She may be just 5 feet 2 inches tall, but she’s “big time” when it comes to doing a crucial, perhaps overlooked job.
I’m talking about United Way of Miami County Executive Director Debi Wallick, who knows something about setbacks in life.
Wallick is in her 12th year with the UW as another campaign gets underway. She started as the executive assistant after Executive Director Jan Douglas wisely recruited her. When Douglas moved on, Wallick, now 54, became executive director in 2005.
Wallick can empathize with people who need help in their lives.
She was born in New Castle and lived on a Muncie farm until she was 10. That’s when her father, who owned a plumbing business, died of a liver disease. He was just 42.
She moved with her mother to Peru; her half-brother stayed in New Castle.
“My mother was very supportive,” Wallick says. “She motivated me to be whatever I wanted to be.”
Wallick thought she wanted to be in the medical field. She took classes at Ivy Tech before attending George Williams College in Williams Bay, Wis., which offered an excellent program in physical fitness classes. She earned a physical fitness specialist degree, equivalent to a two-year associate degree.
After returning to Peru, Wallick married Josie Birner, but the marriage ended in divorce. Birner, the father of her three children — Misty, Melissa and Matthew — died of a heart attack when he was just 46. He was the general manager for the Dillman furniture stores.
Her college education made Wallick a good fit to become the physical and program director for the Miami County YMCA.
She eventually moved on to become the athletic secretary at Peru High School, where, as a student, she was involved in gymnastics and track and was a cheerleader for the wrestling team. Some years she also was a teacher’s aide. And she coached junior high track and AAU wrestling.