Maria is an excellent seamstress, honing her skills when she was a young girl in Panama. She also makes costume jewelry for a hobby and to sell.
Many family photos are displayed in their home, including a photo with six generations of women in Maria’s family. The Sermersheims visit Maria’s family frequently in Panama, and her relatives have spent summers in Danville — when the weather is warm and to their liking.
Maria has reached out to the community with her cooking talents in many ways. For the past six years she has been the family nutritionist with the Vermilion County Unit of the University of Illinois Extension Service. In her job she educates area fami-lies on basic nutrition, food safety, food budgeting and healthful lifestyles.
Maria donated a home-cooked authentic Panamanian dinner to the Vermilion County Peer Court Auction this year, and the winning bid exceeded $500.
Paul also has a strong connection with Panama. He volunteered with the Peace Corps there for three years, and then joined its training staff. That is where he met and then married Maria in 1996, within months of their first encounter.
When the couple met, Maria was working for a non-profit agency doing socio-economic studies. She has a degree in tropical agriculture from Earth College in Costa Rica.
Paul has a degree from Danville Area Community College in horticulture, so the Peace Corps placed him in that area of work — educating the farmers on planting and harvesting techniques and the use of pesticides.
After leaving Panama, the couple continued with volunteer work through a Catholic mission group. They joined the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus, completing six months of training in the Chicago area.
The Comboni missionaries reach out to the poorest and most abandoned areas of the world in order to introduce Christianity to the people living in the villages. Paul and Maria were sent to a very poor farming village in Mexico, which worked out well for them since they are both fluent in Spanish.