LIBERTY - Gretchen Reed has a heartfelt and longtime connection to her community.
Reed, 77, has lived in Liberty all her life.
Her home on Keefer Road lies on what used to be her grandfather's farm, and she grew up on the land, where generations of her family have lived.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Kelly Smith
Community Star Gretchen Reed looks over some mementos at her Keefer Road home.
After graduating from Liberty School, Reed has attended the same church since childhood.
Her daughters were raised here, and both settled down close to home.
"We loved it here and we just never thought to leave it," said Reed.
Name: Gretchen Keefer Reed
Community of residence: Liberty
Years living here: 77 years in Liberty, 56 years at current residence on Keefer Road
Volunteer organizations / activities: Church Hill United Methodist Church teacher, leader, choir member, historian, liturgist; Stephen Minister / Leader through her church; Grief Share Assisting Peace Advocate through her church; Liberty Historical Society; Beta Chi of Delta Kappa Gamma; Sunrise Chapter 458 Eastern Star; lifetime member of NEA, OEA, NEA-R, OEA-R; Ohio Retired Teachers Association; Trumbull Retired Teachers Association; Jennings Scholar 1984-1985; tutor for E.J. Blott School; Trumbull Area Reading Council; Phi Delta Kappa; Relay for Life Liberty; Phi Mu Sorority; Akron Alumnae Kappa Phi Club.
With so many years spent in one place, Reed has a deep devotion to the Liberty area.
And her devotion is evident through the amount of time and energy she spends giving back.
Reed is a retired teacher and founder of the Blott Holiday Project, an organization that provides toys, clothing and books to needy children at Christmastime.
Reed started the program 25 years ago while working playground duty as a third-grade teacher at E.J. Blott school.
She noticed many of the students didn't have hats, gloves or boots to wear outside.
"They told me their mom and dad are going to get it when they have money," Reed said.
Her first year, Reed helped just 12 students. Since then, the program has grown, helping 90 students from 40 families in 2010.
"As the numbers of children and families have grown, Gretchen never backed off. She kept right on doing it," said Gloria Lang, a member of the Blott Holiday Project committee who has known Reed for more than 30 years.
At first, Reed acquired just a few items, handing them out to the children on the playground herself.
Eventually, members of her adult Sunday school class at Church Hill United Methodist Church became involved, collecting names of area children in need.
Each member chose a name and shopped for gifts, and then Reed and her husband delivered the gifts to the children's homes.
Now, children's names are placed on trees at area businesses, and the public does the shopping. The Sunday school class and other volunteers do the wrapping. And families come to the administration building to pick up their gifts.
It is an effort that involves weeks of work, and members of Reed's committee admire the passion she puts into it.
"This Blott program is just her most precious baby, and she puts her whole heart into it every year," said Fran Petitt, a member of the committee who has known Reed since she was a child.
In fact, Reed has put her whole heart into many things throughout her life, including her fight against cancer.
Reed was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1995, just four years before her daughter, Beth Stambaugh, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Reed underwent chemotherapy treatments and was cancer-free by 1996. Her daughter was not as fortunante. She died in 2001.
"It definitely made my faith stronger. It made me stronger. It made me more grateful for every day," Reed said.
During the time of their diagnoses, Reed and her daughter began participating in the Liberty Relay for Life.
Together they created the Beth Baughman Hope Team, and Reed has been working with that team ever since.
"I'll keep doing it as long as I can keep walking," Reed said.
Reed also put her whole heart into teaching, and says her passion was teaching children to read.
Although no longer teaching, Reed continues to give the gift of reading by making sure each child in the Blott Holiday program receives as least one book.
"If you can read, I think you can do anything," Reed said.
Reed has been recognized for her contributions to education, being named a Jennings Scholar and a member of the professional honorary society of women educators, Delta Kappa Gamma.
Reed remains humbled by her achievements and recognitions, including her status as a Community Star, for which she was nominated by five members of the committee.
"I'm very appreciate of it. That those five people thought I deserve it makes me treasure it so much more," Reed said.