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Geneva Remembers: Merritt King, 1918-2012

Part 1 of a multipart series: Merritt King was a giant among Genevans.

  • Editor's note: This is the first of a multipart series remembering legendary Genevans who died in 2012.

 

On Jan. 24, 2012, Geneva lost a giant of man in Merritt King.

In so many ways, Merritt was larger than life: a gifted athlete, a legitimate war hero, a seven-term alderman, a 12-year Geneva mayor pro-tem and Geneva's historian emeritus.

He is credited, among so many other achievements, for coming up with the idea for Geneva's historic Third Street gas lamps, for rescuing the historic creche that graces the Geneva History Center and for saving countless lives in 1945, when he and other Seventh Army troops nabbed a convoy in southwestern Germany and uncovered maps that revealed the exact placements of hundreds of thousands of landmines planted in 19 countries all over Europe.

Merritt is remembered in this beautifully-written article by Kurt Wehrmeister and in this wonderful and thorough obituary written by his daughters, Alison and Lesley (Danny) Dimmick, both of Geneva.

I remember Merritt most vividly as a Geneva alderman during the days when I was a reporter and editor for The Geneva Republican. He was a sometimes political opponent of then-Mayor Richard Lewis during a time of fast-paced development and occasional clashes over issues of historic preservation.

He was always nattily dressed, and I remember him as the winner of a silly best-dressed City Council member column I wrote way back when. (Although I might have given the nod to the youthful city attorney, Chuck Radovich, I think Kurt would tell you then and now that Merritt was the winner hands down.)

Merritt always had a kind word and he seemed to me to be a staunch supporter of Geneva downtown businesses, himself the owner of King Heating and Air Conditioning in Geneva.

Later, when I was editor of The Beacon News, Merritt was one of the local veterans who was part of the Honor Flight Chicago that flew to Washington, D.C., to view the WWII Memorial in 2008. Andre Salles, now the media and community relations specialist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, was the Beacon reporter who flew with those men and recorded their stories in an award-winning series of articles.

I remember being very proud of that story and of Merritt King, in the way he represented Geneva as well as his country.

As Patch editor, I very much enjoyed a Geneva History Center presentation in November 2011, in which Merritt and three other longtime Genevans recalled the community during the 1930s and '40s. Merritt talked about the hobo camp that was located where Dreyden Park is today, and his memories were vivid.

The last time I saw Merritt was at the 2011 creche luncheon at the GHC. He was just as sharp and sharply dressed as ever, and he was the life of the party.

One of the things that strikes me in writing this series is how much we've lost in the passing of folks like Merritt, who remember our hometown's history, lived that history and made this community the place it is today. Like all those who follow in this series, Merritt King was irreplaceable and will be greatly missed.

 

Rick Nagel
Geneva Patch editor
Dec. 21, 2012 

 

 

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Follow This Series

  • Geneva Remembers Those We Lost in 2012
John E Epperly December 23, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Myself and my family had the privlefge of being close friends of the Kings. Wonderful family! Merritt was a prince of a guy. My good friend Steve Patzer and myself had the privileged opportunity to spend some quality time with Merritt just a few weeks before his death. He gave us a grand tour of his attic with so many interesting things. After that the three of us sat in his parlor talking about arrow heads in Kane County for which he was a collector of. When the weather and ground is right, my 4 year old daughter Lily and I go to some some choice areas he told us about and look for them. One of the very favorite activities my daughter enjoys with me. Thank you Merritt. Jake Epperly
Kurt Wehrmeister December 23, 2012 at 03:29 PM
It was indeed my privilege in late 2010 to tell the story of Merritt King's role, as a 26-year-old platoon leader in Europe a few weeks after V-E Day, in coming across the voluminous mapping that told the exact locations of tens of thousands of landmines. The discovery saved countless lives -- and resulted, more than 60 years later, in Merritt being deservedly awarded the French Legion of Honor. I had known Merritt King for nearly 35 years at that point, and remembered feeling embarrassed that it took me that long to learn that story. Merritt had wanted very much to become Geneva's mayor; he ran in three straight elections -- 1973, '77, '81. In a way, I'm glad he never won. A mayor, to do his job effectively, must sometimes step on toes; must occasionally do things that some may think unkind. Merritt, in contrast was one of the most kind and gentle souls I've ever known. There were numerous other ways in which he could serve and enrich his community, and he certainly found them. Geneva is much richer, and very grateful, for the legacy he left during his 85 years in Geneva.
Colin C. December 23, 2012 at 05:24 PM
A group of us have approached the City about placing a permanent memorial to Merritt on Third St, under his beloved lights, perhaps in front of the History Center. (He was Geneva Historian Emeritus, along with everything else.) We hope to have something definite this spring.

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