We were saddened to learn that Wanda Merschel, a longtime member of the Winston-Salem City Council, died Friday. Merschel was an influential leader who helped shape the Winston-Salem we see — the Winston-Salem in which we thrive — today.
Merschel’s professional career was in banking; she retired as senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Piedmont Federal Savings Bank in 2015. But at heart she was a public servant, learning as a member of the West End Neighborhood Association before first running for the City Council in 1997. A Democrat, she held her Northwest Ward seat until her retirement from public service in 2013. From 2001 until 2013, she was chair of the council’s Finance Committee.
Merschel oversaw much of the development that has made our city a more vibrant destination for residents and tourists alike. Some of her decisions were controversial — like her support for the annexation of 20 square miles outside the city borders and its 20,000 people, in 2006. She supported the city’s investment in the BB&T stadium, seeing it as a catalyst for more development.
But there was never any doubt that her goal was to improve the well-being of all who lived here.
She also supported infrastructure improvements in the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, as well as improvements to the downtown segment of Fourth Street — once called “Restaurant Row” — key components of the city’s downtown revival.
“As chair of the finance committee, she stewarded our city with grace and responsibility,” City Manager Lee Garrity told the Journal. “In addition, she was always very responsive to the citizens of her ward.”
She also contributed to some less flashy, nitty-gritty aspects of running the city, working to increase the salaries of firefighters and police officers and retaining the lowest tax rate of any major city in North Carolina. She supported infrastructure improvement such as bike lanes and repaved streets. During the economic downturn that affected much of the nation in an adverse way, she made solid decisions that not only kept the city afloat, but helped it flourish.
“Wanda was a true public servant who loved this city,” Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said in a statement. “She leaves a lasting legacy that we will all remember. I was fortunate to have worked alongside of her in a number of projects and always appreciated her wisdom and good judgment.”
When she retired from the City Council in 2013, the council changed the name of Civic Plaza, downtown on Fourth Street, to Merschel Plaza, in honor of her contributions. Since then, the name has been updated to Merschel Park. It’s an appropriate spot, part of a renovation project that will include the Kaleideum museum, and is expected to enliven the area. It’s a shame that Merschel didn’t live to see it completed.
But her presence will be felt there by everyone who remembers her stewardship and guidance in helping to form the bones of the City of Arts and Innovation.