Mention "Mr. Siebert" in this area and one individual comes to mind, the soft-spoken, suspender-wearing man known for his shuffle and his devotion to educating young people.
Siebert spent 47 years of his life in the education field, the last 27 of which he spent as superintendent of Eldorado Community Unit School District No. 4 prior to his retired at the end of the 2012–2013 school year. He had served as Galatia superintendent for eight years before Eldorado.
Siebert died Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, of a heart attack.
He had been receiving treatment for a injury caused by one of his cows during the summer that required back surgery. That treatment had kept him mostly out of the public eye for the past few months, but he did return to Eldorado High School Monday.
"Gary came up to the school Monday and looked around, talked about some things and then left. It was almost as if he wanted one last look at the building he helped to create," Eldorado Superintendent Ryan Hobbs said.
Not only did Siebert enthusiastically tackle the project of building a new high school 10 years ago, he became the building's namesake.
Ralph Coffey, former Eldorado School Board member from 1988 to 2011, said, "Gary was a professional and made the school his first priority in life. When it came time to name the new high school everyone on the board agreed we should name it after Gary. It was done out of respect. He provided the leadership to get it financed. He showed us how we could do it."
Siebert became a mentor to young administrators. As with Coffey, their relationships to Siebert may have begun as professional, but close friendships developed from them.
Now retired Eldorado Elementary Principal Steve Nelson felt as comfortable talking to Siebert about school issues as he did talking about wood and lathes.
"We used to make wooden pens together in the shop and talk about things. Not always school related things. He sure was good to me," Nelson said.
"I didn't think of Gary as a boss but as a very close friend. He stuck with me the whole time and helped me become a principal. He was always good to my family.
"I miss him already."
Hobbs was principal at the Norris City Annex School overseen by the Wabash Ohio Valley Special Education District when Siebert served on the WOVSED board. Siebert must have seen something in Hobbs. Siebert was serving as both Eldorado superintendent and high school principal and Hobbs took over the principal duties at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year.
This year Hobbs became superintendent with Siebert remaining with the district in a finance advisory position.
"Gary has been a major mentor and father figure to me. There is not a superintendent in the state who knows how to run a school as well as he did. He knew everything — codes, laws and finance," Siebert said.
Page 2 of 2 - Hobbs described Siebert as one of the first to turn to for advice when a decision needed made.
"He absolutely was a gentleman, soft-spoken and treated everyone with respect. He was fair to everyone. I sought his advice on personal matters," said Hobbs.
"I was raised by my mother. He was like a father figure to me."
Greg Goodley, Eldorado athletic director and dean at the high school said though people may not realize it, many of the school district's niceties were Siebert's doing.
"He was very instrumental in getting a lot of things done athletically that you see and appreciate now. The grass on the infield, the lights, the new locker rooms for football, that was all Gary. He played a big part in helping us as an athletic department, but also something that the community to get behind, support and appreciate. I do know that he was a big reason why I decided to come back and coach starting in 1995," Goodley said.
A school's main function is to educate, but Siebert knew of the school district's ability to promote a city.
"As a superintendent, he cared as much about sports or band as he did about academics. Whether it was new text books or computers, we feel pretty fortunate to have the things we have now and it was all because of him," Goodley said.
For a total of 15 years Siebert has also served on the Saline County Board offering that body the same skills with number-crunching and negotiating he honed at school administration.
Carey Harbison, chairman of the Saline County Board, said Tuesday, "It's a tragic loss. Gary will be sorely missed. We now have two seats on the board that need to be filled, hopefully at next month's board meeting," Harbison said.
Molly Wilson Dearing had to resign at the August meeting.
"Gary was our lead negotiator. He will be hard to replace," Harbison said.
Siebert is survived by his wife, Dicy, children Amy Zurliene, J.R. Siebert and Stephen Siebert.
Not many of us will have the opportunity to have a funeral and visitation service in a school that bears our name, but Siebert will. Visitation is after 5 p.m. Thursday at the Eldorado High School Cafeteria. The funeral will be 1 p.m. Friday at the school. The family asks memorials be made to the Gary F. Siebert Memorial Scholarship.