BY JENNIFER BAILEY
During AMBUCS’ 80 years of giving out the First Citizen award, Sybil Mervis is the seventh woman to be honored.
The Danville Chapter of AMBUCS announced that Mervis has been named Danville’s 2012 First Citizen.
Mervis’ husband, Lou, was named First Citizen in 1978. They’ve been married for almost 55 years.
“Obviously it’s an honor to be in that company,” she said about the list of honorees.
“I am deeply honored and grateful for this unexpected recognition from the ABC (American Business) Club. I have always taken pride in being an active participant in our community. Just as the American Business Club has a history of improving life here, I have striven to make our community a better place in which to raise a family,” Mervis said.
AMBUCS, a national non-profit service organization, is dedicated to creating mobility and independence for people with disabilities.
The First Citizen Award is given to a Danville area man or woman who has contributed significantly to the betterment of the community through a single or multiple projects, personally or professionally.
Mervis said participating in the community “was a way of life” through her mother and her upbringing. She said she learned to start early in doing something for someone else.
“It was what my religion taught me,” Mervis said. “You make the world a better place.
“You stand up for what you believe in and what is right,” she added.
Mervis has been involved with numerous groups and programs and projects through the years.
Some of her achievements have included: chairing the campaign in the late 1960s to inoculate 10,000 Vermilion County children against rubella in two days (“I love a challenge,” she said.); lobbying the school district for 10 years to start a program for gifted children in our schools (Motivating Academically Talented Students, M.A.T.S.); convincing the city council to build sidewalks to schools (including Roselawn); helping open up the world to 24 students who won scholarships to prep schools and are making their mark in the world (one is a Rhodes Scholar, one is a doctor and several have earned Master of Business Administration degrees); chairing the conversion of a Baptist church building to a beautiful sanctuary for her congregation’s Synagogue (now disbanded); authoring a book on her parents’ 1932-1933 courtship to preserve their memory for her grandchildren; and helping create the possibility of a new public library.
“It was depressing,” Mervis said of the old library.
Mervis has been a member of the Danville Public Library board since 1980, during which she served eight years as president. It was then that more funds were raised in the history of the DPL for a new library.
The new library was needed in the community for 75 years.
“It was amazing,” Mervis said of all the volunteers and donors involved. “It made everybody feel good. Everybody is proud of this building.”
Mervis also said “it warms her heart” regarding the students who have received scholarships to attend eastern boarding schools, an experience which changed their lives. She gets excited seeing students reach their potential.
Mervis also was a founding member of the Symphony Orchestra board and one of three benefactors who helped establish the Danville Junior College Symphony Orchestra with Harry and Gail Adams.
She also helped found College for Kids at Danville Area Community College, was on the committee which established the Leadership Danville program, and received other honors including Woman of the Year from Danville Business and Professional Women, “Woman of Achievement” from the American Association of University Women’s Danville branch, Athena Award from Vermilion Advantage (formerly the Danville Chamber of Commerce) and was an honoree with Lou with the Danville Community Public School Foundation.
She and Lou also were inducted into the Vermilion County Business Hall of Fame last year.
In a nomination letter from DPL Foundation executive director Cathy Reardon about Mervis, Reardon states, “Sybil has spent her entire life helping others and giving back to her community. As a former teacher, she is passionate about children and their education. Improving the world is her heartfelt, personal mission, and she diligently strives to fulfill her life’s calling through volunteer service to others.”
Reardon said Sybil first realized her drive to accomplish goals while a Brownie Scout in the 1940s when she helped make tray favors for hospitalized veterans.
Sybil moved to Danville with Lou in 1958 and became involved in her neighborhood as a way to meet people.
“Volunteering and community advocacy soon grew into a passion even in the early years when she was busy raising her own children,” Reardon wrote.
“Sybil, her husband and family have contributed to the betterment of the Danville community by making significant monetary donations to the Danville Library Foundation which supports the programs and services of the Danville Public Library,” Reardon wrote.
Sybil’s volunteer leadership roles also have included her current service as a member of the Spring Hill Cemetery Board of Trustees.
Mervis is working on her memoir of growing up in the 1940s.
The 80th Annual First Citizen Banquet to honor Sybil Stern Mervis is set for April 30 at Turtle Run Banquet Center, 332 E. Liberty Lane. There will be a cash bar and reception at 6 p.m. with dinner following at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 each, payable at the door. To make reservations, call 446-7170 and leave your name and number of people in the party. Reservation deadline is Wednesday.