Legendary actor and Danville native Dick Van Dyke is celebrating another milestone birthday this year.
He’ll be 95 on Sunday.
Van Dyke was still singing and dancing onscreen in the new Mary Poppins Returns movie a couple years ago.
He last visited Danville four years ago.
While unfortunately no renovations have occurred with his and his late brother Jerry’s boyhood home on Hazel Street, many have lasting memories reminiscing about Dick’s past visits here, his long career in show business and his love for and impact on Danville.
“We have a lot of famous people from here, but he was the one celebrity without anyone asking, to be an ambassador for our city,” said Jeanie Cooke, executive director of the Danville Area Convention & Visitors’ Bureau.
That’s been important to the entire community, Cooke said.
She remembers that day four years ago when he pulled in front of Danville High School in a replica Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car and the students sang the Danville High School fight song.
“He knew every word. I thought that was remarkable,” she said.
Cooke said Van Dyke is one of a kind.
“He’s very unique and I think the community feels a lot of warmth for him because he remained a Danville boy and has been such an ambassador,” she added.
Cooke said Van Dyke also loved seeing that “Keep Moving” sign in front of DHS with his silhouette of him doing a high kick. She remembers how his face just lit up.
“He hasn’t forgotten who he knew along the way,” Cooke added. “That’s unique in today’s world. He stayed a hometown boy. He never failed to mention Danville and say something good about it.”
Van Dyke visited Danville in June 2016 for a Welcome Home Reception and Concert. Proceeds benefited the launch of the Dick Van Dyke Foundation for the Performing Arts. The foundation, formed by Van Dyke, was established to provide funding to nonprofit organizations and schools, which empower youth to explore the performing arts and pursue their dreams.
About $50,000 was raised from those events for the foundation to go toward scholarships and restoring Dick and Jerry Van Dyke’s boyhood home at 930 N. Hazel St. It was initially estimated about $500,000 would be needed for renovations to turn the dilapidated home into a museum.
The two-story home is owned by Dick and his wife, Arlene Silver. It had been abandoned for years and there have been plans to turn it into a center for the “Dandy Vandy” Dick Van Dyke Foundation.
Cher Pollock, past president of the Vermilion Heritage Foundation board which oversees the Fischer Theatre, said “four years ago when Dick was here, it was certainly exciting for the community and we were all happy that he has never forgotten Danville.”
Unfortunately his schedule did not allow him to stop by the Fischer, but they turned on the marquee when he passed by.
“Dick Van Dyke has always meant a lot to the Fischer and the history of the Fischer. In the past he has served on our advisory board and has helped us with fundraising efforts by endorsing our efforts to find funding to renovate the building. In past visits to Danville he has participated in fund raising and receptions at the Fischer and we currently have his footprints and handprint in concrete which is installed in Palace Park,” Pollock said.
“The thing that has always been meaningful about Dick is his commitment to his hometown. When he would visit Danville you could see him strolling downtown and stopping in at shops, as well as the Fischer,” she added.
Vermilion Heritage Foundation Board Vice President Jim Wood hasn’t talked with Dick for close to a year, Wood estimates.
Wood said they’d love to get Dick back for a performance at the Fischer.
When Wood told that to Dick, prior to the Fischer’s reopening, Dick told him they’d better hurry with the renovations because he’s not getting any younger.
Those looking to binge watch some of Van Dyke’s television shows and movies, or read his books, can go to the Danville Public Library website as one source, at https://danvillepubliclibrary.org/stars-of-danville/dick-van-dyke/, for a list of his acting credits and also books he’s authored in his illustrious career.