‘Very special couple’ inducted into Recognition Plaza

Individuals made Rockford what it is today

by BETH ALTENA

Rockford City Manager Michael Young (left) and Rockford Area Historical Society President Terry Konkle (right) listen while R.A.C.E. honoree Zell Gill speaks.

“Service is the rent we pay for out little spot on this Earth.” This attitude was exemplified in the life led by the late Lynn Gill, who along with his wife LaZelle (Zell) were the lone addition to the Rockford Area Community Endowment (R.A.C.E.) Recognition Plaza. A ceremony took place Tuesday, May 28, beginning with the R.A.C.E. annual meeting at City Hall and ending at the plaza, located on the west side of the Rogue River by the dam.

Zell Gill, before a large crowd of well-wishers at the Plaza, spoke with dignity and said the chance to help Rockford become what it is today has been a great honor for herself and her late husband. A plaque with her and Lynn’s name will serve as a permanent tribute to the contributions the couple have made to Rockford.

Rockford City Manager Michael Young and the Rockford Area Historical Society nominated the couple and both Young and Historical Society President Terry Konkle spoke during the ceremony.

Young talked of his experience of the couple. “In 1995 when I came here, whether it was God’s will, he put me right next to the Gills,” he said.

People who attended the Rockford Area Community Endowment annual board meeting and honor ceremony admire the names at Recognition Plaza.

Young described how fortunate his family felt getting to know the Gills and of their kindness and generosity. He noted that when his daughters ran away from home, as kids usually do during their childhood, his girls, ages 3 and 4, ran away to the Gills’ home next door.

The Gills were very active in Rockford and are people that were well known as well as universally admired. According to a biography compiled by the Historical Society, the Gills moved to Rockford in 1940. Lynn Gill passed away in March 2009, and Zell still lives in the house they built on Dayton Street. The couple lived their lives with service as a major factor in their activities.

Lynn was from Big Rapids, where he graduated in 1935 as salutatorian of Big Rapids High School. He and his brother were well known as semi-pro baseball players. Lynn was inducted into the Mecosta County Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.

Zell was from Reed City and also had a love of sports. Both of them were loyal supporters of Rockford High School athletics and attended many sporting events.

For 41 years, Lynn worked at Michigan Bell and was a member of the Telephone Pioneers of America. He was resourceful with his time. He served on the Rockford Public Schools Board from 1953 to 1972 at a time when school expansion was happening. He also was a leader at Rockford United Methodist Church, where he served in many areas and could be counted on in a time of need. He was willing to help others and wired many barns in the Rockford area for electricity. When he was out for a walk, he would take the time to pick up litter, exchange hellos and scratch dogs’ ears. If he discovered someone needed help, he was willing to do it himself or find someone who could. Often, his deeds were done “behind the scenes.” He did not need credit. People know Lynn as an honest man who would “tell it like it is.”

After graduation from Reed City High School, Zell married Lynn and taught for one year at a one-room school in Paris, Mich. She later was a substitute teacher at one-room schools in the Rockford area. She and her husband raised four daughters: Judy, Becky, Kathy and Amey. She was director of Heritage Tuttle Nursery School for six years.

In 1960, Zell began a 20-year period of influencing people by taking a job with Krause Memorial Library, first as an assistant and then as head librarian. She was there when the library was grown and she liked to help people help themselves. She looked at her job as being a 24-hour-a-day venture. She made the library a place that welcomed everyone. She helped many students with school projects and they learned to respect her rules. She opened the library on her own time to service the Kent County Honor Camp, and she would regularly take large print books to the Rogue Valley Towers. In 1977 the Rockford Jaycees honored her as Citizen of the Year and the Professional Women’s Club selected her as Woman of the Year in 1980. Many Rockford people will remember Zell walking to the library early in the day and then walking back home at night. It was like a tradition.

Finally, even today, Zell continues to serve humanity by sending thoughtful notes to those in need of remembering.

Both of the Gills should be recognized for their service to this town and the surrounding area. They have more than “paid their rent” and deserve recognition in the Plaza.

Konkle, while speaking to those present at the ceremony, noted that he ran a recent column which included a trivia quiz about Zell Gill and said the response was overwhelming.

“How can Zell be the answer to a trivia quiz?” he queried. “Zell is a nugget of history to this town. Nuggets are made of gold; Zell is a gold nugget.”

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