Sterling’s first Latina mayor takes the gavel

City Council also has one new alderman

Diana Merdian is sworn Monday, May 1, 2023 as Sterling mayor.

STERLING – Sterling’s first mayor of Latin heritage took the oath of office at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Sterling native Diana (Vasquez) Merdian, 38, also is only the second woman to serve as mayor. She takes the place of Skip Lee, who decided not to seek a fourth term.

Merdian is the family education and support services coordinator at the Lee-Ogle-Whiteside Regional Office of Education 47, where she’s worked since 2018.

She also owns VasMer Early Childhood Education Consulting Services, and before taking the job at the ROE, worked at the Lee County Health Department and CGH Medical Center. She’s an ardent union supporter.

It wasn’t her first run for office: Merdian, who defeated Alderman Jim Wise, sought the 1st Ward post in 2015, but lost to current incumbent Retha Elston.

Amy Viering was elected 3rd Ward alderwoman in 2003 and became mayor in 2007. She served one term, and in April 2011 decided not to run again, citing her many other roles in the community, and her job as director of foundation and grants at Sauk Valley Community College.

Two months later, Lee appointed Viering alderwoman-at-large.

Also Monday, Sauk dean of student services Joe Strabala-Bright took his oath of office.

Strabala-Bright ran unopposed for the 2nd Ward seat previously held by Christine Wilen, an alderwoman since 2015 who also chose not to seek reelection.

Strabala-Bright has been with Sauk since November 2014; he was promoted to dean in February 2022. Before that, he was the school’s director of research and planning for five years.

Aldermen Wise, Elston, Josh Johnson and Joe Martin also were sworn in Monday; the latter three also ran unopposed.

Lee, who taught math and science at Rock Falls High School for almost 38 years, was ill Monday and unable to attend the meeting to hand over the gavel personally.

That didn’t stop the council from passing an official resolution thanking him for his service, and for his devotion to the community.

Among other things, it noted that “in his capacity as Mayor, Skip Lee was a tireless champion for the community, always speaking with pride about the city on behalf of the City Council, staff and residents of Sterling ... Lee’s charisma, humor, and support will be missed by those who served beside him and under his leadership.”

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Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.