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The Braille Monitor – January, 2001 Edition

 

Who Are the Blind Who Lead the Blind?

From the Editor: Periodically we revise and reprint in the Braille Monitor a document we have used for years now. It includes profiles of Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and members of the current NFB Board of Directors. It is high time to provide it again, so here it is:

Introduction

The National Federation of the Blind has become by far the most significant force in the affairs of the blind today, and its actions have had an impact on many other groups and programs. The Federation's President, Marc Maurer, radiates confidence and persuasiveness. He says, "If I can find twenty people who care about a thing, then we can get it done. And if there are two hundred, two thousand, or twenty thousand, that's even better." The National Federation of the Blind is a civil rights movement with all that the term implies.

President Maurer says, "You can't expect to obtain freedom by having somebody else hand it to you. You have to do the job yourself. The French could not have won the American Revolution for us. That would merely have shifted the governing authority from one colonial power to another. So, too, we the blind are the only ones who can win freedom for the blind, which is both frightening and reassuring. If we don't get out and do what we must, we have no one to blame but ourselves. We have control of the essential elements."

Although many organizations and agencies for the blind exist in the United States today, there is only one National Federation of the Blind. This organization was established in 1940 when the blind of seven states--Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and California--sent delegates to its first convention at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Since that time progress has been rapid and steady. The Federation is recognized by blind men and women throughout the entire country as their primary means of joint expression; and today--with active affiliates in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico--it is the primary voice of the nation's blind.

To explain this spectacular growth, three questions must be asked and answered: (1) What are the conditions in the general environment of the blind which have impelled them to organize? (2) What are the purpose, the belief, and the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind? (3) Who are its leaders, and what are their qualifications to understand and solve the problems of blindness? Even a brief answer to these questions is instructive.

When the Federation came into being in 1940, the outlook for the blind was anything but bright. The nation's welfare system was so discouraging to individual initiative that those forced to accept public assistance had little hope of ever achieving self-support again, and those who sought competitive employment in regular industry or the professions found most of the doors barred against them. The universal good will expressed toward the blind was not the wholesome good will of respect felt toward equals; it was the misguided good will of pity felt toward inferiors. In effect the system said to the blind, "Sit on the sidelines of life. This game is not for you. If you have creative talents, we are sorry, but we cannot use them." The Federation came into being to combat these expressions of discrimination and to promote new ways of thought concerning blindness. Although great progress has been made toward the achievement of these goals, much still remains to be done.

The Federation believes that blind people are essentially normal and that blindness in itself is not a mental or psychological handicap. It can be reduced to the level of a mere physical nuisance. Legal, economic, and social discrimination based upon the false assumption that the blind are somehow different from the sighted must be abolished, and equal opportunity must be made available to blind people. Because of their personal experience with blindness, the blind themselves are best qualified to lead the way in solving their own problems, but the general public should be invited to participate in finding solutions. Upon these fundamentals the National Federation of the Blind predicates its philosophy.

As for the leadership of the organization, all of the officers and members of the Board of Directors are blind, and all give generously of their time and resources in promoting the work of the Federation. The Board consists of seventeen elected members, five of whom are the constitutional officers of the organization. These members of the Board of Directors represent a wide cross section of the blind population of the United States. Their backgrounds are different, and their experiences vary widely; but they are drawn together by the common bond of having met blindness individually and successfully in their own lives and by their united desire to see other blind people have the opportunity to do likewise. A profile of the leadership of the organization shows why it is so effective and demonstrates the progress made by blind people during the past half century and more--for in the story of the lives of these leaders can be found the greatest testimonial to the soundness of the Federation's philosophy. The cumulative record of their individual achievements is an overwhelming proof, leading to an inescapable conclusion.

