Lerch continuing to serve in retirement

Kelly Lerch

Kelly Lerch faced heavy emotions when retiring last week from a role that challenged her generosity, humbled her before students and taught her so much about the community, likening it to leaving behind a piece of her identity.

“My identity for the past 20 years has been as the (Waterloo school district Wellness Coordinator),” she expressed in an email to the Republic-Times. “There have been so many happy times and celebrations, but also so many (that were) difficult and heartbreaking … I will greatly miss working with (everyone).”

A recent Facebook post — which included a photo of a dry erase board in her office with different messages from students — further showed her reluctance to retire.

“I (heart) you,” one of the messages read.

“Hi Kelly! Hope you have a great day!” read another.

“I am weird. I am cleaning my office to retire and these messages have been on my little white board for several years,” the post reads. “I never wiped them off and it has been my favorite piece of art.”

As evidenced by her dry erase board, Lerch developed a strong connection to students through the years. That connection stems from such activities as implementing the organization Students Helping Out Waterloo.

Along with assisting students and families in need, SHOW does a “Senior Prom” event at Oak Hill when students will dance with senior citizens.

Lerch, 58, also facilitated safe post-prom activities for 19 years of her career at Waterloo. But the student-inspired memory she holds most dear is that of a student who moved to the school district after losing her parent.

“The student felt responsible to pay for the funeral. In reality, she wasn’t responsible for that bill, but in her heart she was,” Lerch explained. “She came to me with such a tough shell and said she heard I could help her with a fundraiser to pay the funeral bill.”

Lerch managed to get the bill paid with the help of SHOW students through a T-shirt fundraiser and the student graduated without any debt.

“It was amazing to watch her strength and the hearts of our students in action,” she said.

In many instances, Lerch has earned credit for enhancing the school district’s image, such as with the founding of the WHS Legacy Society that honors up to five distinguished alumni each year, but she continues to display humility.

“She often works behind the scenes and avoids taking credit,” Waterloo school superintendent Brian Charron concurred.

“She works tirelessly in the interest of the district.

“Whether it is a student, parent, teacher, community member, or even a stranger, if someone needs help, Kelly finds a way to offer a helping hand. Her heart is big and her love for Waterloo is unconditional.”

The accolades she has received also came from other institutions, including the 2012 Community Service Award from the Waterloo Chamber of Commerce and 2012 Christian Service Award from Christian Social Services of Illinois.

Outside of the school district, Lerch has employed the same diligence to serving others as House of Neighborly Service vice president.

“This was tough, a tremendous amount of work and a wonderful opportunity for so many local groups and leaders to come together with the common goal to make lives better for residents in our community and to use our local resources and connect the two,” Lerch said of the founding of HNS.

In retirement, Lerch will enjoy spending time with her husband, Kim; daughter, Kady; granddaughter, Nora; and son, David, and his wife, Stephanie. She will also continue her work at HNS with such events as a summer lunch program that will feed children and families in the county.

“(Upcoming events) will keep the volunteers and leaders of House of Neighborly Service very busy and we look forward to what the future brings our way,” she said.

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