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Bill Kennedy: The power of one in Santa Clarita

Posted: April 22, 2010 2:04 p.m.
Updated: April 23, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 
"Gents, one of Santa Clarita's own is coming home from Afghanistan, and we need to ensure he gets a proper reception."

It was Wednesday, March 10, and Fred Arnold, president of American Family Funding and local KHTS radio host, was addressing City Councilman Bob Kellar and another local resident over breakfast at Mimi's.

Leaning in close so his reverent tone could be heard over the din, Arnold explained: "Nine days ago, U.S. Army Sgt. Ian Gelig, son of Delia and Tim Gelig, of Stevenson Ranch, was killed while serving our country in Afghanistan and will be carried to his final resting place in just three days. We need an appropriate way for the community to show their gratitude for his service."

Within an hour, driven by the most profound respect for Sgt. Gelig's sacrifice, the trio agreed on a plan. It started with getting the Geligs' approval to invite citizens to pay their respects to their son along the funeral route.

Next, calls went out to local media, service organizations, veterans' groups, business associations and the like, to get the story out.
Within hours, the concept was embraced by a receptive community and energized people were spreading the word through their individual networks.

The results were deeply moving. On Saturday, March 13, thousands of people lined the streets of our valley along the funeral procession route to pay their final respects to our local hero.

People of all ages were in attendance, from infants to senior citizens. In a heartwarming vignette, several of the latter sat in a line of wheelchairs along McBean Parkway in front of the Sunrise assisted living facility.

Firefighters, sheriff's deputies and policemen rendered formal salutes as the cortege passed, as did many military veterans in attendance. Others simply stood silent with their hands over their hearts or said a prayer.

Countless touching stories of humanity emerged. At the corner of McBean Parkway and Valencia Boulevard, my wife Cathy and I watched with admiration as parents solemnly instructed their young children on the significance of the occasion. The children then stood proudly and reverently to honor their newfound hero, as Sgt. Gelig's casket passed by.

A couple in a passing car stopped to inquire about our gathering, and, learning the cause, parked nearby and joined the group to hear stories about Gelig - a patriotic local boy, a Hart High School graduate, a caring individual who made friends easily, an Army paratrooper with a keen sense of duty and an American hero.

A woman nearby, noticing my Army Airborne hat, asked, "Did you serve?" "Yes, in the U.S. Air Force," I answered. "But in joint operations, I jumped with the 82nd Airborne Division - Sgt. Gelig's unit - so today I wear this hat in his honor."

With that, she wrapped me in a warm hug of thanks and we had a teary-eyed moment of reflection.

Similar scenes occurred throughout our community, and the sentiment of that Saturday was best captured by Sharon Nersesian, whose letter appeared in The Signal on March 19: "The young man who died was not my son; at that moment he belonged to our community. He was our son."

There is a commonly held notion, "the power of one," which holds that each of us is in some way able to inspire those around us.

That power was in ample evidence on March 13.

Certainly Fred Arnold displayed it when, on short notice, he mobilized an entire community in a worthy cause. Parents providing a teaching moment for their children displayed it. The woman hugging me displayed it. Every individual who turned out that day displayed it.

Most of all, Sgt. Ian Gelig displayed the power of one. He went off to war in partial obscurity, and returned as a fallen hero who ignited the spirit of our community and let its very best shine through in an unmitigated display of patriotism, admiration and gratitude.

Robin Clough aptly described Gelig's profound impact in a letter to the editor on March 18: "As the funeral procession moved through the sea of American flags, we became one valley, one heart - silently shedding tears and expressing our deepest gratitude for the ultimate sacrifice made by Sgt. Gelig."

The power of one exists on so many levels in our community, which makes this such a great place to live - right here, right now!

Bill Kennedy lives in Valencia and is a principal in Wingspan Business Consulting, chairman of the SCV Economic Development Corp, and a planning commissioner. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of these organizations or of The Signal. He can be reached at wkennedy@wingspanbusiness.com

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