Community minded

Madison Main Street Program’s
Schaerli honored at state level

She is one of three to receive
statewide board member award

By Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

(November 2012) – What started as a family getaway for Sandy Schaerli turned into an introduction to a town that would change her life. While reading the travel section of the Chicago Tribune about 20 years ago, Schaerli came across an article on Madison, Ind. While the family had planned to visit a variety of sites around southern Indiana, upon reaching Madison, “We did not go further,” she recalls.
Soon there was a meeting with a real estate agent, and Schaerli was well on the way to becoming an integral part of the town with which she had fallen in love.
The small town friendliness proved to be a bit of an adjustment for Schaerli’s young daughter. “When I walked down the street when we first came here people would just say ‘hi.’ My daughter looked up and asked, ‘Do you know these people?’ ”

Sandy Schaerli Gerry Michl Whitney Borders

Photo provided

Sandy Schaerli (far right) poses
with Madison Main Street board
member Gerry Michl (left) and
program director Whitney
Borders (center).

Schaerli’s own friendly nature made her fit right in and she was quickly welcoming others to her adopted hometown. Living near the Lanier-Madison Visitors Center, she often catches tourists who are looking for directions, and Schaerli is always ready with a cheerful greeting and helpful local advice.
“It’s exciting to introduce people the wonderful things we have here downtown,” she says.
Schaerli was honored for her work as part of the Madison Main Street Program on Oct. 11 by being named one of three outstanding board members at the statewide Indiana Main Street Conference. The program describes itself as a group “dedicated to keeping our historic downtown an economically vibrant part of our community through support of our businesses, promotion, design assistance and cooperative effort with other local organizations.”
In a press release, Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, who oversees the Office of Community and Rural Affairs, said of the recipients, “Every one of these individuals is a champion of local downtown revitalization efforts and promotes economic activity in their respective communities.”
The 2012 Board Member of the Year Award is given in recognition of “exceptional commitment to downtown revitalization” and takes into consideration not only a recipient’s impact on the Main Street Program itself, but also on individual community members. Schaerli was nominated for the 2012 Board Member of the Year Award by fellow board member Wanda Gross and former Madison Main Street Program Executive Director Rhonda Deeg.
Since becoming a part of the program in 2009 Schaerli has been an active member. In their nomination letter, Deeg and Gross point out that Schaerli is willing to take on tasks ranging from spearheading new programs to assisting with clean up after events. Gross says of Schaerli’s nomination, “She has done so much for Main Street and the merchants in Madison.”
In addition to being active on three committees and serving as a constant font of ideas and enthusiasm, the nomination letter also points out that “if the program or event called for refreshments, Sandy never failed to bring the tastiest, savory desserts.”
This willingness to step up and do whatever needed to get done has made her a valued member of the organization. This statewide award comes a year after Schaerli was named Volunteer of the Year for the Madison program.
One of the Main Street programs that Schaerli has been a vital supporter of is this year’s “Buy Local” initiative. When plans for the campaign were first announced, Schaerli bought an eye-catching three-wheeled bicycle and adorned it with a red flag and a “Shop Local” license plate. Her cheerful trips around downtown proved to be a fun way to get people talking about the program. While Schaerli says that it may be obvious that it is important for shoppers to support local stores, “Sometimes people forget.”
She continued, saying that “having Main Street be successful is sort of a barometer of a whole town.” She highlights the impact a tour of Main Street can have on visitors says that a thriving downtown area can encourage confidence from investors.
“If they go downtown and seen and active, involved Main Street it benefits the whole town,” she reflects.
As someone who relocated to Madison, Schaerli is well aware of the value of such first impressions.“I’m not from here; I’m not a native,” she explains.
She thinks that this outside perspective helps her and other transplants to appreciate the special resource that is downtown. “We’ve seen what it is like in other places,” she says of the enthusiasm Madison generates in its residents who have moved from other areas.
Currently, Schaerli is busy with a decal project that will help share history and fun trivia about downtown buildings and businesses. The idea is that soon the Main Street Program will help provide window decals to local businesses in order to facilitate walking tours of downtown. Schaerli was instrument in helping get an intern from Hanover College to assist with research over the summer to gather information on about 20 buildings. The decal project is being supported by a grant from the Community Foundation.
Schaerli notes that “I always say people forget to look up,” and she hopes that the signs will help remind people to “look up and appreciate this great architecture.”
Both Schaerli and Gross encourage those interested in the downtown area to consider becoming a part of the Madison Main Street Program. Gross, who opened Wanda’s Gifts back in 1991, says, “Main Street does so much for the community. They are there to fight for you when you have problems. It’s a fine group, and everybody takes ideas from each other and gets along.”
Schaerli agrees, saying, “I don’t think there’s anything better than becoming involved in your community.”

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