Jacobus tenBroek Hazel tenBroek
Jacobus tenBroek
Hazel tenBroek

Dr. Jacobus tenBroek
Author, Jurist, Professor,
Founder of the National Federation of the Blind

The moving force in the founding of the National Federation of the Blind and its spiritual and intellectual father was Jacobus tenBroek. Born in 1911, young tenBroek (the son of a prairie homesteader in Canada) lost the sight of one eye as the result of a bow-and-arrow accident at the age of seven. His remaining eyesight deteriorated until at the age of fourteen he was totally blind. Shortly afterward he and his family traveled to Berkeley so that he could attend the California School for the Blind. Within three years he was an active part of the local organization of the blind.

By 1934 he had joined with Dr. Newel Perry and others to form the California Council of the Blind, which later became the National Federation of the Blind of California. This organization was a prototype for the nationwide federation that tenBroek would form six years later.

Even a cursory glance at his professional career shows the absurdity of the idea that blindness means incapacity. The same year the Federation was founded (1940) Jacobus tenBroek received his doctorate in jurisprudence from the University of California, completed a year as Brandeis Research Fellow at Harvard Law School, and was appointed to the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School.

Two years later he began his teaching career at the University of California at Berkeley, moving steadily up through the ranks to become full professor in 1953 and chairman of the department of speech in 1955. In 1963 he accepted an appointment as professor of political science.

During this period Professor tenBroek published several books and more than fifty articles and monographs in the fields of welfare, government, and law--establishing a reputation as one of the nation's foremost scholars on matters of constitutional law. One of his books, Prejudice, War, and the Constitution, won the Woodrow Wilson Award of the American Political Science Association in 1955 as the best book of the year on government and democracy. Other books are California's Dual System of Family Law (1964), Hope Deferred: Public Welfare and the Blind (1959), The Antislavery Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment (1951)--revised and republished in 1965 as Equal Under Law, and The Law of the Poor (edited in 1966).

In the course of his academic career Professor tenBroek was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto and was twice the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1947 he earned the degree of S.J.D. from Harvard Law School. In addition he was awarded honorary degrees by two institutions of higher learning.

Dr. tenBroek's lifelong companion was his devoted wife Hazel. Together they raised three children and worked inseparably on research, writing, and academic and Federation concerns. Until failing health made it impossible for her to travel, Mrs. tenBroek continued as an active member of the organized blind movement.

In 1950 Dr. tenBroek was made a member of the California State Board of Social Welfare by Governor Earl Warren. Later reappointed to the board three times, he was elected its chairman in 1960 and served in that capacity until 1963.

The brilliance of Jacobus tenBroek's career led some skeptics to suggest that his achievements were beyond the reach of what they called the "ordinary blind person." What tenBroek recognized in himself was not that he was exceptional, but that he was normal--that his blindness had nothing to do with whether he could be a successful husband and father, do scholarly research, write a book, make a speech, guide students engaged in social action movements and causes, or otherwise lead a productive life.

In any case, the skeptics' theory has been refuted by the success of the thousands of blind men and women who have put this philosophy of normality to work in their own lives during the past sixty years.

Jacobus tenBroek died of cancer at the age of fifty-six in 1968. His successor, Kenneth Jernigan, in a memorial address, said truly of him: "The relationship of this man to the organized blind movement, which he brought into being in the United States and around the world, was such that it would be equally accurate to say that the man was the embodiment of the movement or that the movement was the expression of the man.

"For tens of thousands of blind Americans over more than a quarter of a century, he was leader, mentor, spokesman, and philosopher. He gave to the organized blind movement the force of his intellect and the shape of his dreams. He made it the symbol of a cause barely imagined before his coming: the cause of self-expression, self-direction, and self-sufficiency on the part of blind people. Step by step, year by year, action by action, he made that cause succeed."

Kenneth Jernigan
Teacher, Writer, Administrator

Kenneth and Mary Ellen Jernigam
Kenneth and Mary Ellen Jernigan

Kenneth Jernigan was a leader in the National Federation of the Blind for more than forty-six years. He was President (with one brief interruption) from 1968 until July of 1986. Even after Jernigan ceased to be President of the Federation, he continued as one of its principal leaders until his death on October 12, 1998. He was loved and respected by tens of thousands--members and non-members of the Federation, both blind and sighted.

