Geneva's Legendary Merritt King Dies at 93
"It's hard to imagine Geneva without Merritt King."
There really aren't words to describe Merritt King's love of Geneva, his contributions to this community or his amazing life.
But there will be countless words in the coming days to celebrate his 93 years as a resident and benefactor of the city.
King died around 6 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012, at his home at 212 S. Fifth St., surrounded by his family, including his beloved daughters, Alison and Lesley.
He had been battling cancer for weeks, although I saw him at the Geneva History Center's creche luncheon before Christmas, and as always, he looked great and his mind was as sharp as ever.
People sometimes called Merritt "Mr. Mayor," although he never served officially in that office. He was an alderman for seven terms, and he was mayor pro tem for several administrations. He attended so many official functions and served as Geneva's representative so often that people came to think of him as the man in charge.
In so many ways, Merritt King was synonymous with Geneva. He was its historian emeritus at the Geneva History Center. He was a Kane County public building commissioner since 1989, and served his last meeting in December. He was on the History Center's board of directors for many years.
"I think his love of Geneva is the biggest thing, Rick," said Merritt's daughter, Alison. "He just loved this town. And he tried to do things to make it better."
Mayor Kevin Burns said Geneva "has lost one of her favorite sons, and America has lost one her most courageous soldiers."
"Mr. King's contribution as a member of America's Greatest Generation was evidenced by his role WWII, where he helped free Europe from fascism and then returned to his beloved Geneva to help build a community that we are proud to call home.
"His mark on Geneva is indelible," Burns said. "The city of Geneva flags will be displayed at half-staff through Monday, Jan. 30, in honor of his life, his dedication to Geneva and our respect for his family and the countless lives he touched throughout his inspirational 93 years."
Among the accomplishments he was most proud of were controlling growth during the fast-paced '80s and early '90s, and helping to bring the "gas lights" to Third Street, which harken to earlier days and pay tribute to the city's history.
Merritt owned and operated King Heating and Air Conditioning in Geneva for many years.
He was also a war hero.
Merritt was a proud member of the Geneva American Legion. He attended the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. He won the Bronze Star when he was 26, and on July 21, 2009, he received the red-ribboned medal of L'Ordre National de la Légion d'Honneur—the French Legion of Honor, France's highest military decoration
"Even more than the Honor Flight, which is one of organizations we'll mention in lieu of flowers, is he was awarded the French Legion of Honor. That really made him feel special," Alison said.
Merritt King was special. And his funeral service and visitation are sure to be community events. Funeral services are being arranged by Malone Funeral Home. A date for the funeral and visitation have not been set as of Tuesday morning.
In his later years, Merritt King provided this community with an irreplaceable institutional memory, from a man who was an institution in his own right.
Terry Emma, the executive director of the Geneva History Center, might have put it best.
"It’s hard to imagine Geneva without Merritt King," she said.