DANVILLE — Danville Area Community College recognized five individuals and an organization Friday that were instrumental to the founding of the college during a Founders’ Day luncheon and program.
This year’s honorees were Danville District 118, Peggy Gardner, the late Marjorie Holmes, Lou and Sybil Mervis, and Marilyn Satterwhite. Each honoree received a commemorative plaque with an ink drawing of the college on a 110-year-old slate tile from one of DACC’s original buildings. They also each received two proclamations from the 98th General Assembly, one from state Sen. Mike Frerichs and the other from state Rep. Chad Hays.
This was the fourth Founders’ Day celebration. The last one was in 2011.
The program’s master of ceremonies was Mike Hulvey of Neuhoff Broadcasting.
“Founders’ Day connects a lot of dots for people in the community and for students,” Hulvey said. “The college has been a bridge to the future for many.”
A committee planned the Founders’ Day activities as well as selected the honorees. The committee members were Lara Conklin, Chris Cornell, John Hoagland, Maggie Hoover, Alice Marie Jacobs, Dave Kietzmann, Carrie Thurman, Barb Todd and Tracy Wahlfeldt.
The purpose of Founders’ Day is to honor individuals and organizations that have been instrumental in helping the college become the institution it is today as well as appreciate the history of the college.
Fourteen speakers, including the honorees, made presentations during the two-hour-long fete.
DACC Trustee Dick Cheney recognized Danville District 118 as the founding organization of the college. When the University of Illinois decided after three years to close its extension site — the predecessor to the college — in 1949, District 118 supported the continuation of a local two-year college from 1949 to 1966 at Danville High School.
“In 1965, District 118 voted to separate from the college so it could run independently,” Cheney said. “The college wouldn’t be possible without the support of District 118.”
District 118 Superintendent Mark Denman said, “This is a very important recognition for the school district. The district took sole responsibility for the college in 1949 because the board saw the need to support the fledgling college.
“It saw the lasting potential for lasting good,” he said.
Denman told a story about the college’s first president Mary Miller, who also simultaneously taught English and was the drama coach at DHS for 41 years while being in charge of the college.
“When there were insufficient (college) students, she found them,” Denman said. “She built the college and called it the Miracle on Main Street.”
Dave Kietzmann, DACC’s vice president of instruction and student services, recognized Peggy Gardner, the first and only executive secretary to serve all five of the college’s past presidents from 1966 to 1994. She also served as secretary to the DACC Board of Trustees from 1989 to 1994.
“Mary Miller called her the perfect secretary,” he said, adding that she also worked on many important community projects, including the formation of the Danville Economic Development Corp, and hosted many international students from different countries in her home.
“She is the continuity of DACC,” he said. “She is the face and voice of the president’s office, and the cornerstone of the college.”
Gardner asked Kietzmann to read her comments, which included, “I have many special memories of the college, and I feel very fortunate to have had a job that I loved and to have been a part of the college.”
Barb Todd, a retired DACC faculty member and past founder honoree, remembered the late Marjorie (Marge) Holmes.
She said Holmes had been a DHS home economics teacher and a counselor who came to Danville Junior College in 1965 to serve as the first dean of women. She later became director of counseling at DACC until her retirement in 1981.
“It took a great deal of courage to leave the comfort of DHS,” Todd said.
As the first dean of women, Holmes was not only an academic adviser and in charge of registration, but she also was in charge of finding housing for female students, many of whom were from rural areas of the colleges district, Todd said.
Todd told a humorous story about Holmes and Peggy Chase, who accepted Friday’s honor on behalf of her friend and former co-worker, unwittingly becoming police suspects back in the 1960s or early 1970s because they kept driving by a residence to check on 10 female students from downstate they had housed there and they were worried some hippie-type men were frequenting the residence.
Chase said Holmes, who died in August, knew she was going to be honored by the college.
“She was most pleased when Dr. Jacobs called her this spring and told her of this honor,” she said. “I know Marge truly enjoyed her time at this college. I know for a fact she missed the students and her friends.
“She would have been most appreciative and honored to be recognized today,” Chase said.
Jacobs recognized Lou and Sybil Mervis, saying the couple were early supporters of the college and “they provide support to the college to this day.”
“Lou and Sybil have supported the college in so many ways, setting up an endowment to provide the Mervis Family Scholarship,” she said, adding that 50 scholarships have been awarded to date.
Lou Mervis was a member of the District 118 school board when the college separated to form its own district, and Sybil Mervis was instrumental in both encouraging the vote to support a local community college and the initial fund drive to finance the independent East Main Street campus.
“Sybil founded College for Kids 25 years ago,” Jacobs said. “She’s entertained donors in her home. You have done so much for this college and this community.”
Sybil Mervis said, “Our motivation was to make Danville a good place to raise our family and for other families, too.
“Our faith guides our actions,” she added. “The best way to do that is through education. DACC is a shining example of people improving and empowering themselves.”
Judy K. Myers, who took over Marilyn Satterwhite’s position for a year in 1971 while she was on maternity leave, recognized Satterwhite who founded the Business Department at Danville Junior College, including writing the curricula, recruiting the staff and serving as the department’s first chairperson. She started teaching full-time at Danville Junior College in 1965, the year the college moved to East Main Street.
“She organized the first career day and first pep band,” Myers said.
“Marilyn helped move the college to interactive teaching. She was ahead of her time,” she said.
“Everyone knows the value of an outstanding teacher, and DACC has benefited from the talents of Marilyn Satterwhite,” Myers added.
Satterwhite recalled the time when Mary Miller had summoned her to her office with a handwritten note to ask her if she would teach two evening classes.
“I said yes, and that was the best decision of my life,” she said. “1965 was a milestone in my career and in the history of the college.
“In 1965, I was 22 and I was the youngest of the 29 full-time faculty,” Satterwhite said. “In my 50 years of teaching, I’ve taught multiple generations and even my husband, Bill, and my children.
“The classroom is where the action is and I cherish the a-ha moment,” she said. “I’ve always tried to be a stepping stone rather than a stumbling block for my students.”