Born in 1926, Kenneth Jernigan grew up on a farm in central Tennessee. He re­ceived his ele­mentary and secondary education at the school for the blind in Nashville. After high school Jernigan managed a furniture shop in Beech Grove, Tennessee, mak­ing all the furniture and operating the business.

In the fall of 1945 Jernigan matriculated at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville. Active in campus affairs from the outset, he was soon elected to office in his class and to important positions in other student organizations. Jernigan graduated with honors in 1948 with a B.S. degree in social science. In 1949 he received a master's degree in English from Peabody College in Nashville, where he subsequently completed additional graduate study. While at Peabody he was a staff writer for the school newspaper, co-founder of an independent literary magazine, and member of the Writers Club. In 1949 he received the Captain Charles W. Browne Award, at that time presented annually by the American Foundation for the Blind to the nation's outstanding blind student.

Jernigan then spent four years as a teacher of English at the Tennessee School for the Blind. During this per­iod he became active in the Tennessee Association of the Blind (now the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee). He was elected to the vice presidency of the organization in 1950 and to the presidency in 1951. In that position he planned the 1952 annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, which was held in Nashville, and he then planned every NFB National Convention through 1998.

In 1952 Jernigan was first elected to the NFB Board of Directors, and  in 1953 he was appointed to the faculty of the California Orientation Center for the Blind in Oakland, where he played a major role in developing the best program of its kind then in existence.

From 1958 until 1978 he served as Director of the Iowa State Commission for the Blind. In this capacity he was responsible for administering state rehabilitation programs, home teaching, home industries, an orientation and adjustment center, and library services for the blind and physically handicapped. The improvements made in services to the blind of Iowa under the Jernigan administration have never before or since been equaled anywhere in the country.

In 1960 the Federation presented Jernigan with its Newel Perry Award for outstanding accomplishment in services for the blind. In 1968 Jernigan was given a Special Citation by the President of the United States. Harold Russell, the chairman of the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, came to Des Moines to present the award. He said: "If a person must be blind, it is better to be blind in Iowa than anywhere else in the nation or in the world. This statement," the citation went on to say, "sums up the story of the Iowa Commission for the Blind during the Jernigan years and more pertinently of its Director, Kenneth Jernigan. That narrative is much more than a success story. It is the story of high aspiration magnificently accomplished--of an impossible dream become reality."

Jernigan received too many honors and awards to enumerate individually, including honorary doctorates from four institutions of higher education. He was also asked to serve as a special consultant to or member of numerous boards and advisory bodies. The most notable among these are member of the National Advisory Committee on Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (appointed in 1972 by the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare); special consultant on Services for the Blind (appointed in 1975 by the Federal Commissioner of Rehabilitation); advisor on museum programs for blind visitors to the Smithsonian Institution (appointed in 1975); special advisor to the White House Conference on Library and Information Services (appointed in 1977 by President Gerald Ford). In July of 1990 Jernigan received an award for distinguished service from the President of the United States. To date he has been the only person ever to be invited to keynote the primary gatherings of the two worldwide blindness organizations in a single year: the fourth quadrennial meeting of the World Blind Union in August, 1996, and the annual meeting of the International Council for the Education of the Visually Impaired in spring, 1997. In 1998 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, the first ever International Leadership Award from the American Foundation for the Blind, and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind's Winston Gordon Award for his leadership in establishing NEWSLINE® for the Blind.

Kenneth Jernigan's writings and speeches on blindness are better known and have touched more lives than those of any other individual writing today. From 1991 until his death he edited the NFB's immensely popular series of paperbacks known as the Kernel Books. On July 23, 1975, he spoke before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and his address was broadcast live throughout the nation on National Public Radio. Through the years he appeared repeatedly on network radio and television interview programs.

