Dominican Associate Mary Ellen Eversman named Citizen of the Year

By Nick Taylor of the Effingham Daily News

Mary Ellen Eversman, 85, said she was "shocked" when she was named 2024 Effingham Daily News Citizen of the Year during the Effingham County Chamber Gala at the Thelma Convention Center in Effingham on Jan. 20. 
Since then, she said she feels like she has a "new lease on life." 
"What it tells me is how many wonderful people there are and how many people do care and how many people took time to call and to write and to tell you you've done a good job," Eversman said during an interview last week. 
Ever since retiring from social work after 30 years, she essentially became a full-time volunteer working with several organizations, including Catholic Charities and the Effingham County Museum. 
She has also been closely involved with Sacred Heart Catholic Church, serving as a Eucharistic Minister and transporting elderly and disabled residents to church on Sundays, and in 1991 she became a Dominican Associate with the Dominican Sisters of Springfield. 
She is also a long-time advocate for animals in the area and helped convince the Effingham County Board to approve a resolution in November 2022 that commits the county to only euthanizing animals when they are injured or sick, and there is no other humane option. 
Additionally, she helped raise $40,000 for the Effingham County Humane Society's new facility, and she helped form the Effingham Animal Rescue Sanctuary. 
"I love people. I love animals. I love the earth," Eversman said. "God made me that way." 
Of all the volunteer work she's done throughout her life, Eversman said the work that is the most special to her is her work in the Ministry of Care program at HSHS St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital, where she would walk along each floor and talk to patients in their rooms. 
"That's probably what I like the most," she said. 
As far back as she can remember, Eversman has been serving her community in one way or another. 
Young Volunteer 
One of the earliest signs of her passion for volunteerism came when she was just 9 years old. 
At the time, her father, Henry Eversman, would give her an allowance of 75 cents every Friday night in exchange for her doing chores like painting the foundation of the house and mowing the yard, and the following day, she would use that money to purchase gifts for elderly residents staying at Marks Shelter Care Home. She said she would visit the shelter every Saturday. 
"It was the first sheltered care home in Effingham. The building is still there," Eversman said. "I rode my bike down to the dime store, and I bought perfume for my ladies and I bought stationery and things for my men." 
"The people would all be sitting in their white rocking chairs, and then I'd sit down and just have the best conversation with them." 
Eversman has also never been short on ideas, and she used her creativity to become quite the "entrepreneur" at an early age. 
She said she and some of the other kids in the area used to lie in front of Brown's Drug store in Effingham after discovering a "very lucrative" hobby. 
"We'd wait till about 9:30, 10 o'clock when some men had come out of the drug store, and we'd get a stick," Eversman 
said. "And we'd get some gum in our mouths." 
Eversman and the other children would "fish" down into the nearby vent in the ground for the money customers would drop in there. 
She joked that's it's very likely that her father, who worked at the nearby Effingham State Bank, had to step over her while she was fishing for coins. 
Her father went to work at the bank with her grandfather, Henry F. Eversman, after spending two years at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. 
"He worked there 47 years," Eversman said. 
He also served in the U.S. Army infantry during World War II. 
At 3 years old, Eversman had to say goodbye to her father after he was drafted in 1942 and joined the military even though he didn't have to because of some problems with his legs that she believes developed because he spent so many years standing behind the counter at the bank. 
"His legs were shot," Eversman said. 
Eversman also remembers when Effingham would go dark as part of a drill preparing residents for potential attacks. She found the drills became more frightening after her father left to fight overseas. 
"They started having citywide blackouts," she said. "And as long as I sat on my Dad's lap, it was fine." 
During his time with the Army, her father served in Italy and Africa, and even though she was a young girl, Eversman will never forget what life was like during wartime. 
"I understood the war and Hitler, and it still scares me if I hear a plane hover," Eversman said. 
While her father was away, Eversman and her mother, Gertrude, moved in with her great aunt, Helena, who Eversman calls her "second mother." 
"The whole time my Dad was gone, Effingham was my security, living with my mother and my great aunt," Eversman said. 
Although it wasn't easy living through the war, Eversman fondly remembers the day it ended. She said residents were backing out of their driveways and honking their horns in celebration. 
"It was something else," she said. 
She also remembers the moment her father returned home in 1946 late one night when she was 8 years old. 
"What a powerful moment, because I didn't know if I'd ever see him again," Eversman said. 
Close to Home 
Eversman has always had a desire to be close to home, and she credits this, in part, to a fear of something going wrong if she were to leave. She believes this fear partially stems from the tragic death of her sister, Carol Louise, who died when she was just 2 years old. 
"She was my everything," Eversman said. "She had a tumor on her optic nerve, and she went blind in both eyes." 
She said during the two years of her sister's life her parents were almost never able to sleep. 
"Things were never the same after that," she said. 
After graduating from St. Anthony High School, Eversman attended Marion College (University) in Indianapolis, where she participated in volleyball, basketball, swimming and tennis. 
She said basketball was her strongsuit as an athlete, something she credits to her long arms and legs, and her talent even led to her earning a nickname. 
"I used to be known as 'Thumper' because I had a basketball in my room, and I'd throw it against the wall," Eversman said. 
It was during her time in college that she got involved with the American Red Cross. 
"I did a couple internships when I was in college. One was with the Red Cross in Indianapolis," she said. "It just was great to be part of that group." 
During her internship with the American Red Cross, Eversman traveled with a group of students and teachers to Olney, where she took part in a water safety training course. 
"It was one of the hardest things," Eversman said. 
After completing the course, she began teaching swimming and water safety and from 1960 to 1975, she served as the American Red Cross Effingham County Water Safety Chairman. 
