardent library supporter and community worker until her death on June 13, 1994. Her son, William, was quoted in her obituary notice as saying, “She was a preacher’s daughter. She felt good works were her responsibility.”
Biographical sketch by Jean Ford.
Sources of Information:
- Beda Cornwall papers, 1941-1974. Special Collections, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
- Kepper, Anna Dean, compiler. Las Vegas Public Libraries: An Exhibit, a booklet printed and distributed by University of Nevada, Las Vegas Special Collections, 1978.
- Obituary, Las Vegas Review-Journal, June 16, 1994.