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Cathy Merrill
Cathy Merrill

Archived Story

Cathy Merrill a Paul Harris

Published 9:36pm Thursday, June 10, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Dowagiac Rotary Club President Cathy Merrill, the fourth of six Glynn children, encountered enough of a chunk of her family Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889 to suspect what came next – her selection as a Paul Harris Fellow for community service.

Either that, or a revival of the show “This is Your Life.”

The 2009-2010 president is about to turn the club’s leadership role back over to Barbara Groner in July.

Her designation was the club’s 101st Paul Harris Fellow.

Dowagiac has contributed $166,454.

“I do appreciate this,” she said.

“It’s quite an honor to receive something like this. I’ve been here since 2003 and watched the presentations each year.”

Merrill has four brothers and an older sister.

Mike Glynn and Cindy Underwood, with whom she shares a Jan. 5 birthday, were in attendance along with her brother-in-law, Sheriff Joe Underwood, a Rotarian.

Also present was former Rotarian Darlene Powell and her husband, Larry.

In 1974, Darlene asked Cathy if she would be available to babysit her two young sons, then 3 and 7.

Cathy was great with the kids and a good helper, Groner said, so occasional babysitting led to a full summer of helping out and even to Cathy moving in with Darlene’s family for a while. “They truly became her second family and have remained that way.”

“Cathy has always loved animals,” Groner said. “During her time with Darlene she showed their horses at the Cass County Fair. She loves dogs  – German shepherds in particular – cats, deer, birds and all wildlife. Except raccoons. Raccoons and Cathy just do not get along – which is why she has become a pretty good shot.”

After graduating from Union High School in 1977, Cathy got a job at FMB.

During her time at the bank she married Randy Merrill, whom she dated for a while at DUHS, then reconnected.

They have a son, Jason, 33. Her husband and son work in construction and were unable to attend during this busy time, but also sharing her special day were Leon Dodd, chairman of the Dowagiac Area Federal Credit Union board, and his wife, Joann.
In 1981, Cathy left the bank to work for Heath Credit Union in St. Joseph.

She worked her way up from teller to head teller, loan officer, mortgages, assistant manager and manager.

“Her organizational skills were well appreciated,” Groner said, but working in St. Joseph meant a considerable commute.

In 1999, when the opportunity presented itself, she began working for Dowagiac Area Federal Credit Union.

Board members at that time included Dodd, Sheriff Underwood, Public Safety Director Tom Atkinson and Ray Janssen.

“It was just natural that Cathy’s good friend and chief executive officer of the credit union Darlene Powell would invited Cathy to join her in Rotary,” Groner said. When Powell retired in 2003, Merrill succeeded her as DAFCU CEO.

Along with managing and directing the credit union on E. Division Street, Cathy shared her leadership skills with its board, serving as secretary, chair and finally, at the state level, on the small credit union board.

“Then there has been her involvement in our community,” Groner said. “Cathy helped on the Cass County Relay for Life committee, then became the co-chair and finally chair” for the cancer-fighting organization.

“She has taken a leadership role in Dowagiac’s Christmas parade and in the ice festival. Tuesdays each week she has the credit union involved in delivering Meals on Wheels. Thanks for caring about our community, Cathy!”

Cathy and Randy built a two-story log home on 20 acres on Peavine Street, then dug a pond with a waterfall tumbling over rocks.

It was beautiful and they were settled until another prime piece of property, 33 acres, called to them on Dutch Settlement Street.

“A chance to develop woodsy trails, flower gardens, multiple ponds, a one-story log home and that’s where you’ll find them today,” Groner said, “unless there’s a Rotary or other project that could use help. Cathy, your life touches so many others. We all thank you for being here because if you weren’t there’d be an awfully big hole!”

Marilu Franks, a Paul Harris Fellow whose husband, Mike, is club treasurer, said Merrill came to his aid with her computer expertise.

Behind each Paul Harris Fellow designation is $1,000 the club collects through its weekly 50/50 drawing.

Half the money goes into three member prizes. The other half seeds the Harris account, named for Rotary International’s founder, a Chicagoan who died in 1947.

Dick Judd, who has been on the Rotary Foundation committee since 1976, noted the club’s first Paul Harris Fellow was given in 1977 to Mayor Graham Woodhouse, who compiled more than 50 years of perfect attendance.

Some years the club gives more than one, honoring members and non-Rotarians from the community alike.

Money the club contributes helps the Rotary Foundation support programs in international service, one of the four – soon to be five – service avenues.

Initiated in 1917, the foundation expanded dramatically after Harris’ death. Today assets exceed $700 million. Annual awards amount to $250 million.
“The objective of the foundation, simply stated, is to further international understanding,” Judd said, “good will and peace among people of all nations through projects of an educational and charitable nature.”
The Rotary Foundation supports more than 20 major programs, many of which the Dowagiac club has participated.

Group Study Exchange allows non-Rotarians 21 to 35 years of age to visit a paired club overseas for four to six weeks.

Dr. Matthew Cripe went to Tokyo in 1992.

Mark Herman followed in 1993 to Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The dentist and attorney are now both Rotarians.

The Brazilian group, led by Marco Manfrini, spent several days in Dowagiac during a district visit.

Dowagiac has also been visited by India and Russia.

Dowagiac’s first Group Study Exchange traveled to England led by Mayor Woodhouse, father of current Rotarian Don Woodhouse.

“Our Dowagiac club has actively supported the Polio Plus program to eradicate polio throughout the world for more than 20 years,” Judd said. “A number of members have participated,” including Barbara Groner, Woodhouse and his wife, Lauren, and Judge Herbert Phillipson.

“You may also remember Bob Eady directing a successful car raffle several years ago which helped raise $12,000 toward polio eradication. Our own Bob Mullen was the lucky winner. Our Rotary Foundation currently works hand in hand with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to eradicate polio worldwide with a challenge grant to raise $200 million by June 2012.”

Judd said the $166,454 contributed by Dowagiac Rotarians “is a pretty good effort coming from a community of 5,700 people in southwest Michigan … our club is certainly far up the Rotary ladder in its contributions of time, treasure and talent to the Rotary Foundation and should be justifiably proud.”

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