Garlich left a lasting mark on our community

By Deborah Mitchell Contributing Columnist

January 7, 2014

I was all set to write this week kvetching about these incessant college bowl games. They are numerous enough to have become meaningless! I much more enjoyed the good old days when the college football season culminated in one wild day of bowl games, beginning with the Cotton Bowl, then moving to sunny California for the Rose Bowl (the granddaddy of them all!), and then finishing in warm Florida with the Orange Bowl.

As a cheerleader who actually knew something about football, I watched all the games and saw the names of colleges that I probably would have otherwise known nothing about. After all, Thayer wasn’t exactly a hotbed of sending students to faraway institutions of higher education. Most of our college-bound students ended up in Springfield, Jonesboro, or in a few cases, Columbia.

Yes, that’s where I was headed yesterday with this column. But then a friend broke the bad news to me that Roger Garlich had died. I hadn’t seen Roger for a while, and I had heard that he was having some medical issues. But I wasn’t expecting to hear that those issues were serious or fatal. I missed a breath.

When Max and I first moved to Sedalia, our landlords, Dr. John and Mary Alice Lamy, were kind enough to introduce us to many of their friends, who introduced us to their friends, and so on, so that soon, we felt as if we had lived in Sedalia for a long time.

I met Roger through this circuitous route.

Then, after my first disastrous year of teaching freshman English at Smith-Cotton, and after a year of being Kate Schroeder’s first babysitter, the Therapy Center had an opening in its development department. Emma Curry had retired after several years of doing development without really knowing she was doing “development.” I knew nothing of development, but I interviewed with Roger, and he thought I had the tools to learn about it and execute what he envisioned for that part of the Center’s mission.

What a lucky break! I jumped into my duties, the first of which was to learn about the Center’s history and mission. I spent a lot of time with Roger, as he explained the ins and outs of working with developmentally delayed children and adults. Roger knew the Center’s work not only as an administrator, but also from the perspective of a hands-on therapist, which was his first job at the Center. He was able to explain the Center’s current structure, as well as the path he saw for its future. He had a good grasp of the organization’s daily functions, but I was more impressed with what he envisioned for the Center’s future. It was as if he could see the direction our society would take in its view of people with developmental delays or disabilities, as well as those people’s needs.

And much of what he envisioned has come to pass.

Roger was also able to parlay his knowledge and vision to a willing community, a community that wanted to be a part of something good. When I went to development conferences, people from other organizations were awed by the support our small community offered the Center. No one else could boast of a Walk for Children, a fundraising breakfast where the staff volunteered their time to serve hundreds of people on Thanksgiving morning, a fundraising golf tournament and auction that had a participant waiting list, and on and on. It turns out the Center did its own development.

Most of that happened because Roger was able to take something humble and small and believe that it could be great. And then he figured out how to make it so.

Most important, though, is that Roger, through his leadership and vision, was able to touch hundreds, if not thousands, of lives, and make them better. I am not talking about only those who benefit daily from the services the Center offers. I am talking about the rest of us, who were made aware of something that needed to be done, and then did it.

We thank you, Roger, and we will miss you.