'Sidekick' earns Sylvia Besana award

Melba Erven, 83, says there's still a few more years of volunteering in her
By: Megan Wood The Press Tribune
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Melba Erven is finally speechless, and it’s all thanks to the ladies of Soroptimist International of Roseville. “I’m flabbergasted,” Erven said. “I don’t know what to say and that’s unusual because normally you can’t shut me up.” Erven was recognized at Wednesday’s Roseville City Council meeting as the inaugural winner of the Sylvia Besana Community Volunteer award. Erven received a glass gift from the city and her name has been engraved on a plaque commemorating the honor. The plaque will be displayed in the lobby of the civic center and includes space to recognize future recipients. The award honors the memory of lifelong Roseville resident and community service volunteer Sylvia Besana and aims to recognize other citizens, like Erven, following in her footsteps. “People giving their time and getting involved in their community is something we always like to see and want to recognize,” said Councilman Jim Grey, who pushed for the award in 2008 during his time as mayor as a way to pay tribute Besana. “There was a big indication that we needed to honor the people making a considerable contribution to our city like Sylvia did,” said Roseville Human Resource Manager Lisa Achen. Soroptimist of Roseville President Karen Leavitt said the ladies organization couldn’t think of a better nominee and recipient to win the inaugural award than Erven, Besana’s own lifelong friend and volunteer “sidekick.” “Melba is the hallmark of what (Soroptimist) is all about,” Leavitt said. “She’s been with us since the very beginning and is often the first person you see at any event.” The Soroptimists nominated Erven unbeknownst to her and said she was totally caught off guard when Achen called with the news that she would be honored with the award. “I still don’t have words to describe it,” Erven said. “I was completely shocked and speechless.” This is not the first award honoring Erven for her many hours of community service, Erven was recognized in 1986 with the first Athena Business Woman of the Year Award and in 1992 was awarded as a Woman of the Year by the California State Assembly. Erven said she couldn’t remember when she started volunteering because she’s been doing it all her life, at times without even realizing it. “When I was younger my family would gather up food and staples that we had extra and take them to our friends and other families that were without,” Erven said. “I’ve always had the mentality that you help where you’re needed.” After meeting Besana as a young child, Erven said there were times as teens and young adults that Besana would invite her along to weekend events that would end up being community service opportunities. “She would call me and say ‘what are you doing this weekend,’” Erven said. “She was a dear friend so I never said no to her, but a lot of times we would be at the soup kitchen or something like that.” Aside from being heavily involved with the Soroptimists for the last 53 years, Erven has served on the Roseville Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors as treasurer and vice president, worked to prevent neighborhood crime with Roseville Crime Stoppers and is a member of the Lions Club. Erven has also donated her time to numerous city events and can often be seen selling tickets for Magic Circle Theatre performances. Roseville Chamber of Commerce CEO and member of the Sylvia Besana award selection Committee Wendy Gerig said that although there were many deserving candidates, it was Erven’s longevity of efforts, even in retirement, and closeness to Besana that made her stand out. “It warms my heart to be able to make someone happy or give them something they didn’t have before. And it keeps me busy and alert,” Erven said. “I may not be as quick or as fast as some of the young people, but I think I’ve still got a few more years of volunteering in me.”