When Alan Gremli was killed in a car accident the day after Christmas, Clay County lost a longtime friend of the community’s children.
The 58-year-old Liberty resident was the juvenile officer for the Clay County Circuit Court, but those who knew him say his care for young people extended far beyond his job.
Gremli was traveling west on Interstate 70 near Flagler, Colo., just west of the Kansas border, when the car he was in lost control while passing over a bridge. He and his 20-year-old niece, Colleen Zirkle, who was driving the car, died at the scene.
His nephew, 18-year-old Richard Zirkle, was taken to a hospital with moderate injuries. The Zirkles were from Derby, Kan. Another passenger, Jacquelyn Stichnot, 21, of Kansas City, had minor injuries.
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According to the Colorado State Patrol report, it was snowing at the time.
The Rev. Mike Roach is pastor of St. James Catholic Church in Liberty, where Gremli was a member. He said that Gremli, though he had no children of his own, was very good and proactive with young people in the parish and in his extended family. He was taking his niece and nephew to go skiing at the time of the accident.
“This was a real loss,” Roach said. “When people heard it at church, they were just devastated. Everyone I’ve talked to has said there was no finer man than Alan Gremli.”
Alan and his wife, Nancy, had many godchildren.
Mary Ann Pfeifer, a former co-worker, used to tease Gremli about having so many.
“I said, ‘What are you going to do if all of those parents die at the same time?’” said Pfeifer, a deputy juvenile officer. “He’d say, ‘Well, that’s why I pray.’”
Gremli began his public service in Clay County as a probation officer in 1978. He treated his work as more than just a profession, co-workers said, and he definitely had a special connection with the kids.
His formal responsibilities as juvenile officer were to mostly manage his staff, but he took time to be present at court to see the juveniles’ proceedings because he wanted to be involved.
He worked to promote positive relationships between police and the schools, and did ride-alongs with at-risk youth. During his funeral service, Pfeifer walked through the aisle tearing off tissues for crying police officers.
After his death, kids at a minimum-security holding center at Watkins Mill in Lawson, Mo., sent cards. The kids and parents he’s worked with through the court system called him all the time.
“It’s because he was raised in a strong family,” Pfeifer said about his ability to connect with the kids. Gremli frequently talked about the big role his sister had in raising him.
Gremli stayed busy outside of the office, too, and was always the last person to clean up or volunteer for an unglamorous task. He wasn’t out to get any attention for the work he was doing, said abuse/neglect unit supervisor Janet Wright.
Shani Miller, probation unit supervisor, quoted Gremli’s wife, Nancy: “Who even kept track of how many things he was involved in? I just know he got a lot of things done.”
Gremli spent time working with the St. James Respect Life Ministry; the 4th Degree Knights Assembly; the St. James Knights of Columbus Council; Transitions, a court-ordered supervision program for juvenile offenders; Uplift Organization, which serves the homeless; and with the United Services Community Action Agency.
A joint funeral service was held Monday for Gremli and his niece. St. James Church was packed.