In 1978 Jernigan moved to Baltimore to become Executive Director of the American Brotherhood for the Blind (now the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults) and Director of the National Center for the Blind. As President of the National Federation of the Blind at that time, he led the organization through the most impressive period of growth in its history to date. The creation and development of the National Center for the Blind and the NFB's expansion into its position today as the most influential voice and force in the affairs of the blind stand as the culmination of Kenneth Jernigan's lifework and a tribute to his brilliance and commitment to the blind of this nation. From 1987 to 1997 he played an active role internationally as President of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union. He traveled widely and spoke frequently before international groups about blindness and the NFB's positive philosophy that changes lives and society.

Jernigan's dynamic wife Mary Ellen remains an active member of the Federation. Although sighted, she works with dedication in the movement and is known and loved by thousands of Federationists throughout the country.

Speaking at a convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Jernigan said of the organization and its philosophy (and also of his own philosophy):

As we look ahead, the world holds more hope than gloom for us--and, best of all, the future is in our own hands. For the first time in history we can be our own masters and do with our lives what we will; and the sighted (as they learn who we are and what we are) can and will work with us as equals and partners. In other words we are capable of full membership in society, and the sighted are capable of accepting us as such--and, for the most part, they want to.

We want no Uncle Toms--no sellouts, no apologists, no rationalizers; but we also want no militant hell-raisers or unbudging radicals. One will hurt our cause as much as the other. We must win true equality in society, but we must not dehumanize ourselves in the process; and we must not forget the graces and amenities, the compassions and courtesies which comprise civilization itself and distinguish people from animals and life from existence.

Let people call us what they will and say what they please about our motives and our movement. There is only one way for the blind to achieve first-class citizenship and true equality. It must be done through collective action and concerted effort; and that means the National Federation of the Blind. There is no other way, and those who say otherwise are either uninformed or unwilling to face the facts. We are the strongest force in the affairs of the blind today, and we must also recognize the responsibilities of power and the fact that we must build a world that is worth living in when the war is over--and, for that matter, while we are fighting it. In short, we must use both love and a club, and we must have sense enough to know when to do which--long on compassion, short on hatred; and, above all, not using our philosophy as a cop-out for cowardice or inaction or rationalization. We know who we are and what we must do--and we will never go back. The public is not against us. Our determination proclaims it; our gains confirm it; our humanity demands it.

Marc Maurer
Attorney and Executive

Patricia and Marc Maurer
Patricia and Marc Maurer

Born in 1951, Marc Maurer was the second in a family of six children. His blindness was caused by overexposure to oxygen after his premature birth, but he and his parents were determined that this should not prevent him from living a full and normal life.

He began his education at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, where he became an avid Braille reader. In the fifth grade he returned home to Boone, Iowa, where he attended parochial schools. During high school (having taken all the courses in the curriculum) he simultaneously took classes at the junior college.

Maurer ran three different businesses before finishing high school: a paper route, a lawn care business, and an enterprise producing and marketing maternity garter belts designed by his mother. This last venture was so successful that his younger brother took over the business when Maurer left home.

In the summer of 1969, after graduating from high school, Maurer enrolled as a student at the Orientation and Adjustment Center of the Iowa Commission for the Blind and attended his first convention of the NFB. He was delighted to discover in both places that blind people and what they thought mattered. This was a new phenomenon in his experience, and it changed his life. Kenneth Jernigan was Director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind at the time, and Maurer soon grew to admire and respect him. When Maurer expressed an interest in overhauling a car engine, the Commission for the Blind purchased the necessary equipment. Maurer completed that project and actually worked for a time as an automobile mechanic. He believes today that mastering engine repair played an important part in changing his attitudes about blindness.

Maurer graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 1974. As an undergraduate he took an active part in campus life, including election to the Honor Society. Then he enrolled at the University of Indiana School of Law, where he received his Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1977.

