Sybil Mervis chosen for First Citizen award

DANVILLE — Vermilion County businesswoman, community volunteer and philanthropist Sybil Mervis was named the 2012 First Citizen by the Danville Chapter of AMBUCS, members announced Thursday.

A banquet honoring Mervis is being planned at Turtle Run Banquet Center in Danville. Details will be released at a later date.

AMBUCS national service club is dedicated to creating opportunities for independence for people with disabilities, especially children. Each year, the Danville chapter gives the First Citizen award to an area resident who has contributed significantly to the community through a single or multiple projects, personally or professionally.

Mervis was nominated for her years of service to the Danville community.

In her nomination letter, Cathy Reardon, the Danville Public Library Foundation's executive director, wrote that Mervis 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."

Mervis' philanthropic journey began when as a Brownie Scout, she helped make tray favors for hospitalized veterans. After she and her husband, Lou, moved to Danville in 1958, Mervis got involved in her local neighborhood as a way to meet people.

Soon after the first vaccine for rubella was licensed in 1969, Mervis advocated for a countywide rubella inoculation program for pre-school children. "Undoubtedly, many local families were saved from the devastation of this disease as a result of the program," Reardon said.

"I know of no one who better exemplifies the personal and leadership qualities that AMBUCS honors through this award than Sybil Mervis," Reardon wrote.

Mervis has sat on the Danville Public Library Board of Trustees since 1980, and served as vice president and president for many of those years. As president, she helped spearhead the two-year "Bring the Dream Alive in '95" effort to raise community funds to help build the current library at 319 N. Vermilion St. She and her husband also acquired the former Clifton Gunderson building, just west of the new library, to expand parking.

She and her family also have made other "significant" donations to the library foundation, which supports programs and services, Reardon said.

In addition, Mervis has served on the boards of the Danville Symphony Orchestra, Leadership Danville, the Vermilion County Museum, the American Cancer Society, the League of Women Voters, Junior Service Club, Lakeview Junior Auxiliary and the Cub Scouts. She currently serves on the cemetery committee for the Jewish section of Spring Hill Cemetery and Mausoleum.

Mervis has also been the recipient of many other honors including the Woman of Achievement Award from the Danville branch of the American Association of University Women in 1993 for chairing the renovation/conservation committee of Congregation Anshe Knesset Israel, volunteerism in Danville schools and years of organizing symphony concerts for children; the ATHENA Award from Vermilion Advantage and the Danville Woman of the Year award given by the Business and Professional Women's Organization in 1997; and the Woman of Distinction Award by the Green Meadows Girl Scouts in 1998.

In 2002, Mervis and her husband were honored by the Danville Public School Foundation for their contributions to education. Among other things, Mervis pushed to start the Motivating Academically Talented Students Program for gifted students, and the couple sponsored a number of low-income minority students to attend preparatory schools.

The Mervis Family Foundation also has provided thousands in scholarships to Danville Area Community College students through an endowment.

Also in 2002, Mervis received the Illinois Humanities Council's Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award for her "continued commitment to education, libraries and youth in Danville."

Because of her efforts, "thousands of children have been introduced to classical music, literacy and other cultural experiences," Reardon wrote.

She said Mervis also has authored articles on the history of the library and the Jewish community in Danville for the Vermilion County Museum Heritage quarterly. "Sybil is currently composing a literary piece on the Jewish community in Attica, Ind. She volunteers hundreds of hours researching and writing to keep this rich history and tradition alive for future generations."

In 2012, Mervis and her husband were some of the first members to be inducted into the Vermilion County Business Hall of Fame, which honors current and past business people who have contributed to the area's growth.

"I know of no one who better exemplifies the personal and leadership qualities that AMBUCS honors through this award than Sybil Mervis," Reardon wrote.

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ahowie wrote on April 05, 2013 at 10:04 am

Great to see! I was one of her "low-income minority students (sponsored) to attend preparatory schools". I ended up being too scared to leave home that young but she helped give me confidence that I would go far in life. I will always appreciate her guidance and her faith in me. Great woman who has done great things for many people in Danville!