Human beings are lucky if they have a single passion giving them joy on a regular basis. When a person is blessed with multiple passions, however, particularly those types of passions that can and do help others who are searching, whether it be for basic human needs–food, clothing, shelter, love–or other things that serve to assist people and make them better in this world, it’s particularly fortunate. Rarely is a person, along with these passions, blessed with the desire to widely spread the joy that comes with them to those folks who need it most. These people are special, so much so that others around them become inspired to pick up the passion and perhaps keep it going when the necessity arises. Such is the case for the late Terri Mercer ’77 and her husband of nearly forty years, Otto.
One of the paramount causes driving a huge passion in Terri was the importance of literacy in children. As the executive director and founder of First Step for 33 years, “a healthy family resource center in northwest Ohio for victims of domestic violence and their children,” according to its website, she saw the opportunity to bring families together and break cycles of violence through reading aloud. “It was, and still is, an important concept,” Otto said. “She was absolutely an innovator in the Ohio domestic violence field.” The way she saw it, getting families involved with one another and communicating, particularly the children who needed a better method for understanding, could be accomplished through reading to one another. It was an idea that was born from the abundance of reading in the Mercers’ household while raising their own four children, now grown, and the grandchildren who came after. “Reading was always everything,” Otto said. “We always read to our children, and they turned out to be great and very successful,” he continued. “The grandkids always wanted YaYa (the kids’ term of endearment for their grandmother) to read to them. It’s just always been a big thing. She even used to read aloud to her staff at the [First Step] center.”
So as she began to contemplate retirement around a year ago, Terri, an original student of the late Dr. Jerry Mallett, a former professor at University of Findlay and a founding director of UF’s Mazza Museum, turned her thoughts naturally toward the Museum and the opportunity to go through training to eventually become a docent. Knowing Terri’s affinity for children and literacy, Claudia Benjamin, a close friend, sponsored and paid for her to attend last year’s Mazza Summer Conference. “It absolutely delighted her,” Otto said. “She pretty much decided for sure, then, to take the docent training.”
But somewhere in the midst of the training, the Mercers were dealt an unfortunate and heartbreaking blow. Terri was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. The pain of the disease kept her from attending much of the training, and she passed away on March 23rd, 2019.
However, as she had always taught her family to “breathe things into being,” according to her husband, he had made a promise to her before her passing that he would take up the cause and go through the training to become a docent himself, in her honor. “I always have said that a promise made is a promise kept,” he said. “I have to jump in and be all I can be for her. That’s not a problem.”
Otto and one of the couple’s daughters were on hand in early May to receive his wife’s diploma posthumously, and, he said, there is plenty to celebrate about Terri’s life, even so much as the journals that she diligently kept during it. He collected all of the journals, packed with information and instruction on all of her many passions–everything from gardening to making Christmas dinner to, not surprisingly, children’s books–bought a bookshelf, and loaded it up with the collection. This plethora of Terri’s knowledge is known as “YaYa’s Books of Wisdom,” and now, like Terri in life, serves a greater purpose, one that is full of hope and help.
“She was a big encourager,” Otto said, “just a massive encourager, personally and professionally. So many people turned their lives around because of her. She spread an awful lot of joy. That’s what this is going to be about.”