By Sue Moore
“Vicksburg is now my home town. I have a vested interest in keeping it strong and remaining vital,” said Gail Reisterer when notified she was to receive the Mercer Munn award from Rotary. The award is named after Munn, a cheerleader for the community and one of its leading citizens from the 1930s to 1960s.
The Vicksburg Village Council has been her latest volunteer effort, following her appointment to a trustee seat in 2016 and election to a four-year term a year later. “I look at this service as what is best for the whole community. Our hiring of a new village manager has made a big difference,” she said. “We had to make a change and move forward and not become stagnant.”
Getting into politics was not what she envisioned in 1993, when she retired as speech pathologist in the Vicksburg Community Schools system. She had served in that capacity for 29 years. “I spent the first few months trying to figure out what my gift was. I don’t sing or dance but do believe that God gives each of us something that we were really meant to do when you retire. For me it was knowing I was good at organizing people and things. When Denise Herald asked me to take over the Vicksburg Library book sale in 1995, that resonated with me. I believe in delegating and allow others to be self-starters. I appreciate everyone who helps and want them to contribute to their effort without my direct supervision.”
Besides the long-term commitment to organizing the book sale, she accepted the challenge of getting volunteers en masse to help with the Vicksburg Historical Society’s Harvest Festival nine years ago. She has been a docent for the Historical Society. Three years ago, she gave a sizeable grant to the nonprofit to be used in any way the board desired.
She was an original member of the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation board of directors when that unit was formed in 1983. After her husband, David, died in 2014, she made a huge donation in his name for scholarships that are to be awarded each year to high school seniors who play baseball and softball.
Volunteer work for her church, Lord of Life on Portage Road, is near and dear to Reisterer’s heart. She is a reader during Sunday services and attends a Bible study class each week. She has organized the bridge group that meets each Tuesday at the library, collecting the money and taking care of the details that come up during the mornings. This is also a bit of a religion for those who play bridge, she said.
Reisterer was looking for a job after graduating from Western Michigan University in 1962. She put in a year of work in Ottawa County where her parents resided, but needed to shift gears to Kalamazoo as her then husband wanted to return to Western for his degree. Vicksburg had the only opening for a speech pathologist in the county and after an interview with Superintendent Ken Otis, she quickly accepted an offer. It was a new program, one that allowed her to set up her own program in all seven buildings for children who had speech training needs. Her initial offices were in hallways, a stairwell, a basement storage area and even a utility closet.
When Sunset Lake Elementary was expanded, she was offered a real office by Assistant Superintendent Jack Gridley. “You deserve a room of your own,” he told her. “What do you want in it?”
“At that point I knew I belonged in the school system.”