Sheriff names shelter founder Citizen of the Year

By on November 20, 2009

by Martha Quetsch
Kane County—“How you doin’, friend?” is Darlene Marcusson’s standard greeting to everyone she encounters at Lazarus House, the homeless shelter she directs in St. Charles. That compassionate approach to community service is one reason Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez honored her with the 2009 Roscoe Ebey Citizen of the Year Award

Marcusson, of Elburn, received the award during a ceremony on Nov. 12 for going above and beyond the call of civic duty. Perez said Tuesday that Marcusson is the embodiment of the Roscoe Ebey award and a model for others to follow.

“I have personally observed her operations at Lazarus House and the passion she has for helping those in need,” Perez said. “Her passion is also reflected in her staff as they provide care to those in need.”

As a member of Batavia Rotary, Perez helps serve dinner monthly at Lazarus House, where he has observed Marcusson in action.

“I see the care and respect Darlene provides not just to individuals, but sometimes entire families,” Perez said. “She gives people who have become homeless hope and every opportunity possible to help rebuild their lives and once again gain independence.”

Perez praised Marcusson for working with him to make sure inmates being released from custody in the Kane County Jail who are homeless know that Lazarus House is open to them.

Marcusson founded Lazarus House in 1997, starting it in a home in St. Charles. Through grants, donations and volunteers, the year-round shelter has grown to occupy three buildings at Walnut and Third streets in St. Charles, with a staff of 38.

Lazarus, which serves western rural Kane County and the Tri-Cities, offers a 24-hour shelter, a three-meal-per-day soup kitchen, personal development programs, and transitional living quarters. In addition, it helps subsidize household budgets and connects clients with appropriate social services agencies in the area to help them regain their independence.

Darlene said she credits Lazarus’ success to following her faith, running the shelter like a business, and to her husband, Sam.

“I couldn’t have done this without him, especially when we first started—I was hardly ever home,” Marcusson said.

That was 12 years ago, when she ran Lazarus as a warm-weather, night shelter with help from just a few volunteers. At the time, she worked another job full time and the couple was raising two children.

She also said Lazarus House could not have been successful without the thousands of volunteers and people who have donated money, food and other items to the facility since its inception.

“I am very greatful. I am very blessed that we have had all of these friends,” Marcusson said.

Award history
The Kane County Sheriff’s Department Roscoe Ebey Citizen of the Year award was named for a former Aurora resident who was a decorated WW II military veteran. Ebey was murdered in 2007 by a home intruder. To honor him, Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez created the award in 2008. This year, two other individuals also were recipients of the 2009 Roscoe Ebey award: Sarah Giachino and Kathy Tobusch, both of Batavia. Giachino and Tobusch are co-chairmen of Fox Valley Troop Support, Inc.

The first recipient in 2007 was Ebey’s neighbor, who held down Ebey’s murderer the night of the tragedy until Sheriff’s deputies arrived. The 2008 recipient was the Rev. David Engbarth of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Aurora.

Darlene Marcusson’s other honors
In addition to the Ebey Citizen of the Year Award, Lazarus House Executive Director Darlene Marcusson of Elburn has received other honors for her work. Some of those were the Illinois Woman of Achievement Award, recognizing her efforts in founding Lazarus House; the Civic Image award in 2002, recognizing the addition of the new Lazarus House Center for Transitional Living; the Illinois Governor’s Hometown Award in 2002, recognizing the significant contributions of volunteers in the community; the Peace Award from the Crisis Center in 2006 for work on behalf of victims of violence; the St. Charles Chamber of Commerce Community Development Award in 2007 for the Lazarus House’s new Women and Children’s Day Center; and the NAMI Advocate of the Year Award in 2009 recognizing efforts advocating for those with mental health issues.

Photo: Darlene Marcusson, executive director of Lazarus House, received the 2009 Roscoe Ebey Kane County Sheriff’s Department Citizen of the Year Award for her work with the St. Charles shelter, where scriptures painted by volunteers adorn the stairwell. Photo by Martha Quetsch