Suzie Gibbs likes to joke that at age 81, she’s the oldest council member in Johnson County.
The popular Mission council member said her decision to go into politics back in the 1970s was a “fluke.”
“I needed something to do and politics sounded like fun,” she said.
Last week, Mission saluted Gibbs for all the joy she has brought her community the past four decades. About 150 people gathered to honor her at a ceremony at which a new park at Martway and Broadmoor was designated “Legacy Park.”
And at the center of that legacy, fittingly enough, is “Gibbs Plaza.”
The city wanted to name the whole venture after her, but Gibbs balked because it would have required an exemption be made to a rule that says parks can’t be named after a living person. Even designating plaza in her honor left her a bit uncomfortable.
“I don’t feel I deserve recognition any more than anybody else,” she said. “Along the way, I’ve had so many people help me. A wise lady told me, ‘Suzie, you just need to embrace it and say thank you.'”
Mission Mayor Steve Showengerdt said it was classic Suzie to be so modest despite how deserving she was of the recognition.
“She has such a big heart and always wants to help,” he said.
In honoring Gibbs, the parks commission cited her 24 years on the City Council over three different times, and her roles as city clerk, business owner and director of the Mission Chamber of Commerce.
Perhaps the biggest demonstration of her big heart is the annual holiday gift drive she began 10 years ago. Last December, 55 families in northeast Johnson County received gifts of food, clothing, toys and other items thanks to the program.
Volunteers including city employees as well as other council members and volunteers showed up to wrap and deliver presents at the Sylvester Powell Community Center.
“Suzie does everything,” Showengerdt said. “She gets so involved her Thanksgiving and Christmas adoption programs. She’s a ball of energy and gets everybody going.”
Gibbs said her interest in politics was inherited from her Dad, who was an attorney in Kansas City. He’d come home and tell the family stories about the political goings on in the big city. She thought it sounded like fun.
When she was in her late 30s, a group of Mission residents approached her about running for Council. Gibbs agreed and was surprised that she won.
“The mayor then was Sylvester Powell and he was very gruff and scared me to death,” she recalled. “But the more you knew him, the more you liked him.”
The city of Mission was more like a family in those days, she said, where everybody knew one another and were willing to help each other out.
Gibbs says the city lost some of that spirit for awhile when the Mission Chamber merged with the Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce, but it’s coming back.
“It’s nice walking into a shop and saying how’s mom and dad?” she said.
The dedication of Legacy Park and Gibbs Plaza was a “beautiful” event, Gibbs said, with a Mission Police Department honor guard starting the ceremony.
“Everybody had kind things to say and I felt wonderful,” she said.
Showengerdt said it was a wonderful salute.
“I couldn’t believe how many people were there,” he said. “A lot of people Suzie’s had contact with. It was a great tribute.”