DANVILLE — When Ethel Gibbs didn't come to church on Sunday, her cousin Carol Danbury knew something was wrong.
Mrs. Gibbs, 84, never missed services at First Baptist Church, 1211 N. Vermilion St., Danville.
"That's the way she was. Her faith and her church were very important to her," said Danbury, who called Mrs. Gibbs almost every day and was supposed to enjoy Christmas dinner with her on Sunday.
But after church services, Danbury went to Mrs. Gibbs' apartment at Immanuel Senior Residences, 1415 Eastview Ave., Danville, to check on her and found her dead.
Late Sunday afternoon, Danville police arrested another relative of Mrs. Gibbs, Michael T. Gibbs, 44, of Danville, on preliminary charges of murder in connection with her death, according to police. Law-enforcement officials have not disclosed the manner of death or how Michael Gibbs is related to Mrs. Gibbs, but according to friends and family members, he's her son and only child. He's expected to be arraigned on formal charges today in Vermilion County Circuit Court, according to Doug Miller, deputy director of Danville police, and an autopsy on Mrs. Gibbs is also expected today, according to the Vermilion County coroner's office.
Jerry Cummins, retired pastor at First Baptist Church, said Mrs. Gibbs had a heart of gold for her son and was a wonderful mother.
"I always admired that in her," he said. "She was a wonderful person."
Danbury said she always loved her son and wanted the best for him.
"She was definitely a person that didn't deserve to die the way she did," she said.
Cummins said Mrs. Gibbs was kind, helpful and giving, and had a great, dry sense of humor.
"There are people who are real assets to ministers, and Ethel certainly was that. We certainly will miss her," he said. "She could brighten your day. She was good to be around."
Danbury said Mrs. Gibbs grew up in the Hammond, Ind., area, where her parents owned a grocery store, and she had always been actively involved in the Baptist church, graduating from Bible college and becoming youth director there. After marrying her late husband, she lived in California, then Missouri, and eventually moved back to the Hammond area. But when Danbury and her husband moved from Hammond to Danville about six years ago, Mrs. Gibbs decided to follow, so she could stay close to them. And they all began attending First Baptist Church in Danville.
"They all fell in love with Ethel when she moved down here," Danbury said of the congregation. "She was a wonderful sweet lady who really enjoyed people."
Mrs. Gibbs' next door neighbor, Helen Mingee, said she and Ethel Gibbs and two to three other residents at the Immanuel Senior apartments would always sit out in the hallway in the evenings, visiting and talking. She said Ethel Gibbs was a very nice, friendly, Christian lady. She said she never missed church on Sundays or Wednesday nights and was very active at church. Mingee said her neighbor and friend was always helping people any way she could.
"She's going to be missed here an awful lot," Mingee said.
Cummins said he enjoyed kidding Mrs. Gibbs and bantering back and forth with her about getting pulled over once for speeding on East Winter Avenue near Winter Park. He said if anything, she drove too slowly around town, so for fun, he called her "Speedy Gibbs" after that.
"It became a good story between us," said Cummins, who added that he'll also remember her for the hats she was fond of wearing. "That was one of the things that endeared you to her."
Danbury said Mrs. Gibbs' visitation and funeral will be at Memory Lane Memorial Park and Funeral Chapel in Crown Point, Ind., near Hammond, where she will be buried. She said the funeral will be at 1 p.m. Saturday with the viewing at 11 a.m.