Library Foundation Director Steps Down

Adam Tunnell resigned as executive director of the nonprofit ImagineIF Foundation as the Bigfork branch capital campaign reaches final stage

By Micah Drew
A rendering of the exterior of Bigfork’s ImagineIF Library. The ImagineIF Foundation has spearheaded the push to bring a modern library to the community of Bigfork. Courtesy image

At the April 27 meeting of the ImagineIF Libraries Board of Trustees the seat normally filled by the executive director of the ImagineIF Library Foundation — the nonprofit fundraising arm of the county library system — was instead taken by the foundation’s board president, Sara Busse.

Busse told the trustees that Executive Director Adam Tunnell resigned his position the previous week, the second departure by a director of the nonprofit in 14 months.

“I love the library, I love the foundation and its vision, but ultimately it became too much for my own mental health and personal relationships and I needed to step away,” Tunnell told the Beacon. “I’m disappointed I couldn’t see anything through, but I wish the library the best, and hope they figure out Bigfork quickly and get a good resolution for the Kalispell branch.”

In February 2022, the former foundation director, Charlotte Housel, resigned her position citing ongoing tensions with the board of trustees. She told the Beacon that leading a prolonged capital campaign for the new Bigfork library branch, as well as continued clashes with trustees, had led to professional burnout after five years of leading the nonprofit.

Tunnell, a member of the foundation board for three years, was hired soon after Housel’s departure, bringing his experience serving in various community organizations, including as manager of the Habitat for Humanity of the Flathead Valley Re-Store and operations director for the Crown of the Continent Guitar Foundation. He also spent time as the distiller and manager of Whitefish Handcrafted Spirits.

Under his leadership, the ImagineIF Foundation reached major milestones in the campaign to bring a new library to the Bigfork community, including completing an agreement for the ImagineIF trustees to accept The Ark building the foundation bought in 2018. The agreement was vital to rejuvenate the foundation’s $1.6 million capital campaign that will cover the building’s remodel. The campaign is currently halfway to its fundraising goal.

Tunnell took over foundation leadership during a time of high tension between the foundation and the trustees, and initially clashed with the library’s board of trustees, including after the foundation was blocked from participating in the Great Fish Community Challenge — a local fundraising campaign that in 2021 netted the foundation more than $41,000 — due to trustees’ actions. Tunnell wrote in an email to trustees that “a course correction is required for us to effectively do our work.” However, Tunnell said the rift between the trustees and the foundation was significantly repaired as his time as director continued.

“The foundation leadership learned how to work with the trustees, which was definitely different than in the past,” he said. “The library board and myself had a lot of good conversations over the year, and a lot of harsh conversations, but it was great to work through things and get over the hurt feelings. We’re all civil servants at that point — we’re all there for the library and for the community. It was good to get back to normal library drama, like figuring out how to raise money for new buildings.”

Busse said the foundation’s board plans to bring in an outside facilitator to determine whether the best path forward includes hiring a new executive director or continuing as a board-led organization, while reiterating the foundation’s priority is finishing the Bigfork capital campaign.

To fill the void in the campaign’s oversight, the foundation is interviewing for someone to lead the capital campaign through the final fundraising phase, with a goal of breaking ground on the Bigfork branch renovation this summer, though Busse said that is dependent on fundraising success and the construction bid, which has increased since the building’s designs were first drawn up in 2018.

“We, as a board, have prioritized that as number one,” Busse said. “We want to put all of our efforts fundraising-wise, into ensuring that happens. It’s long overdue.”