Northeast Johnson County community leaders today are mourning the loss of Irene French, who served as Merriam mayor for more than 20 years. French died early Tuesday morning at her home.
French served on the city’s Citizen Advisory Committee and Planning Commission before being elected to the city council in 1973. She served on the council until she was elected mayor in 1981 and held that office until 2002, being elected to five terms.
In addition to her service as mayor, French served a term as president of the League of Kansas Municipalities and as interim president/CEO of the Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce.
She also wrote a book about the city she loved and served, called “Historic Merriam.” The city honored French by naming its 33,000 square foot community center after her.
We’ll add memorial service information here after it is announced.
UPDATED: Memorial service information follows:
Visitation: Friday 6-9 p.m. at St. Michael’s and All Angels at 67th Street and Nall Ave.
Service: Saturday at 2 p.m. at St. Michael’s and All Angels followed immediately by a reception
UPDATED: An obituary provided by the city of Merriam follows:
Merriam’s first lady, Irene Belle French, 86, passed away this week in her home surrounded by her family. Irene was one of the pioneer builders of Johnson County and was one of the early women leaders to make a significant impact on her beloved Merriam, Kansas and the county.
She is survived by her two sons Russ French and James C. French II, Russ’ wife Carol French and Jim’s ex-wife Teri French, grandchildren Regan French and Matt French, Matt’s wife Sarah French, J. C. French III, Alexis French and great grandchildren twins Emerson Belle French and Colbie Caroline French, Chancellor French and a surviving sister Edna Swayden. Her husband James Calvin French is deceased, April 10,1994 and her parents Merlin and Thelma Lahey are also deceased.
Irene and her husband Calvin moved to Merriam in 1963. She immediately became involved in the community. Over a period of 50+ years she helped weave the fabric of her community and made public service her passion. She served as Mayor of Merriam for 20 years. During that time she accomplished the Baron BMW Automotive Plaza redevelopment, Merriam Town Center redevelopment, a park for the community and her crown jewel, the saving of the now named Irene B. French Merriam Community Center. Irene was visionary and passionate in establishing the Merriam Parks, Recreation, Community Center Foundation to support the work of the parks department and to grow the arts in Merriam.
During her time as Mayor Irene also provided great leadership to many local, regional, state and national efforts. Her service and awards include member of the Merriam Chamber of Commerce, 1990 Merriam Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the year, Johnson County Parks Department, Streamway Parks, National League of Cities Finance, Administration Committee, Northeast Johnson County Chamber of commerce interim President, Shawnee Mission Medical Center Recognition, Association of Mayors Kansas Mayor of the Year, Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh Recognition, Rotary Paul Harris Fellow, Johnson County Rotary Board of Directors, Rotary Assistant District Governor, District 5710, Johnson County Transit Board, Overland Park Chamber of commerce interim President, Certificate of Merit for 30 years of Service from Johnson County Board of County Commissioners, a director and officer of the Mid America Regional Council, Chairman of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, Vice-Chair of the Johnson County Republican Party as well as other state and national political efforts.
Visitation will be held from 6-9 p.m. on Friday at St. Michael’s and All Angels Episcopal Church, 67th and Nall, Mission KS. The funeral will be held Saturday at 2:00 p.m. at the church followed by a reception with the family at the church.
In remembrance of Irene, the family requests contributions to the Merriam Parks, Recreation, Community Center Foundation, 5701 Merriam Dr. Shawnee Mission, KS 66203.