Joan Meyer’s legacy: ‘Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do’

On Saturday, as mourners climbed the tile steps just past the 1923 cornerstone at Marion’s Valley United Methodist Church, they followed much the same path that Ollie and Mercil Wight must have taken when they brought their baby daughter to be baptized after her 1925 birth.

“Her parents carried her in (their) arms as a baby,” said the Rev. Ron DeVore, who officiated the funeral service for Joan (pronounced Jo-anne) Wight Meyer, who died at 98 one week earlier.

“She was actually our longest-tenured member,” DeVore said before the service started.

The first sign that something was going to be a little different about this funeral was the white, squat delivery vehicle advertising the Meyer family’s three community newspapers.

The vehicle, which sat under the burning morning sun on a day projected to reach 110, was parked just feet from a long, black hearse in front of the church steps and later joined it in the procession to a graveside service.

During the funeral, there wasn’t much more than a passing reference to the chaos that intruded upon Meyer’s life in what DeVore called “the miserable 24 hours” before her death.

On Aug. 11, Marion police raided the offices of the Marion County Record, the Meyer family’s longtime newspaper, and the home Meyer shared with her son, Record publisher Eric Meyer, over an investigation the paper conducted for a story that it decided not to run.

The incident, which Joan Meyer had declared was similar to what Hitler and his Gestapo would do, and its aftermath have received worldwide attention.

A makeshift shrine is set up in front of the Marion County Record in Marion. The funeral for the newspaper’s co-owner, Joan Meyer, was Saturday, a week after she died following a police raid at her house and the paper. Jaime Green/The Wichita Eagle
A makeshift shrine is set up in front of the Marion County Record in Marion. The funeral for the newspaper’s co-owner, Joan Meyer, was Saturday, a week after she died following a police raid at her house and the paper. Jaime Green/The Wichita Eagle

Neither, however, were the focus of the intimate 10 a.m. service for about 100 family, friends — at almost 100 years old, most of Meyer’s contemporaries are already gone — newspaper supporters and a smattering of media.

DeVore enthusiastically proclaimed the gathering was a celebration, and a trumpeter played a medley of music that sounded not unlike the merry strains that emanate from the French Quarter in New Orleans.

For another song, the pianist encouraged the congregants to “sing it if you know it.”

DeVore eulogized Meyer’s long life and career, both of which he said seemed to be led by a single mission statement: “Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.”

He told of how whenever Meyer’s neighbor, Mary, got on her ladder to clean her house’s gutters, Meyer would come outside to say, “I’ve dialed 9-1; one more button to go. I can dial it while you’re plummeting.”

Though Meyer traveled the world, particularly the World War II battlefields of Europe, she lived her entire life in a six-block radius of Marion.

DeVore noted that if you’re going to spend your whole life in one place, Marion is a smart choice since you only have to lock your car doors during the zucchini harvest — unless you want a pile of zucchini unexpectedly plopped in your back seat.

“Joan was the epitome of knowing that a small town doesn’t have to mean a small mind,” DeVore said.

“She lived through so many things.”

In 1948, Meyer’s husband, Bill, joined what was then called the Marion Record-Review, which later returned to its 1870 name of the Marion County Record at his insistence.

Around the 1960s after their only son was in school, Joan Meyer joined her husband at the paper as the social news editor and a copy editor.

DeVore talked of how Joan Meyer made sure her son was on his way “and then went on to parent a community.”

He said she cared, paid attention and spoke the truth, “which can be a little touchy in a small town.”

Before the funeral began, DeVore privately shared his only real experience with Meyer.

“I met her over the phone when she interviewed me when I was the big news in town — the new pastor.”

He proudly remembered making the front page, above the fold, but what especially struck DeVore was something about Meyer.

“She was obviously a lady who knew what she was doing,” he said. “I don’t know if I could put my finger on it.”

He said it was a more of a sense that he said you can get from some people.

“They’ve been there, done that and (are) paying attention. They’re just doing the thing that God created them to do.”

Meyer eventually wrote the Record’s popular Memories column on the history of Marion County. It was something she contributed to up until the week she died.

Along with her written words, DeVore said, “She’s left us with a legacy.”

He said he looks forward to a heavenly day he can join Meyer and fill her in on the fallout from the raids and all the nuances of what has happened, though he clearly isn’t waiting till then to find positives from the incident.

“Her question was, ‘Where are the good people?’ ” DeVore said of Meyer’s plea following the raids.

“The answer was: ‘They’re on their way.’ You’re here today.”

Before the service concluded with an instrumental version of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” DeVore offered a special message to those who loved and admired Meyer.

“You can continue her legacy. You, too, can consider deeply. You can think long. You can reflect before you speak and before you write, and you, too, can do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.”