Photo by Steve Shay
Gary & Marlaina Lieberg, with guide dog, Agnes, shop along 152nd St. in Burien. Gary is paralyzed and Marlaina is blind. They recently moved into Burien Town Square and are now members of the Burien Lions Club where they will advocate for people with disabilities. Maralina allows young children to pet Agnes so they will be put at ease with those who are blind.

Burien Lions Club welcomes couple with disabilities, & gifts to share

Longtime Burien residents Gary and Marlaina Lieberg would most likely be embraced by any civic organization because of their amicable personalities and interest in meeting new people. In the case of the Burien Lions Club, where they are new members, the couple of 19 years are especially desired as Gary is paralyzed, Marlaina is blind, and they plan to be spokespeople for disabled issues through the club.

"I was an Air Force pilot in Vietnam for three years and compressed my c6 and c7 (vertebrae) when I was flying," Gary recalled. "They put me in the hospital and stretched me out. Then I flew for 17 more years, Boeing KC-135's, mostly, for the Strategic Air Command. Just when I retired in 1987 I bumped my head and became an instant quad (quadriplegic). I had a really great surgeon, and rehab, and operate more as a paraplegic."

He said of Marlaina, "You're looking at someone who's always been an advocate, and someone who, when she discovers something out of kilter she will be either challenged or want it fixed," Gary said with pride. "She's testified before the House and Senate and been in the Rose Garden a time or two. At the table when the ADA was being formed."

"I am an officer of the American Council of the Blind," said Marlaina, who lost her sight stemming from her premature birth. I am involved at the federal, state, and local level working with newly blinded people, helping blind people connect to resources, helping elderly blind people stay in their homes longer, and I thought now that I'm semi-retired I should join the Lions Club. They have been very helpful with blindness-related causes. I wanted to be an additional resource to help them continue to help blind people.

"My blindness, to me, has been a gift," she continued. It has not been a negative thing. What I don't like is when people say, 'Oh, you're amazing,' or, 'I don't think of you as blind.' Why not? It's not a bad thing. Some think 'blind' is a bad word. It's not. I am not sight-impaired, or visually challenged. I have no vision to challenge."

The Lieberg's moved from their house in Burien to their condo at Burien Town Square last February. Their special unit complies with ADA standards. They enjoy shopping along 152nd St., and at the Thursday Farmers Market.

"When we first moved in the City sent traffic engineers out to work with me to make sure I could hear all the speaker boxes at the intersections of 152nd.," she said. "I am impressed how responsive the City has been." When you press the walk button, there is a speaker by it that either chirps or says, "Clear to cross." She said there is no audible speaker at 4th and 152nd, but that the City will fix the issue shortly.

Marlaina's guide dog Agnes, 7, her eighth, a golden retriever/lab mix, trained with her at Guide Dogs for the Blind in Boring, OR. "I was the youngest person in the country ever to be trained with a guide dog, at age 14. My first dog's name was Scamp, a tiny German Shepherd that weighed 42 pounds. She went through high school with me in Boston.

"The one thing my school would't do is let me participate in physical education," she recalled. "That was when President Kennedy was in office and had a love of getting everyone involved in physical education. I wrote to the president and I got a letter back which I wish I still had. He wrote a copy to my school as well and he asked them to take another look at their policy because he said, 'Every child including blind children should have a chance to be physically active.'

"Boy, I'll tell you what, I got into gym class!" she enthused. "I learned the trampoline. We tied a bell under the center of the trampoline and my spotters leaned way in. For one year I took the gold medal for state."

She transferred to the Perkins School for the Blind her junior year, where Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller had once attended.

The Liebergs were sponsored for Club membership by well-known Burien resident, Georgette Valle, their Burien Town Square neighbor. Valle served 24 years in the State House, four years with the Burien City Council, and has been a Burien Lions Club member since 1957. Her husband, Odd, who passed away last April, was a Club Zone Chairman and Governor. He joined when he began his dentistry practice in Burien, which he did for 42 years.

"I think it's going to be a tremendous asset," said Valle of the Liebergs' membership. "She's very knowledgable, most remarkable. Gary's a star and will be a good speaker in his own right. They make a wonderful couple."

For more information visit: www.burienlions.org

The Lions Club website says: "Come and hear great speakers. Lunch $15.00. Public Invited. Wednesdays at Noon, Angelo’s Restaurant, 601 SW 153rd St."

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