Marc Maurer was elected President of the Student Division of the National Federation of the Blind in 1971 and re-elected in 1973 and 1975. Also in 1971 (at the age of twenty) he was elected Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana. He was elected President in 1973 and re-elected in 1975.

During law school Maurer worked summers for the office of the Secretary of State of Indiana. After graduation he moved to Toledo, Ohio, to accept a position as the director of the Senior Legal Assistance Project operated by ABLE (Advocates for Basic Legal Equality).

In 1978 Maurer moved to Washington, D.C., to become an attorney with the Rates and Routes Division in the office of the General Counsel of the Civil Aeronautics Board. Initially he worked on rates cases but soon advanced to dealing with international matters and then to doing research and writing opinions on constitutional issues and Board action. He wrote opinions for the Chairman and made appearances before the full Board to discuss those opinions.

In 1981 he went into private practice in Baltimore, Maryland, where he specialized in civil litigation and property matters. But increasingly he concentrated on representing blind individuals and groups in the courts. He has now become one of the most experienced and knowledgeable attorneys in the country regarding the laws, precedents, and administrative rulings concerning civil rights and discrimination against the blind. He is a member of the Bar in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, and Maryland and a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Maurer has always been active in civic and political affairs, having run for the state legislature from Baltimore. Through the years he has also served on the board of directors of his apartment complex's tenants association, the board of his community association, and the school board of his children's school. From 1984 until 1986 he served as President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.

An important companion in Maurer's activities (and a leader in her own right) is his wife Patricia. The Maurers were married in 1973, and they have two children--David Patrick, born March 10, 1984, and Dianna Marie, born July 12, 1987.

At the 1985 convention in Louisville, Kentucky, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan announced that he would not stand for reelection as President of the National Federation of the Blind the following year, and he recommended Marc Maurer as his successor. In Kansas City in 1986 the Convention elected Maurer by resounding acclamation, and he has served as President ever since. From 1997 to 2000 he also served as President of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union, and he chairs the WBU Committee on the Restoration of the Louis Braille Birth Place in Coupvray, France.

Recent honors include honorary degrees from California's Menlo College in 1998 and the University of Louisville in 1999. In 1987 he  delivered an address at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and in 2000 he was invited to deliver addresses on civil rights at Oxford University and Birmingham University in the United Kingdom. After Kenneth Jernigan's death, he also became the editor of the NFB's Kernel Book series of optimistic paperbacks written by blind people about blindness.

Before Dr. Jernigan died, he conceived and began to plan a visionary expansion of the National Center for the Blind--the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind. The facility, to be located on the grounds of the National Center, will add 170,000 square feet to the NFB's headquarters complex and sharply increase its ability to affect all aspects of teaching, rehabilitation, and technology development that will shape the lives of people losing sight or dealing with blindness in the coming century. As President of the National Federation of the Blind, Marc Maurer is leading the organization boldly into this new test of its resolve, beginning with the challenge of completing a capital campaign to raise eighteen million dollars to build the Institute. His unswerving determination to succeed and his absolute conviction that the organized blind are the best-equipped people to solve the problems facing us in this new millennium have set the tone and are guiding the organization into this exciting new period of growth and accomplishment.

 

Joyce Scanlan
Teacher and Blindness-Training-Program Director

Joyce and Tom Scanlan
Joyce and Tom Scanlan

Joyce Scanlan was born in Fargo, North Dakota, at a time when blind children were automatically referred to the state residential school for the blind for elementary and secondary education. This meant spending nine months of the year 160 miles away from home and family. The academic education received was strong, and the basic skills of blindness, Braille reading and the use of the slate and stylus especially were emphasized; however, white canes were never seen, and attitudes toward blindness and expectations for blind people ran along traditional lines: blindness means helplessness and inferiority; and a person's value in life is directly proportional to the amount of eyesight he or she has. Despite the seeming hopelessness of these views, students came away with a hard crust of self-confidence and a strong inner drive to succeed.

