Danville lost one of its strongest advocates earlier this month with the passing of former alderman and Vermilion County Board member John Dreher. Few others did as much to shape the city from the mid 1980s until his retirement in 2015.Dreher was among those who helped create Danville's mayor-aldermanic form of government after a civil rights lawsuit was filed in the 1980s. Until then, the city had been run by a three-person commission and a mayor.
The new city government kept the mayor's post, but added 14 aldermen as a way to ensure residents' voices would be heard.'We were starting a government from zero, from scratch,' Dreher was quoted as saying in a January 2015 story in the Commercial-News. 'We had to put it together.'He helped put it together, then served as an alderman for about a decade before becoming the city's community development manager. In that post he, along with Danville Development Services Director Mike Federman, crafted the city's historic preservation ordinance in an effort to preserve some of the community's past.He also fought hard for the city's Renaissance Initiative, a program designed to help revitalize the neighborhoods just west of downtown.
The program recorded some initial successes, but management issues and a lack of enough support from city officials brought about its demise. Still, during its short tenure, the program led to significant improvement in neighborhoods where homeowners were able to take advantage of it.Dreher also helped organize and support neighborhood associations across the city. He led the city's efforts using Community Development Block Grant funds to help homeowners repair and renovate their houses.
His commitment to that program helped save hundreds of buildings that otherwise might have fallen into further disrepair and find their way onto the city's demolition list. Never one to be without something to do for long, Dreher was elected to the Vermilion County Board and served with that body from 2000 to 2015.He and his wife, Barbara, moved to Terre Haute, Ind., in 2015 to be closer to her family, but he never lost his love for Danville. He remained a strong advocate for the Fischer Theatre before its recent renovation — efforts which included midnight showing of 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' with Dreher frequently in costume as Riff Raff.Dreher also was involved in Native American activities, and helped bring a major event to the city's Ellsworth Park.Few others during the past 40 years or so put as much time, effort and affection as did Dreher into improving Danville and Vermilion County.Visitation for Dreher will be 3-6 p.m.
EST Wednesday at Samaritan Funeral Home in Terre Haute.Even though he is gone, the results of his efforts to make Danville a better place will continue to live on for decades.