Monday, August 17, 2009
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Personality of the Week

The quiet philanthropist

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[August 17, 2009]  There are people in this world who go about daily doing good for their community and expecting nothing in return. They quietly go about searching out a need, then figuring out a way to fulfill that need. These quiet philanthropists do all that they can to make the community they live in a better place.

The citizens of Lincoln are fortunate to have one such philanthropist within the heart of our community. Larry Van Bibber looks around his hometown, sees that there is a need, and then he sets out to take care of it.

RestaurantThough now single, Van Bibber and his wife raised three children in this community: Larry, Jim and Jessica.

His career years were spent as a supervisor and director at the Lincoln Developmental Center, from which he retired in 2000.

At 66 years of age, he is a member of the First Assembly of God, AMVETS Post 71 and The Oasis, where he is an avid pinochle player.

In 2005 Van Bibber was recognized by The Oasis as being the first contributor at the brass plaque level in their Reflections program. The brass plaque was a special designation for any single contributor whose donations to The Oasis exceeded $25,000 for the year.

Larry didn't stop, however, when he reached this momentous amount. To date, Van Bibber has given $53,000 to the senior center. He said that he wanted the center to be able to continue to offer services and programs for seniors in the years to come, and he hoped that his contributions would allow them to do that.

Bob Albert, the current president of The Oasis board, said: "Let me tell you, Larry really takes to heart what is happening in Logan County. His generosity has been far beyond what anyone else has done. He is the leading contributor at The Oasis, but he is very humble. He is uncomfortable receiving praise for what he does. But he is a real leader, a quiet leader."

In 2006, Larry saw another opportunity to serve his community when the World's Largest Covered Wagon, then located near Divernon, south of Springfield, came up for sale.

The builder of the wagon, David Bentley, approached Geoff Ladd of the Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau of Logan County about purchasing it. Ladd said that Bentley had two main desires for the wagon: that it be in an area that was rich with Abraham Lincoln history and that it be located along the Mother Road, Route 66.

Ladd and Bentley both felt that Lincoln, Ill., would be the perfect location for the wagon and its 12-foot fiberglass statue of Abraham Lincoln. With a price tag of $10,000 plus moving costs, finding the money to purchase the wagon and move it was not an easy task.

Ladd said that as he was working his way through county and city meetings, seeking support for the project, it was Larry Van Bibber who sought him out and volunteered to finance the operation fully.

Van Bibber said that he just thought the wagon would be good for the community. He stressed that things such as this are important to Lincoln, Logan County and even the nation, as Route 66 is a landmark that is traveled by people from all over the world.


The following year, Van Bibber again saw a need that he could help with.

Saving The Mill on Route 66 became a very important subject to Van Bibber. He visited the old restaurant and was present during its partial demolition by the Parkland Environmental Group when two of the less significant sections of the building had to be removed due to safety concerns.

Ladd, who also heads up the Save The Mill organization, was digging deep to keep funding going for the restoration project, and once again, it was Van Bibber who contacted him with a generous donation of $15,000.

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Ladd commented on Van Bibber, saying, "(We are) so deeply indebted to Larry for taking the initiative on tourism projects. He recognized what we were trying to do, and he made the decision to get involved."

When asked what the driving force was behind his generosity, Van Bibber answered, "God has blessed me with my finances, and I just felt it was a way of giving back."

In addition to supporting tourism and The Oasis, Van Bibber also contributes financially to the Living Alternatives Pregnancy Resource Center and gives of his time to the AMVETS All Veterans Park.

In January of 2008 when All Veterans Park was damaged severely by an ice storm, the group debated on the future of the flags and flagpoles in the park, as most of them were destroyed by the storm.

Eventually they decided that the poles would be replaced but that the flags would be flown only on certain occasions.

Van Bibber, who had helped care for the park for quite some time, along with his brother Les, volunteered to be the caretakers of the flagpoles and flags.

The two brothers have continued to volunteer their services there, though Les readily says that it is Larry who does the lion's share of taking care of the flags and flagpoles, along with other tasks around the park.

Over the years Van Bibber has been recognized not only by The Oasis, but also by the tourism bureau. In 2007 he was given the "Friends of Tourism" award, and this July he received the "Abe Award" from the tourism bureau and Save The Mill organization during the 80th anniversary of The Mill.

When asked about his vision for the future of Lincoln, Van Bibber replied, "For the future I hope that the community continues to grow, with its people being the catalysts that bring industry and small to medium-sized businesses to the area."

He went on to say that small to medium-sized businesses are the heart of our country and vitally important.

While we would not disagree with that statement, we would add that it is the quiet philanthropists who go about daily doing what they can to improve their community who are the soul of our country.

And to that end, it is our great pleasure to pay tribute to Lincoln's quiet philanthropist, Larry Van Bibber, as this week's Personality of the Week.


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