Rosemary “Rosie” Gerkin’s family could be considered as pioneers in Vandalia.
A life-long resident of Vandalia, Rosie and her husband, the late Dennis Gerkin, are the parents of sons Denny and Jimmy Joe.
She worked in Doug’s Shoe Store until it closed, and she later reopened the store, owning and operating it as Rosie’s Shoes until closing in 1994.
She and her sister, Lois, spoke of their parents, the late John A. and Rosa Merriman, of their story in the early days, and unfolded to the present and their youngest brother, Tim Merriman.
Tim fulfilled his mother’s dream of writing and is a successful author, the latest of his accomplishments being “The Leopard Tree," a book that holds your interest and holds a surprise when Vandalia landmarks suddenly appear, drawing the reader even further into the gripping story.
The Earlier Days
Rosie shared her family ties then and now, joined by her sister, Lois.
Their father, John, was the first caddy at the Vandalia Country Club, and he told of helping drive a herd of 75 cows from Shobonier to Vandalia on a dirt road, walking all the way.
He also told of the building of a road from Bluff City to Vandalia, using teams of horses to make the fill and pave the roadway and of the city power plant that burned wood, and later coal, to make electricity for Vandalia. He witnessed an argument between the mayor and an alderman over selling to Illinois Power Co.
He bought the marriage license for himself and Rosa in 1926 at the county courthouse, which at that time was located in the old state capital building.
Four children blessed their marriage: Jimmy, a retired Baptist preacher; Lois, a retired beautician and floral shop operator; Rosie; and Tim.
Their mother, Rosa Carson Merriman, lived north of Brownstown as a child, and she and her brother drove a horse and buggy every day to Vandalia to attend high school. They used a ferry to cross the Kaskaskia River. Rosa loved to read, and her dream was to go to college. However, Rosa’s mother, who was Dr. Stanberry’s nurse and also a schoolteacher, thought college was wasted on girls because they got married and never used their college education.
Rosa never lost the desire to attend college. When she was a young girl, she attended Emanuel Methodist Church and borrowed books from the members. Although the dream of college never came true, she subscribed to many magazines and read all of them.
She also wrote, taught Sunday school, and worked in the office of attorney Bill Albert until the birth of Tim, their youngest child, who “was planned” because at age 40, Rosa didn’t want “an empty nest.” Tim is 15 years younger than his sister, Rosie.
His Mother’s Legacy
Tim’s sisters believe their younger brother inherited his gift for writing from their mother.
He has written several books, including some award-winners and at least one children’s book that is used in some schools as a teaching aid.
His career began as environmental programs director at Southern Illinois University “Touch of Nature” near Carbondale. After three years at that position, he was a ranger/interpreter at Giant City State Park for eight years.
At the state park, he would often work with Boy Scouts, teaching them how to live off the land by actually camping out and surviving on the berries, mushrooms, etc., of the land.
His career, responsibilities, work, education and interests continued to grow and expand. His educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in zoology. With a secondary teaching certificate, a master’s degree in botany, and a doctorate in speech/communications from SIU. He has taught for 25 years as an adjunct professor at University of Colorado.
His accomplishments include publishing countless papers and co-authoring books, winning a number of awards.
Tim and His Hometown
Tim attended Vandalia’s schools and graduated from Vandalia High School. He has fond memories of his hometown.
A magazine, Legacy, published an article he wrote about his childhood memories of Vandalia, mentioning “Meditation Spring,” the mural on the wall of the restaurant in Hotel Evans, the Madonna of the Trail and the Vandalia Statehouse.
He admitted that in his younger years, he had no knowledge of their historical value, but after leaving Vandalia at the age of 22, he became interested in anything he found to read about his hometown, and developed an understanding and appreciation of its history.
His accomplishments probably far surpass what his mother would have dreamed of, but he still holds his hometown, family and friends dear to his heart.
“The Leopard Tree”
The most recent book, “The Leopard Tree,” was co-written with his wife, Lisa. It is a fictional story of three orphans from Kenya who take on a seemingly impossible journey to make the world aware of the terrible plight of homeless and hurting children in Africa.
As the children beneath the intriguing cover and title of this book undertake their long and obstacle-filled journey, the reader becomes more and more absorbed with the story.
The ties with Tim’s hometown and his family are evident, as one of the main characters in the book is a free-lance photojournalist named Rosa Carson, who becomes a sympathetic, caring friend of the children and strives to help them reach their seemingly impossible goal.
Then, when you find you are traveling with the children on familiar ground and recognizing landmarks – such as Vandalia Lake, Ill. Route 185 and Thrill Hill – you are even further involved.
The book won the International Young Adult Fiction Award and a regional adult fiction award called the EVVY. Lisa and Tim had already been made aware of the plight of many African children’s problems after viewing a Clinton special in which he interviewed a young girl who was HIV positive from East Africa. Tim and Lisa write books and train people in interpreting nature and history.
They realized that when a young orphan is faced with these kinds of situations, there is no way to tell their story. They decided to write a book that would be a contact point, to tell that child’s story, as a way of helping others understand what they are facing.
Tim plays bluegrass mandolin, grows Bonsai trees has travels the world with his writing partner and wife, Lisa Brochu.
He also works with fundraising and non-profit organizational management.
But perhaps the most important accomplishment and most admirable quality of Rosa’s son is his awareness, compassion, desire and the ability, through his writing, to help children, especially orphans, living in poverty around the world, especially in the East African nations.
All of the proceeds from “The Leopard Tree” are donated to charity. The book may be found on Amazon.com, and it will also soon be available as a Kindle book on Amazon.com.