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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 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 . 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 . 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— 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 . 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.

Fred Cregier January 24, 2012 at 05:45 PM
May he rest in peace. Merritt truly was Mr. Geneva to us. He never had a bad word to say about anyone, and he was a giant figure in so many ways, especially with his outstanding, life-saving actions in World War II, finally recognizd by the French government. I will miss him very, very much. As Terry Emma said: It really will be hard to imagine Geneva without Merritt! He knew Geneva's history like no one else! Fred and Jo Ann Cregier
Rick Nagel (Editor) January 24, 2012 at 06:25 PM
I corrected some typos and errors in the earlier version of this story.
marsha engle January 24, 2012 at 06:52 PM
I had the honor of sitting next to Merritt at the Creche luncheon many times. He always made me feel special. I'm heartbroken.
Colin C. January 24, 2012 at 06:56 PM
We are heartbroken. Merritt, always the dapper gentleman with a smile on his face, a cheerful word for everyone. I guess that we somehow felt that he would just go on forever. He and his Madras shorts. He was our hero, really. We will miss him so very much. Glorianne & Colin Campbell
Dave Erickson January 24, 2012 at 08:13 PM
I had the good fortune to be his next door neighbor however briefly and I would see him out working in the yard and we would sit and he would tell stories about the war and Geneva and how happy he was with his life. He truly lived a long and wonderful life and our town will not be the same without him. He was one of the most gracious and interesting people I have ever had the pleasure to know and I will miss him very much.
Mary Stith January 24, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Wonderful human being and role model for all of us. Always gracious and appreciative of everyone and his community.
Mary Kay Coleman January 24, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Having lost my Dad last summer, when the Friendship Club Christmas dinner invitation came, I knew my Mom needed to go. We were lucky enough to sit with Merritt and his daughter. He was as bright, sweet and knowledgeable as always while we shared memories of his (our old) neighborhood and our town. My Mom and I will fondly remember this visit with Mr. King. Bless both of you girls!! You will find as our family did, the people that your Dad touched with his giving ways will come forward with stories you will cherish. I share in your loss.
Terry Flanagan January 25, 2012 at 12:14 AM
Geneva has lost a rare treasure. Painter, collector, soldier, hero, father, friend. Merrit was all of these and more. I think Merritt had a tale or two for every landmark in the city. And no one told a better story. He loved Geneva and Geneva loved him. For people like Merritt, even a long, full life of 93 years seems too short. I count every day that I ran into Merritt as a good day. He had that all too rare ability to bring cheer into people's lives. Godspeed, Merritt as you join your fallen comrades, your wife and your old friends. Geneva will be a sadder place for your loss, but far richer for having known you. The Old Settler's Coffee just won't be the same this year without Merritt, the quintessential Geneva old settler, being there..
Andre Salles January 25, 2012 at 04:52 AM
This is incredibly sad news. I had the honor of joining Merritt King on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. a few years ago, and hearing his amazing stories about his time in World War II. What a wonderful man.
Peter Ben Epperly January 26, 2012 at 05:23 PM
As a little boy I think the first time I understood dignity was when I saw my first Veteran's day parade and the look on Merritt`s face. I saw that look many more times over the years and it never changed except along with a smile. What a great man that walked through this life among the rest of us. God Speed. Ben Epperly
Doug Van De Mark January 28, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Good bye to an olde neighbor and friend...you were all you could be to your family, your country and to Geneva. We will miss your presence. Doug and Lori Van De Mark

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