Longtime disability advocate Roger Garlich, 74, died Monday after a short illness.
Called a great mentor, teacher and friend, Garlich will be remembered for his vision and dedication bringing what started as the Crippled Children’s Center to what is now the Center for Human Services.
Garlich was hired in 1962 as a part-time speech therapist, working two days a week before he was named executive director of the Children’s Therapy Center, in 1965 when he was 26-years-old. Beginning with just nine children, CHS now serves more than 2,000 children and adults with disabilities and Garlich oversaw much of its growth and expansion of services.
Current CHS Director of Development Susan Mergen said Garlich brought the center from “its humble beginnings to make it into something great.”
“In the early years of the center, there wasn’t a lot of financial support for not-for-profits,” Mergen said. “Roger and some of the parents came together and had one of the first chili supper fundraisers in Sedalia to benefit the center. He was always community-minded and did everything he could to make sure the center was successful.”
Part of ensuring that success was training and leading the next generation of CHS employees, including current Executive Director Ann Graff, who worked with Garlich for 26 years before taking over his old job.
“He raised me and influenced me quite a bit,” Graff said. “He was just a great man.”
Many of Garlich’s staff were mentored by him and went on to pursue successful careers thanks to his guidance, Graff added. One of them, former CHS custodian David Goodson, called Garlich “more than a boss, he was a teacher.”
“I started (at CHS) in 1991 as a janitor and got to know Roger over the years,” Goodson said. “He was a mentor, he taught me a lot about people, business and life and encouraged me to keep moving up.”
Goodson eventually became manager of maintenance at CHS before moving on to start his own company.
“Roger took so much time to teach everyone, to get to know them and care about them,” Goodson said. “When I started my own business I leaned on him a lot for advice and support; I still follow that advice today, a lot of it about how to treat people. He really instilled that in me.”
After retiring from the executive director position in 2009, Garlich continued to work as a consultant and with the Missouri Division of Developmental Disabilities in Jefferson City.
“As late as last week Roger was still working, still influencing the system and making sure he was doing all he could to help people with disabilities,” Graff said. “He was very intelligent and cared a lot about people. He was bigger than life and very positive, upbeat. He’s going to really be missed.”
Longtime friend Jim Buckley Sr. said CHS was never far from Garlich’s mind.
“When I came to Sedalia to practice law, he started working at the Center,” Buckley said. “He was extremely dedicated to the therapy center. We had many, many conversations and informal meetings, we had lunch together probably once a week, to continually discuss what he could do to improve the quality of services being provided to the people of Pettis County.”
Buckley noted Garlich set up a model for CHS that is followed and used throughout the state and has been adopted by other states’ facilities as well.
“He showed how a center like this should be operated and what it should offer,” Buckley said. “He provided a guide for other programs that were just starting, so it’s nice to think his legacy lives on through those programs.”
Goodson said he was “shocked and saddened” by the news of Garlich’s death.
“Anyone who knew Roger, he touched so many people,” Goodson said. “Clients, employees, friends, board members, anyone who knew him would call him a true friend. He truly was the center of the Center for Human Services, he was a great leader and a great visionary.”
“Roger delivered the very best that he had to this county and to those who took advantage of the services the center offers,” Buckley added. “He was a good man and a good friend. I’ll miss him.”