Sandra Lyon had a soft spot in her heart from her earliest days.
"The runt of the litter — that was the one she was attracted to," Mrs. Lyon's sister, Catherine Consiglio, said Thursday. "Or anybody that was getting picked on, or someone that needed extra help. That was where her attention went right away.
"It was really born into her from a very young age. It was obviously her calling."
Mrs. Lyon's "calling" blossomed into playing key roles in providing services to the poor and homeless of Wichita.
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Mrs. Lyon, the CEO at Episcopal Social Services, died Wednesday of ovarian cancer at the age of 56.
"She just loved what she did for a living," Consiglio said. "She was very inspiring to her family for what she believed in and what she went forward with."
Mrs. Lyon was shepherding Episcopal Social Services through a challenging transition from its longtime home at 233 S. St. Francis — which was razed to make room for Intrust Bank Arena — to temporary quarters and fundraising efforts for a new home somewhere in downtown Wichita.
Episcopal Social Services, which provides food, counseling and other services for people who are poor and disabled, received $1.3 million from the county for the St. Francis location after an initial $500,000 offer.
"She never backed down from a fight," Consiglio said of Mrs. Lyon.
Deann Smith, executive director of United Methodist Open Door, called Mrs. Lyon "a visionary" for her ability to see needs and find ways to address them.
While with United Methodist Urban Ministries in the early '90s, Mrs. Lyon established a program providing free medical care for the poor. She later added free dental care.
That program evolved into GraceMed Health Clinic.
"Everyone has gifts and graces, and her focus was trying to help people build on that, rather than the challenges they had in life," Smith said.
Mrs. Lyon is survived by her mother, Anne Allen; husband, Ronald Lyon; sister Catherine Consiglio; brother, Marc Allen; son, Christian Parker; stepdaughter, Erin Lyon; and stepson, James Lyon, all of Wichita; and sister Susan Allen of Dallas.
A memorial service will be held at St. James Episcopal Church at 11 a.m. Saturday.
A memorial has been established with Episcopal Social Services, 1005 E. Second St., Wichita, KS 67214.