A dynamic duo: Scharlaus to be honored for helping community blossom
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URBANA — On the back porch at their longtime home in south Urbana, Ed and Carol Scharlau reminisce about the local community they've seen change and blossom over more than five decades of their married life together.

When they first met in the 1960s, the local retail hub and an avalanche of new restaurants were yet to come. So was the local convention and visitors bureau, the annual Urbana Sweetcorn Festival and a research park at the University of Illinois. And some of the United Way of Champaign County's giving programs hadn't yet been launched.

Enter the Scharlaus, who have played major roles in helping the community flourish.

For their many years of community leadership and generosity, Ed and Carol Scharlau will be honored Thursday night by the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois. The foundation will present the Scharlaus with its annual Kyle and Phyllis Robeson Philanthropy Award.

Joan Dixon, the foundation's chief executive, said the Scharlaus have given much to the local region and inspired others to do likewise.

"Carol and Ed have done so much for our area, they were a natural choice for us," Dixon said.

Ed Scharlau may be best known as the recently retired First Busey Corp. executive who researched and delivered Busey Economic Seminars, often infusing his talks about the state of Champaign County's economy with optimism. But he was also the driving force behind the start of the sweetcorn festival and the creation of the local visitors bureau, now called Visit Champaign County — and he helped launch the Research Park.

Carol Scharlau, a former educator and fundraiser, chaired the United Way of Champaign County's 1986 "Together we Can" campaign and soon afterward went to work for the agency, serving as its marketing and communications director and director of leadership and planned gifts.

She developed such United Way programs as Pillars, Major Gifts and Carousel of Caring and has chaired the boards of the Junior League and the Parkland College Foundation. She continues to give her time to the UI College of Education's annual Youth Literature Festival and participate in the service projects of the Kiwanis Club of Champaign-Urbana.

One of the Kiwanis activities she and her husband take part in regularly is taking children at Swann Special Care Center out for walks.

"You get a lot of enjoyment out of helping the kids," Ed said.

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Carol and Ed Scharlau said they were both raised by positive-attitude parents who were involved in their communities — something they, in turn, fostered in their own two sons.

One of Carol's memories about her mother, a kindergarten teacher, is the way she would start out each school year encouraging her students by finding something positive about each one of them.

"Within a few days, they were doing all kinds of things," she recalled.

Carol grew up in Urbana, with her dad the UI's bursar, and went to the UI for her undergraduate and master's degrees in education. She worked at a preschool and as a waitress during her college years, and at the Crystal Lake Park pool in the summers. After she graduated, she worked with student teachers at the UI College of Education and taught for a time at Kenwood Elementary in Champaign.

Ed, a Danville native, said both his parents worked hard to make ends meet. His mom was a secretary who later became a Realtor, and his dad worked in sales.

"My mom always impressed on us to get involved in doing something you enjoy," he said.

He worked a paper route as a child and at a lumber mill when he was 16, with the latter job leaving him with some hearing loss, he said.

He was a teller at Busey while he was in college at the UI and stayed on after he got a doctorate in finance. He ran the computer department at the bank, worked in personnel and was named bank president when he was 30, "which was a little on the young side," he recalled.

Scharlau, who worked for Busey parent organization First Busey Corp. for 54 years, retired last year as vice chairman. He also delivered his 66th and final Busey Economic seminar last year.

The Scharlaus chose to make Champaign-Urbana their home after they were married in 1967.

They enjoy telling the story of how they met, both of them waiting to have their Mustangs serviced and Ed ambling over to check out his future wife's car. He asked her where she was financing her car, and when she told him it was through Busey, he tracked down her phone number at work, called her and they went out on their first date at Steak 'n Shake. They were engaged two months later.

* * * * *

Ed recalled noticing a gap in the local community after he and his wife took a trip to Europe.

"I thought, we've got a great community, but it's not marketed," he said.

He went to work on that, and along came the Champaign-Urbana Convention and Visitors Bureau, the genesis of today's Visit Champaign County, along with a new food and beverage tax to help fund it.

Scharlau said he recognized the idea for a research park at the UI as important from the start and served on the board that helped launch it.

"I knew it was the future," he said.

Starting Busey's economic seminars gave him a chance to keep his hand in research. There was plenty of information available about the national economy, so he decided to focus on the local economy.

Carol described her own work in the community in terms of always pulling people together to get things accomplished.

"One person can't do it," she said.

She said she had so much fun running the United Way's 1986 campaign, she readily said yes to a job with the agency.

The Scharlaus have served on the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois' board and have established endowment funds with the foundation. But it was during the years that the foundation rented space from the United Way that Dixon said she got to know Carol.

"She was always thinking about ways to motivate and coalesce the community around giving and kind of the long-term benefits to the community," Dixon said. "She's very smart, very funny, very welcoming."

The information Ed included in his economic seminars was important to the foundation and its work, Dixon said.

"Any time you had a question, Ed was willing to talk to you about something," she said.

* * * * *

Both sons, Edwin and Rob, and their families now live in Florida, so the Scharlaus travel to see them several times a year and spend time with their four grandchildren.

With Ed's retirement, they were at a crossroad — move to Florida or stay in Urbana and continue making the trips.

Staying put won. They're free to travel more now, and their home community offers all the benefits of a big city minus the traffic.

"It's a great community," Carol said.

Good as gold

Carol and Ed Scharlau, who will be honored at Thursday's Hearts of Gold Gala, are the fifth recipients of the Kyle and Phyllis Robeson Philanthropy Award, which went to the namesakes in 2015. Others honored:


Jane Hays and Dave Downey


Richard and Rosann Noel


Helen Levin, Emily Levin and the Ezra Levin Foundation


Debra Pressey is a reporter covering health care at The News-Gazette. Her email is dpressey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@DLPressey).