Ta-da! Army dad's magical appearance surprises kids at St. Charles school

  • Lt. Col. Robert Gerlach with daughter Ava, son Colin, and wife Elizabeth, at Munhall Elementary in St. Charles, Friday. He has been deployed in Kuwait since July.

      Lt. Col. Robert Gerlach with daughter Ava, son Colin, and wife Elizabeth, at Munhall Elementary in St. Charles, Friday. He has been deployed in Kuwait since July. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Lt. Col. Robert Gerlach of St. Charles wipes a tear away after he was reunited with his 6-year-old children Colin and Ava at Munhall Elementary School, Friday in St. Charles.

      Lt. Col. Robert Gerlach of St. Charles wipes a tear away after he was reunited with his 6-year-old children Colin and Ava at Munhall Elementary School, Friday in St. Charles. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Six-year-old Colin Gerlach and his sister, Ava, react Friday at Munhall Elementary School in St. Charles, as they see their dad for the first time since July. Lt. Col. Robert Gerlach of St. Charles, who has been deployed to Kuwait, surprised the youngsters during a magic show.

      Six-year-old Colin Gerlach and his sister, Ava, react Friday at Munhall Elementary School in St. Charles, as they see their dad for the first time since July. Lt. Col. Robert Gerlach of St. Charles, who has been deployed to Kuwait, surprised the youngsters during a magic show. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Army Lt. Col. Robert Gerlach of St. Charles waits behind a screen to surprise his children Friday at Munhall Elementary School, in St. Charles.

      Army Lt. Col. Robert Gerlach of St. Charles waits behind a screen to surprise his children Friday at Munhall Elementary School, in St. Charles. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Lt. Col. Robert Gerlach of St. Charles surprises his children, with his arrival home, via a magic trick, at Munhall Elementary School in St. Charles Friday. Colin and Ava, both age 6, are in first grade at the school. The primary grades were told the magic show was a reward for good behavior.

      Lt. Col. Robert Gerlach of St. Charles surprises his children, with his arrival home, via a magic trick, at Munhall Elementary School in St. Charles Friday. Colin and Ava, both age 6, are in first grade at the school. The primary grades were told the magic show was a reward for good behavior. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • St. Charles resident Lt. Col. Robert Gerlach gets a giant hug from his children Colin and Ava, both 6, Friday at Munhall Elementary School, in St. Charles. Magician Scott Green, right, made Gerlach appear in a trick before the two and their schoolmates.

      St. Charles resident Lt. Col. Robert Gerlach gets a giant hug from his children Colin and Ava, both 6, Friday at Munhall Elementary School, in St. Charles. Magician Scott Green, right, made Gerlach appear in a trick before the two and their schoolmates. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 5/25/2019 7:56 AM

When Munhall Elementary School Principal Jarrod Buxton was asked to pick three students to participate in a magic show Friday afternoon, he had to work extra hard to get first-grader Ava Gerlach of St. Charles to come up.

The 6-year-old (and yes, the half is important to her) is a little shy, unlike her triplet brother, Colin, who didn't hesitate when selected.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I was going to ask you guys what you want me to make appear, and now I'm a little scared it is going to be something big," magician Scott Green said, after another girl who said she wanted a red bicycle opened a shiny box and -- voila! -- received a red balloon bicycle.

But Green managed to make something really big appear out of seemingly thin air: The children's father, Army Lt. Col. Robert Gerlach.

The kids were stunned and the crowd of kindergartners, first- and second-graders went wild, cheering and applauding.

"Go get him! Go get him!" Green said, giving Colin a little push.

"Daddy!" the duo cried, as they climbed into their father's arms.

The surprise for the duo (their brother, Ben, died in 2016) was arranged by Gerlach while he was still stationed overseas providing logistical support for the 452nd Combat Support Hospital in Kuwait. He's been gone since July.

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He returned to Fort Hood in the United States for deprocessing last week and flew home Friday.

"I hope that my plane arrives on time. I hope that my car wouldn't break down. And I hoped my wife doesn't kill me," ran through his mind, Gerlach said.

That's because the kids weren't the only ones he fooled Friday.

Earlier in the day, he surprised his wife, Elizabeth, by stepping out of a cardboard refrigerator box delivered to their home by his employer, Sears. (She had been told they were delivering a grill -- a welcome-home present from Sears. They are still getting a grill.)

Gerlach, 50, has been in the Army Reserves since 1987.

He is a divisional vice president for Sears and will return to work at the end of June.

The family's Friday-night plans? Eating Lou Malnati's pizza, Gerlach said.

"It's been a long 10 months total," he said.

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