Marjorie Garek is still there.

Marjorie Garek is still there.

Even though, in the end, the school she and her late husband, Robert S. Garek, helped found proved not to be the answer to their young daughter's learning differences, she still roams the halls of Marburn Academy, still delights in the accomplishments of students from whom little was expected, still heaps praise on the talents of the teachers.

One by one, the others involved in launching Marburn Academy have drifted away, but Marjorie Garek is still there.

What started as a mother's desperate attempt to find the right fit for her troubled daughter turned into one woman's crusade to help as many families as possible with bright children whose learning differences proved to be roadblocks to success in traditional schools.

It's coming up on 30 years later, and Marjorie Garek is still there.

The Gareks knew something was wrong with their little girl, something beyond the "She's hyperactive" and "She'll outgrow it" that they heard from pediatricians and educators. By the time their daughter, Elizabeth, had completed second grade in Bexley, Marjorie and Robert, whose obituary when he died on June 5, 2006, described him as a "humanitarian and philanthropist," knew they had to try something else.

They turned first to a school for children with all kinds of educational issues, but that didn't work out at all for the Gareks' daughter. Marjorie Garek recalled with some bitterness last week the time the school's headmaster told her that she should feel lucky to have found a place to "babysit" her child.

"I thought, 'God, we'd better do something to educate these children if that's the attitude,' " she said.

The couple explored the possibility of specialized boarding schools, but a psychiatrist told them, "Look all you want, you won't find any. Besides, your daughter's too young for boarding school."

"My husband and I looked at one another and said, 'Let's see what we can do.' We were very young and passionate," Garek said.

A doctoral candidate and three other families with children who had learning differences got involved in the process. Robert and Marjorie Garek flew to New York City, got a room in a hotel and placed an ad in The New York Times seeking a headmaster for their proposed school.

"What we found rather quickly was not many people wanted to come to Columbus, Ohio, 30 years ago," Garek said.

Also, she added, not many were willing to take a risk on something that, at that point, was only a "wish and a prayer."

A candidate, Edward Mauer, was found but he remained only a year because his wife declined to join him. An interim headmaster took over. He was replaced by Allan Forsythe for several years.

Earl B. Oremus has been headmaster since 1987.

The school's founders felt that they had also found a location at a former school up for sheriff's sale on Marburn Drive between Kenny and Olentangy River roads - or at least it seemed that way initially.

Taking the name from the building they planned to move into, only to be outbid, the people involved in the new school filed articles of incorporation on June 30, 1981, and had gotten accreditation as a kindergarten-through-12th-grade school by the time classes were to start on Sept. 9, Garek said.

Only, where were those classes to be held?

An official with Columbus City Schools, future Superintendent James G. Hyre, paved the way for Marburn Academy to move into the former Gables Elementary School building off Bethel and Godown roads.

Within just a few years, Garek said, so many families had turned to the fledgling school that a larger space was needed, and one was eventually found in another former elementary building, this one off Walden Drive in the Northland area. The academy has occupied that space for the past two decades.

Roughly 65 percent of Marburn Academy students receive some scholarship help, according to the founder. The school community raises more than $400,000 a year to keep the doors open to those who otherwise could not afford the specialized education. To date, according to Garek, more than $6 million in scholarships have been provided to Marburn students.

From the outset, Garek said, Marburn Academy has had the dual purposes of not only serving its 150 or so students with "cutting-edge education," but also of sharing knowledge about helping young people with learning differences with the community as a whole.

"There is a tremendous need here," Garek said.

She cited a Yale University study which determined that one in every five students in a classroom has some sort of reading problem. That translates to 50,000 students in central Ohio alone, she said, and only a handful receive the type of education they need.

"I just can't get over the fact that in 30 years, it still hasn't changed as much as it should," Garek said.

Marburn also offers free screenings of children ages 5 to 7 to identify possible problems, such as dyslexia or attention-deficit disorder, and helps parents whose sons and daughters have such issues learn to advocate on their behalf with public school officials.

Marburn officials also provide training for teachers other than their own faculty members to help them help children with learning differences, Garek said.

"By training teachers, to my mind we are doing the best service to the community," she added.

To Garek's mind, too, the proof of the value of the institution she helped found can be found in one statistic: For the past 11 years, 100 percent of Marburn Academy's graduates have gone on to college.

The national average for children with what are most often called "learning difficulties" is 13 percent, she said.

"I'm looking forward to a future where we can provide more students with this kind of education," Garek said. "I would love this community to really recognize the school as an important institution, as much as our (Nationwide) Children's Hospital and our COSI.

"The city should support this school," added Garek, who is still there.