Hometown Proud: Mr. Gary is "favorite" foster grandpa

Hometown Proud: Mr. Gary is "favorite" foster grandpa

EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - Friday marked the start of summer for many Tri-State students.

To celebrate the end of the school year, 14 News is highlighting one retired teacher who is back in the classroom helping students in a different way.

67-year-old Gary Merillat spent 25 years as a teacher, most recently at Faith Heritage Christian School in Evansville.  After he retired, Gary says he tried being a substitute teacher.

"I substituted a couple of times and sat at home the rest of the time and got bored. I told my wife I couldn't do that anymore," he explained.

So Gary decided to become a foster grandparent with CAPE, the Community Action Program of Evansville.  He's been at Lincoln School the past four years, and in that time he's developed a very special bond with two boys, in particular.

"We look at them as grandchildren, yes," Gary said.

Brothers Shawn Cundiff, a fourth grader, and Issiac Clark, a second grader, work closely with Gary, who they call "grandpa".

"My job... is to help them in areas they are struggling academically, to help them emotionally, give them emotional support, and just show them a lot of care and love," explained Gary.

"We have seen improvement there definitely, and not only in the academics, but in getting along with other students, improved behavior, and learning social skills that they need to have," Gary said.

"The reason why I get more farther in my classroom is because he makes me do more work.  Well, not a lot a lot of work," explained Shawn with a smile.

Gary spends all day, every day at Lincoln.  He's in the classroom, the cafeteria and on recess duty, where the kids love for him to push him on the swings.

But when the school day is over, Gary's job isn't done.  He goes above and beyond his duties as a foster grandparent.

Gary and his wife Mary welcome Shawn and Issiac into their home for tutoring, snacks and meals.  Their pictures are on the refrigerator next to the rest of the Merillat's family.

"We take them and do tutoring in the subjects they have special need in and help them with their homework so they can be better prepared for the next day," Gary said.

It's not all work, though.  They find plenty of time to do fun things together, too, like going to Holiday World.

"That's what grandpas are supposed to do... what I always say is he's my favorite one," Shawn said.

"We go bowling and golf fun... my grandpa is the best grandpa," Issiac added.

Gary turns 68 this summer.  He says he plans to continue as a foster grandparent at Lincoln until Issiac leaves for high school.

If you'd like to learn more about becoming a foster grandparent with CAPE, click here.  You don't have to have a teaching background like Gary.

If you have a story that makes your Hometown Proud, share it with us by sending an email to hometownproud@14news.com.

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