The first month of high school is hard enough for a teenage boy. With academic and social pressures, it’s often the toughest time in a young man’s life.
When Alex Galle started his freshman year at Columbus East in 2012, he was not only dealing with all of the usual challenges that high school brings, but was also recovering from an offseason surgery needed to repair a hamstring avulsion, one that caused him to miss part of his first season of varsity tennis.
All of that would have been tough enough, but on Aug. 28 of that year fate dealt Alex an even harder blow. His father, David Galle, died from a rare autoimmune blood disorder.
Many a teenager has thrown in the towel on life after losing a parent. It’s a common escape route — to slack on schoolwork, give up on extracurricular activities and consider turning to drugs or other vices.
Galle, however, remained driven.
Now a senior, he ranks in the top three of his graduating class at East. He was named The Republic’s top boys tennis player in the fall after going 16-6 at No. 1 singles and reaching the sectional final as an individual.
And he’s a starting forward on the basketball court for the Olympians, who begin postseason play tonight against rival Columbus North in the opening round of the East Central Sectional.
What would David do?
As far as Alex was concerned, packing it in after his father’s death wasn’t an option.“Definitely there were temptations to sort of give up and underachieve and things like that,” he said. “But as far as the example he set, we just thought, ‘What does he want us to do?’ and the answer was clear — that he would want us to try to excel at everything.”Excellence was hardly foreign to David Galle. A multi-sport athlete at DePauw University in the mid-1980s, Galle earned All-America and Academic All-America honors in basketball and set an outdoor high jump record of 6 feet, 8 inches that he still shares. He was inducted into the university’s athletics Hall of Fame in 2006.
After graduating cum laude in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in economics, David worked for a couple of years at ArvinMeritor before going to get his MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management in 1991. He went back to ArvinMeritor until 2003, when he took a job with Enkei America, Inc.
In 2009, David became executive director of the Community Education Coalition.
When he wasn’t at work, David was usually helping somebody else. He served on the board of directors for the Bartholomew County United Way and was also a member of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce.
David Galle was, according to Columbus East boys basketball coach Brent Chitty, “a man about this community.”
First and foremost, though, he was a man about his family. He coached all three of his children — Luke, who will graduate from Indiana University in May; Megan, a freshman tennis player at DePauw; and Alex — in basketball and other youth sports, and frequently took them to Cincinnati Reds games on weekends when his wife, Jamie, needed a short break.
Jamie Galle recalls David taking a young Alex, then about 10 years old, on a bike ride all the way across Columbus for the first time.
“I was kind of freaking out about that, going, ‘Is there really a safe way to go all the way to Tipton (Lakes) from Otter Creek?’” she shared. “And we have a picture of them before they left, they’re all bright and chipper — and then when they’re back, Alex is still bright and chipper. Dave’s soaked in sweat. But he spent a lot of time with the kids.
“I have a lot of great memories with him around,” Alex said.
Leading by example
When asked about the most important piece of advice he ever received from his father, Alex Galle said that it wasn’t so much words of wisdom that were passed on.“I don’t know if he ever really specifically told me advice,” he said. “It seems like he was more of the one to actually do those things and set an example that I could follow.”Perhaps two of the most noticeable attributes that Alex picked up from his father were a tireless work ethic and a strong moral compass.
Shirking job responsibilities was never an option in the Galle household. Jamie remembers a particularly harsh winter storm that led to a travel ban in the area. Despite her objections, David drove to Madison for a work trip anyway, simply because it was part of his job to do so.
David, a man of strong faith and stronger principles, carried that same sense of right and wrong with him at all times.
“I’ve never met anybody like Dave ever before,” Jamie Galle said. “He was kind of a rare find. He was just a truly good person, and I don’t think anybody that knew him could ever accuse him of acting in a way that wasn’t completely upright.
“He just had a really clear sense of right and wrong, and he treated people well.”
It takes a village
When Alex Galle lost his father, he managed not to lose his way.After he graduates in a few months, he plans to study engineering, most likely at Purdue, and then follow in his dad’s footsteps and get an MBA as well.“I am pretty sure that Alex Galle will make much more money than Coach Chitty will at a lot younger age,” Chitty said with a laugh.
Success can be measured in a number of different ways by different people. By any of those metrics, Alex is already successful, and he likely won’t ever allow himself not to be.
A big reason for that was the example that David Galle had set for all of his children. He would have expected each of them to continue forward doing what they were supposed to do.
But Alex also has been receiving support from a number of sources over the years. His mother remains a critical presence in his life, and older brother Luke has been there to offer advice when Alex needed to hear it from a male voice.
“It’s a strong family, so I think he relied heavily on brother and sister, and his mom’s also. She’s a strong person, and I think he leaned on her,” East boys tennis coach Jim Stone said. “And I think faith played a big, big part for him. I think that was something that helped him a whole lot.”
David Galle’s brothers, scattered throughout the Midwest, also have offered assistance whenever they could, as have Chitty, Stone and Matt Malinsky, a former Stone assistant who is now the Olympians’ girls coach.
Though the Galles have had to do the lion’s share of the grieving and healing on their own during the past three and a half years, they’re extremely grateful for the outside support they’ve received.
“Every time Alex maybe just really needed a conversation with someone, a person was put in his path to have a conversation with him,” Jamie Galle said. “Whether it was a friend or neighbor to talk to him after a game, or — Coach Chitty has always been available. Always. Alex talks to him about things unrelated to basketball, and his door’s always open.”
The Galles are quick to point out that they’re not the only family in the community that has gone through such tragedy. A handful of Alex’s friends and classmates have also endured similar losses — and while, as Jamie Galle noted, “It’s not a club anybody wants to belong to,” those kids have been able to lean on each other through the tough times.
A lasting legacy
Senior year of high school brings a number of watershed moments in a young person’s life — and for Alex, it’s difficult knowing that his father won’t physically be there to witness those.In the years since David Galle’s death, though, Alex and his family have been able to view life through a different lens. Rather than focusing on the time with David that was lost, the Galles have learned to be grateful for the time that they did have.“We certainly didn’t think that at the very beginning,” Jamie Galle said, “but now we can go, ‘Yeah, that was a hard time, but thank goodness we had him for as long as we did.’ I think that’s the kind of perspective you only get after you’ve healed for a certain amount of time.”
Fittingly, that sense of perspective meshes perfectly with David Galle’s natural ability to maintain an even keel and not let his emotions get the best of him.
No matter how crazy the situation, the Galles say, David was always able to bring an air of calm to it. While Alex admits that he’s a bit more emotional than his father was — and, as his mother points out, he puts a good deal of pressure on himself to achieve — he’s still able to maintain a more even-keel demeanor than most of his peers.
Not allowing his emotions to get the best of him is certainly something that Alex has tried to pick up from his father’s example. Being impulsive, particularly when it comes to life’s big moments, isn’t something David Galle was prone to.
And despite having to face a devastating tragedy at the worst possible time, Alex has been able to hold things together as well.
When he feels himself becoming overwhelmed, the question is usually the same — “What would David do?”
Asking that question usually produces the right answer.
“It’s easy to get emotional and make rash decisions,” Alex said. “But if you sit and think about big decisions in life for a while, then usually you’ll make the right decision.”
By and large, that’s exactly what he has done.