Unsung Heroes: Karen Gleich
by Cory Unrein, Co-Owner/Publisher, Grain Valley News
About a week ago, Valley News asked readers to send nominations of "unsung heroes" in the community. We stated that we give plenty of attention to elected officials, city and school leaders, and other prominent folks in the community, but we know there are countless individuals who make Grain Valley a wonderful place to live, work, and learn, who do not often receive recognition.
Within a few minutes of our post, we received the first nomination. And, full disclosure, as a fellow Grain Valley High School marching band parent, I was thrilled that this nomination came in:
"I would like to nominate Karen Gleich. Karen is an unsung hero because she has given so much of her time and experience for the Grain Valley Marching Eagles. You do not see her with a baton in hand or directing a group of young musicians; however, her contribution allows the band to look stellar on the field. She spends many hours customizing the band uniforms to fit each individual. She ensures buttons stay on and seams are steamed into the pant legs. She can spot an uneven hem and make plans to correct before the band even makes it back out for halftime. She organizes the uniforms and keeps them spotless.
"It could be easy just to put the uniform on a hanger and stick it in a truck, but she takes the time to inspect, repair and clean so that the marching band looks its best. As a parent, I can appreciate that I am not solely responsible for the uniform. I did well to keep baseball pants white and rhinestones on dance costumes, however I am unsure if I would be up to the task that faces Karen on a daily basis during band season."
Gleich has had three children go through the GVHS band program - her youngest is now a senior. Gleich spent four years as a color guard parent and uniform volunteer, before managing band uniforms for the past eight years. The job is year-round, with preparations for the next season starting in the spring.
"The process started in April, when we did initial measurements at our registration night. And since then, it's a matter of getting a roster, getting it updated, doing adds and drops, getting it refined, and then taking those measurements, comparing them to the sizes we have, and pulling a new uniform for each student. Our goal, and we're very close to it, is that every student comes in with a uniform to try, that hopefully is close, and then we just adjust from there."
Now that students are two weeks into band camp, each grade level is making its first stop to Gleich and her small army of volunteers, to try on their uniforms and make sure everything fits well, and adjustments to hems, etc. can be made. With growing students, this is an ongoing process throughout the season.
"We keep an eye on them during the season. I watch my student for a few minutes, and then I'll look around the field and notice 'Oh, those pants are too short. Or, those are pants are too long', and then I'll make a note and take care of it right away.
Gleich has seen her fair share of wardrobe malfunctions over the years, and is adept at tackling issues as they arise.
"With a safety pin, I can fix almost anything and get them through a competition," Gleich jokes.
Gleich is quick to recognize the people who work with her to make the band look its best. "We've got lots of people who pitch in to help, and we're always looking for more helpers. There is a great crew of washers who take home a load of uniforms, wash them up, and bring them back so they're ready for the next competition. This is a great volunteer job for parents who cannot attend the competitions but want to help out behind the scenes."
"And, I have an amazing husband who lets me do these things, and just handles getting everybody fed and where they need to be, so it's wonderful."
As Gleich looks back over 8 years of keeping the Marching Eagles uniforms in perfect order, she says the interaction with students makes the job worthwhile.
"The most rewarding thing is putting the uniforms back on the trailer after a competition or event. Especially if they've done well, just to see the excitement on their faces. It's so fun, and it's nice to be able to share that excitement with them. At the same time, if they didn't happen to do very well, it like, 'Hey, did you do your best? Well, then I'm proud of you.' Just to give them that bit of encouragement and let them know it's not all about winning. It's about doing their best, and I'm proud of them."
Do you have an unsung hero you'd like us to feature? Send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Above: Karen Gleich, GVHS Marching Eagles uniform coordinator, has dedicated 8 years (and four years as a color guard uniform volunteer) to making sure the Marching Eagles look perfect on the field. Below: Gleich assists a sophomore member of the Marching Eagles with his uniform. Photo credit: Valley News staff
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