He has worked to make people with disabilities more valuable to the community and was a pioneer in developing a cooperative model to provide services.
After 48 years, Roger Garlich, executive director and chief executive officer of the Center for Human Services, will retire May 31.
“I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to work with so many fabulous people in the community to make things happen for people with disabilities,” Garlich, 69, said.
The Center for Human Services is an umbrella organization for the Children’s Therapy Center, Sheltered Workshop and Community Living. The center serves more than 2,000 children and adults in 28 counties in Central Missouri.
Garlich started at age 22 in 1961 as a speech therapist at the then Crippled Children’s Center. Four years later he was named executive director and CEO. In 1963, the name of the center was changed to the Children’s Therapy Center.
Garlich was at the helm when the sheltered workshop was established here in 1966, making it the first in the state. Later, housing for adults with disabilities and other employment opportunities outside the workshop developed. Garlich kept all of the services together from the Children’s Therapy Center to housing using a cooperative management model and the Center for Human Services.
The stage was set for the cooperative management model by the founders of the Children’s Therapy Center, three young attorneys who decided in 1955 to pull together to help children with various disabilities instead of focusing on one particular group.
“I thought, ‘What a great way to provide services,’” Garlich said.
There are seven operating boards within the center, but they are all held together by the Center for Human Services. The model was unique to Sedalia, but a few other communities have since adopted it.
“Once it got started, it was just a natural,” Garlich said of encompassing the various services.
Services for people with disabilities have grown by leaps and bounds since Garlich started his career 48 years ago when often times children and adults with disabilities were sent away from home to institutions.
“Today, it (the center) helps the community provide services and support so they can be valuable people in the community, valuable people as employees and valuable people as citizens living at home,” Garlich said.
Spending time with family, including wife Pam, and visiting his lake house are among the items on Garlich’s retirement agenda. But, he will continue to work a couple days of week as a statewide liaison between the Missouri Division of Developmental Disabilities in Jefferson City and community service providers.
“I’ve been working since I was 12, so I won’t be able to cut it off just like that,” he said.
Garlich is also working on compiling the history of the center into books. He doesn’t want to leave the center without access to the institutional knowledge he’s stored in his brain for the pasts 48 years. Employees often call them “Roger Questions.”
“I’m still here to tell them, so I’m going to get it down on paper,” he said.
Ann Graff, who will replace Garlich, has been transitioning into her new duties since July. She worked for the center for about 20 years before serving as executive director of the Missouri Valley Community Action Agency. Graff called Garlich a man of integrity who has always been committed to excellence.
“He was my mentor,” Graff said. “He taught me how to be a good manager and how to be a good leader. I think he’s probably one of the most innovative people I know. He has always been out in front of the industry.”
Garlich has confidence in Graff’s abilities to take over his position. He did offer this advice: “I would say to her, keep interested, caring people on the board; hire caring, competent staff; and always stay at best practices level so people in the center continue to grow and achieve.”
Susan Mergen, director of development, has worked with Garlich for nearly 13 years. She considers Garlich a “wonderful mentor.”
“Obviously I’ve admired his vision and the way he sees the big picture when it comes to providing comprehensive programs and services for people with disabilities,” Mergen said.
A retirement reception is planned during the open house and dedication for the Virginia Flower Building and Garlich Activity Center Building scheduled for mid-July.