Don Gately originally figured The Fletcher School Board of Trustees might somehow benefit from his financial expertise.
He would follow in the footsteps of his wife, Kathy, who finished a year on the board.
After all, volunteering was a way of life in the Gately family.
In April 1996, Don Gately took his seat and began a 14-year journey. Little did he know The Fletcher School would become an integral part of his life.
The Gatelys first learned about The Fletcher School in 1993 after their middle son, Adams, was diagnosed with a learning disability and joined the fourth-grade class. The school, housed at the time in the Providence Baptist Church on Randolph Road, serves the needs of children with learning disabilities and attention-deficient disorders.
At the time, Fletcher was able to accommodate only 85 students in grades two through eight; however, it was the place Adams needed to be, and he thrived during his five-year stay.
"Many times, if there is a wide range between a child's performance and ability levels, they may have a learning disability," said Gately. This was the case with Adams.
"The Fletcher School was the answer to our prayers," said Gately.
While Adams progressed, Gately and his colleagues on the board began their work in earnest. Kindergarten and first grade were added at the school.
"The church was a great partner for Fletcher," said Gately. "They allowed us to bring modular units in behind the church to house the new grades in order to meet code."
The decision to add a high school proved to be too much for the church facility to handle. The board decided to look for property for its own campus and began a capital campaign to finance it.
In 1998, Adams graduated from Fletcher and was mainstreamed into a regular high school classroom. Tragically, Adams was killed in a boating accident the next year. Friends of the Gatelys organized an annual golf tournament, silent auction and dinner called Eagles For Adams. To date, the event has raised more than $1.3 million, and the proceeds go to The Fletcher School.
Gately chose to continue at Fletcher, and in 2003 the permanent campus, on Sardis Road near Matthews, was opened.
Gately was named Chairman of the Board in January 2004. He served on the Real Estate Committee, Facilities Committee, and the Bond Financing Committee that arranged for the financing of the new wings and the gymnasium. He has presided over the high school graduations and was the graduation speaker for the class of 2010. The school now has 264 students.
Gately, now 63, is leaving the board by his own decision. "People give you credit for a lot more than you deserve," said Gately. "You can't do it by yourself; it's a 'we' thing. This is a consistently passionate group of people."
His legacy will continue at Fletcher School in the way he wants to be remembered, he said; the middle school was named for his son.