Having a deep love of reading and theater, Joyce went on to earn a B.A. in English, social studies, and Latin and an M.A. in English and history at the University of North Dakota. She taught these subjects in high schools in North Dakota and Montana for five years. Then glaucoma suddenly took the rest of her vision, and Scanlan lost her self-confidence. She says, "I had learned early in life to fake vision I didn't have; now that option was gone. I found myself totally alone, without support and without positive information about blindness and my rights as a teacher. I quickly fled from my job."

Scanlan had trouble finding another job, but as she points out, her own attitudes were as much in need of adjustment as those of prospective employers. The rehabilitation system was not helpful either. Scanlan says, "The training center I attended emphasized the limitations of blindness. Although I had lost considerable vision and could see only through a pinpoint in one eye, the center staff told me, `You're not blind; you don't look blind. If you lose more eyesight, then you can come back for more training.' I was far beyond the point of believing that I wasn't really blind." Scanlan says, "I was 'terminated' from the center after just one month, and I actually felt that my situation was even more hopeless at that point than it had been prior to the training."

In 1970 the National Federation of the Blind convention was held in Minneapolis, and Scanlan attended several sessions, including the meeting of the NFB Teachers Division and the banquet. She says: "I met many teachers there who were blind. In fact, I met blind people from all over the country who were engaged in a great variety of occupations. I learned what the NFB was all about and began to realize what blind people working together could do." At that convention she also met Tom Scanlan, whom she married four years later.

Joyce Scanlan immediately became active in the NFB of Minnesota. In 1971 she helped to organize a statewide student division. She was elected Vice President of the NFB of Minnesota in 1972 and President in 1973. That same year she was appointed by the governor to a newly created Minnesota Council on Disabilities--the only representative of a consumer organization on the council. Until 1988 she served on the advisory council to State Services for the Blind, a body established in large measure because of the persistent advocacy and hard work of the NFB of Minnesota.

The most exciting undertaking of the NFB of Minnesota, however, has been the establishment of its own orientation-to-blindness training center, with Joyce Scanlan serving as its executive director. BLIND, Inc. (Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions) admitted its first class, consisting of two students, in January of 1988. This center is establishing a new standard for rehabilitation services in the Midwest and throughout the country. It is easy to understand why the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota enjoys both respect and prestige. It is also easy to understand why Joyce Scanlan is regarded as able, tough, and determined.

Scanlan was elected to the NFB Board of Directors in 1974 and has continued to serve in that capacity ever since. In 1988 she was elected Secretary of the organization, and in 1992 she was elected First Vice President. She says: "The Federation has made a great difference in my life. Attending that first National Convention in 1970 was a real turning point. If I had known the Federation before that, my early life would certainly not have been such a struggle. I still try to spend time attending the theater and reading, but I want to give as much time as possible to working in the NFB. I want to make sure every blind person hears about the Federation. If I have any skill as a teacher, I'll use it to spread the word about the Federation."

Peggy Elliott
Attorney, Political Activist, and Community Leader

Doug and Peggy Elliott
Doug and Peggy Elliott

Born in 1953 and raised in Grinnell, Iowa, Peggy Elliott attended regular schools until the middle of the ninth grade. When her eye condition was diagnosed as irreversible decline into total blindness, her father cried for the first and only time in her life--at least as far as she knows.

Elliott then spent what she characterizes as two and a half unhappy years at the Iowa school for the blind. Academically she learned nothing that she had not already been taught in public schools. The students were discouraged from learning to use the white cane and were never allowed off campus unless they were accompanied by a sighted person. But most soul-destroying of all, the students were discouraged from aspiring to success or from setting themselves challenging goals. Elliott resisted the stifling atmosphere and drew down upon herself the wrath of the school administration, which refused to permit her to complete high school there, forcing her to go back to public school.

