GIBSON CITY — Marilyn Ames’ passion for history rubbed off on her students during her lengthy teaching career at now-defunct Melvin-Sibley Junior/Senior High School.
“She had a big impact in guiding me into the profession I do today,” said Ryan Tompkins, a social studies teacher at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School who had Mrs. Ames for eighth-grade history in 1990.
Mrs. Ames — who died Friday at age 91 — was an inspiration to many others, too.
“All the students that Marilyn Ames taught have a true love of history because of her caring, passion and dedication,” said former coworker Judy Weber-Jones.
Both Tompkins and Weber-Jones called Mrs. Ames “a legend” at Melvin-Sibley Junior/Senior High School, where Mrs. Ames taught history from 1961 to 1990.
“In my 34 years of teaching, she is the best teacher I have ever seen or known,” Weber-Jones said. “To teach is to touch a life forever, and that is what Marilyn did was make a positive difference in young lives.”
“She defined what a teacher should be,” said Tompkins, who now teaches a high school class on Illinois history modeled off of a curriculum developed by Mrs. Ames.
During her time at Melvin-Sibley, Mrs. Ames was twice named Outstanding History Teacher of Illinois by the state historical society. Known for her passion for her students and her knowledge of local and Illinois history, each spring she would take her eighth-graders on a trip to Springfield to visit museums and Abraham Lincoln sites. Also, some of her students’ poems were published in a quarterly booklet published by the Illinois State Museum.
“Her knowledge of history and getting it across to all her students was amazing,” Weber-Jones said.
Weber-Jones recalled how Mrs. Ames was not only a gifted and passionate teacher but was also “always mentoring the other teachers” who were less experienced — Weber-Jones included.
“I learned many lessons from Marilyn. One lesson was how to get students to work at their fullest God-given ability,” Weber Jones said. “She always expected and strived for the students’ best, whether writing an Illinois history article for publication or to obtain the knowledge for a history test.
“There were many times where I saw Marilyn take a student out of study hall to relearn a particular history lesson during her free period. Marilyn was a true definition of an excellent teacher. She earned each student’s and teacher’s respect, and they became lifelong learners and friends.”
After her retirement and move to Champaign, Mrs. Ames remained involved in the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR), a nonprofit organization that promotes historic preservation, education and patriotism. As a life member of the NSDAR’s Gov. Thomas Ford Chapter, she helped many women join the organization, whose membership is limited to direct lineal descendants of soldiers or others of the Revolutionary period who aided the cause of independence.
A fellow member of the local NSDAR chapter, Judy Jepsen-Popel of Paxton, said she “marveled at Marilyn’s work as registrar” for the chapter.
“Her organizational skills at tracking down genealogical information was amazing,” Jepsen-Popel said. “She helped me find my Revolutionary War patriot (lineage) with fervor and tenacity.”
Mrs. Ames also was involved in the Ford County Historical Society, an organization to which she belonged from its inception.
Jepsen-Popel, who is also a member of the historical society, said Mrs. Ames’ “knowledge of history is renowned throughout the state,” and she was Jepsen-Popel’s “go-to” source for answers on Ford County’s history.
“Not only was she knowledgeable, but (she was) so willing to help everyone who had questions,” Jepsen-Popel said. “She was a stickler for accurate information and details. She definitely was my mentor, and I learned so much from her.”
Mrs. Ames served as the Ford County Historical Society’s president for a time. While doing so, she helped with the 1985 publication of a book called “History of Ford County, Illinois.”
Mrs. Ames also served as treasurer and membership chair of the state historical society for many years. In 2013, Mrs. Ames nominated Jepsen-Popel for the role and “encouraged and prodded” her “all the way to fruition,” Jepsen-Popel recalled.
“Marilyn has instilled in all of us an example of devotion to faith and family laced with a love of our country and its history,” Jepsen-Popel said. “To say that I admired Marilyn would be an understatement. She is the epitome of what we aspire to be.”
One of her former students in the 1960s, Sibley resident Marge Vetter, said Mrs. Ames was a valuable member of the Sibley Business & Historical Association.
“She had a great knowledge of Sibley,” said Vetter, who is also a member of that organization. “If we had questions throughout the years, she was more than happy to help. She knew a lot.”
Mrs. Ames — who was one of the “original contributors” of the Sibley centennial book that was published in 1977, Vetter said — also contributed “a lot of pictures” for the Sibley Business & Historical Association’s book that is set to be published this year, entitled “The Sibley Schools of 1884 through 1993.”
The new book, which features graduates of Sibley High School and Melvin-Sibley High School, will be dedicated in Mrs. Ames’ memory, Vetter said.
In the dedication to Mrs. Ames in the book, Vetter wrote that Mrs. Ames “was one of the greatest treasures of Sibley, Ford County and the state of Illinois” and that “we owe her a huge debt of gratitude for her love of history and her willingness to share it with all of us.”
Vetter said that as a student under Mrs. Ames, she learned a lot, and “that’s possibly why I like history from Sibley so much now.”
“I just have very wonderful thoughts of her,” Vetter said.
Mrs. Ames’ funeral will be at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 1, at the Gibson City United Methodist Church. Burial will follow at Mount Hope Cemetery in Sibley.