From Cold War preparations to natural disasters, Marvin Gilbert has had plenty of experience helping out the residents of Union County.

From Cold War preparations to natural disasters, Marvin Gilbert has had plenty of experience helping out the residents of Union County.

Gilbert, 69, was honored last week for 50 years of service to the Union County Office of Emergency Management (EMA). In his capacity as chief of operations for the EMA, Gilbert has served in a variety of capacities, beginning his volunteerism career in 1959.

"There was a really bad flood that year, and there's a gas line that goes across Main Street in which the gas for each house had to be turned off by hand," Gilbert said. The gas company didn't know the area very well, so they asked a lot of us seniors at the high school to come out and help them. I volunteered with that, and became interested."

Once Gilbert graduated from Marysville High School that year, he decided to spend more of his time volunteering for the county's emergency response services.

"It was called Civil Defense at the time," he said. "This was around the time of the Cold War, so one of our main jobs was checking out people's bomb shelters."

Gilbert was honored by the Union County commissioners and police and fire organizations in an open house Aug. 25. In their presentation, county commissioner Gary Lee said that Gilbert's contributions to the county have been invaluable.

"My time in public service started in 1967, starting about the same time as Marvin's," Lee said. "In all that time Marv's hung in there, and when you needed someone, he's always rallied the troops and gotten things done."

Originally formed to help communities develop bomb shelters and be prepared in the event of enemy attack, the agency changed its name in 1996 to the Union County EMA, and now focuses on such areas as rehab for fire departments, maintaining and delivering the county's hazardous materials equipment, generators and lights. The group also assists with traffic control and communications, weather spotting and transportation during snow emergencies for people such as doctors and nurses, according to the EMA's history.

Gilbert said one of the more memorable situations that occurred during his tenure happened in 1967, when the agency lent a hand to Champaign County following a plane crash.

"There were two planes that hit each other and came down in the woods, and the FFA needed our help to protect the area," he said. "We organized their lighting for the night, and ended up carrying some of the bodies from the wreck until they could be identified."

Commissioner Charles Hall said Gilbert's dedication is well known in Union County.

"He's a very dedicated individual, and has spent countless hours helping with a job that doesn't pay anything," Hall said. "He's got friends throughout the entire county that understand that."

While numerous friends and colleagues wished Gilbert well at the open house, he said that it wasn't a retirement party he'll be serving the agency and the county for years to come if he can.