All these years later, Eversman still bumps into some people who say she taught them how to swim when they were young, and Eversman's love for swimming has never gone away. She still regularly uses her pool, which is conveniently located inside her home, and she said having a pool installed in her house is the "best thing" she ever did. 
Social Worker 
Upon graduation from college, Eversman began her 30-year career as a social worker with the Department of Human Services in Effingham County. She excelled, becoming a supervisor while just being in her early 20s and during a time when there were far fewer opportunities for women. 
"I loved it. That's what I wanted to do," Eversman said. "I never had so much fun in my life." 
One of the things she enjoyed most about her job was visiting the homes of her clients. 
"I'd get to meet all kinds of people and listen to their stories," Eversman said. 
Eversman grew up around animals, and she remembers when her mother, who worked for several years as a nurse at HSHS St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital, taught her how to feed and care for the four kittens her cat gave birth to before dying. 
"She was an interesting lady, feisty," she said of her mother. "And boy, was she a strong woman. She just had the ability to make everybody feel important and loved." 
Eversman's love for animals and her desire to see them treated with care and dignity was evident when she was just 6 years old and she and her friends formed their own Red Cross. 
"Every morning, out would come the wagon and three or four of us would go all through the neighborhood picking up anything that had died during the night," Eversman said. 
After gathering all of these animals that had died, Eversman and her friends would pray over the animal, bury it in a pet cemetery and give them a proper funeral. 
"When everybody else is screaming about the bug on the wall, who's the one that's up there carefully getting it and taking it outside? That's me," Eversman said. 
Since her childhood, Eversman has been advocating for animals on a much larger scale. She's happy to see just how far Effingham County has come in the treatment of animals following the approval of the no-kill resolution in 2022. 
"That's a proud moment," 
Eversman said. "It's amazing, because for years, I would stand up at the County Board, and I would beg them to call a meeting so we could discuss doing something with Animal Control." 
Writer In addition to volunteering, Eversman has written several books over the years. She learned at a fairly young age that she had a knack for writing. She believes her gift as a writer was nurtured by her supportive parents who "encouraged that little mind." 
Over the years, Eversman has written a variety of books that range from children's books to history. She's also written books on genealogy, something her mother got her interested at a fairly young age, and she's been involved with the Effingham County Genealogical and Historical Society. "One of my best loves was writing my books," Eversman said. "If I stand by my sink in the kitchen, something will always come into my mind. 
"It just hits me." 
Building Community 
Most people who know Eversman weren't surprised to hear that she had been named Citizen of the Year, and they are thrilled to see her being recognized for a lifetime of service to her community. 
Rose Ruholl, owner of Visiting Angels of Effingham, has known Eversman for 30 years. She got to know her even more in the past three years through the in-home care service. 
"She was a client of ours, and we developed a very professional, caring relationship," Ruholl said. 
Ruholl said she was "absolutely elated" to hear that Eversman had won the award. 
"For somebody to get this type of award, she is the only option out there," Ruholl said. "Mary Ellen has given from her heart and soul from the very beginning. If you have an opportunity to meet her, please meet her, because you'll never find an individual more pure and accepting and loving as what she is." 
Another local resident who is quite familiar with Eversman's passion for volunteering is 2019 Citizen of the Year Delaine Donaldson, who is also the president of the Effingham County Museum and said Eversman has always done "anything that she can do" to support the museum since it was first established. 
"I think she is one of the most deserving types of people for an award like this that there could ever be," Donaldson said. "It is a well-deserved honor because of the fact that she has done so much through the years to help make Effingham County the place that it is." 
Eversman has provided the museum with artifacts and old newspapers that help illustrate the history of Effingham County, and she would give presentations while pretending to be historical Effingham County figures for the museum's lecture series. 
"I have nothing but praise for Mary Ellen," Donaldson said. "From the very start, she showed us very much so that she wanted to be as helpful as she possibly could." 
Eversman's cousin, Kathy Fearday, is also aware of just how knowledgeable Eversman is when it comes to local history. In fact, she's worked with Eversman on several history projects, including a book about Eversman's great-great grandfather, Henry Eversman, who was a surgeon during the Civil War. 
"I've known her all my life," Fearday said. "We have worked together on our Eversman history." 
"Mary Ellen was one of my main advisers." 
Fearday is happy to see her cousin being honored after knowing her for all these years, and she hopes that the award helps 
the community remember her for generations to come. 
"I was not surprised. I was just so thrilled that was awarded to her," Fearday said. "I think our ancestors would be very proud of Mary Ellen." 
Still Volunteering 
At the age of 85, Eversman is still working almost constantly to serve her community and help those in need. 
She recently helped her cousin's wife, Dr. Kim Rocha Keenan, distribute clothing throughout the area in November of 2023, assisting the efforts of a nonprofit organization Rocha and her husband, Patrick Keenan, started with Eversman's help. The organization is called Friends of Kindness. 
Rocha explained that Bombas Socks provided the organization with 10,000 pairs of socks as an "in-kind donation." 
"They said we're going to give you 10,000 Bombas Socks for Effingham," Keenan said. "I called Mary Ellen panicked." 
"In three weeks from all of her contacts, we distributed 10,000 Bombas Socks to almost every single person who was in need in Effingham, Jasper County, the One-Stop Christmas people in Mattoon." 

To see this article visit: https://www.effinghamdailynews.com/news/local_news/edn-citizen-of-the-year-profile-mary-ellen-eversman-animal-advocate-author-volunteer/article_739fc97a-c05c-11ee-aab9-d3a427887340.html 

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