Knowing that she was not prepared to make this transition, she and her parents sought help from Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, then Director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Elliott enrolled at the Orientation and Adjustment Center, where she mastered the skills of blindness and explored for the first time the healthy and positive philosophy of blindness that has subsequently directed her life.

Elliott went on to Iowa's Cornell College, where she achieved an excellent academic record and edited the Cornellian, the school newspaper. She then completed law school at Yale University, receiving her J.D. degree in 1979.

After graduation from law school, Elliott passed the Iowa Bar in January, 1980. She then began a difficult job search. Although her academic standing at Yale was better than that of most of her classmates, she did not receive a single job offer as a result of the intensive interviewing she had done during her final year of law school. Virtually all Yale-trained attorneys leave the university with offers in hand. The inference was inescapable: employers were discriminating against Elliott because of her blindness. She was eventually hired as Assistant County Attorney for Woodbury County in Sioux City, Iowa, where she prosecuted defendants on behalf of the people. In 1985 she moved back to her hometown of Grinnell, where she established the private law practice she has worked in since that time.

Elliott's lifetime interest in helping to improve the world around her has been expressed in politics as well as in Federation activity. In 1976 she was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Kansas City, during which she appeared on national television and in a national news magazine, acquainting the public with the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind and the real needs of blind people. At the end of the convention she seconded the nomination of Senator Robert Dole to be the Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States.

In 1986 she ran for the Iowa State Senate as a Republican in District 27. She campaigned hard in a district eighty by thirty miles in size and containing about 60,000 residents, a distinct minority of whom are Republican. Like many candidates, Elliott was not elected in her first bid for public office, but she made a strong showing and is often asked when she will run again. Her interest in participating in her community has continued through her service on the Grinnell City Council and in other community organizations.

Elliott's work in the National Federation of the Blind has been as impressive as her professional career. She held office in the NFB Student Divisions in Iowa and Connecticut and then served as President of the national Student Division from 1977 to 1979. In 1981 she was elected President of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, an office which she continues to hold. Elliott was first elected to the NFB Board of Directors in 1977, and in 1984 she was elected Second Vice President.

Since 1984 Elliott, a 1976 winner herself, has chaired the National Federation of the Blind's Scholarship Committee. Every year approximately thirty scholarships, ranging in value from $3,000 to $10,000, are presented to the best blind college students in the nation.

On December 28, 1993, Peggy Pinder and Doug Elliott were married in Grinnell, Iowa, where the couple continue to live happily in their hundred-year-old home. Before their marriage Doug was President of the NFB of Nevada. He is a medical social worker and serves as President of the Human Services Division of the National Federation of the Blind.

Ramona Walhof
Business Woman and Public Relations Executive

Ramona Walhof
Ramona Walhof

Born in 1944, Ramona Willoughby Walhof was the second in a family of three blind children, but the word "blind" was never used when they were small, especially by the ophthalmologists. Nevertheless, even the large-print books ordered for the children by the schools did not make reading possible. In the competitive world of the classroom the truth could not be avoided--they were blind. So they were packed up and taken more than two hundred miles away from home to enroll in the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School. Walhof remembers that her parents found facing this alternative easier than struggling with a public school system that could not find a way to teach three bright youngsters who could not see print. A school for the blind was better than a school that didn't educate.

Walhof remembers learning to lie about what she could see. She didn't think of it as telling falsehoods, but she says, "It made adults happy when they thought I could see things, and at school (even though it was supposedly a school for the blind) one had privileges and responsibilities to the same degree one had usable eyesight."

During the summer following second grade Walhof commandeered her brother's Braille slate and stylus and taught herself to write Braille because the school considered her too young to learn it. She was taught to read using Braille, but she understood from the beginning that reading print (if only she could have managed to decipher it) would have been better.

In 1962 Ramona Willoughby graduated from high school, valedictorian of her class, but she says "with an extremely limited education and very little experience." Between high school and college, she took a short course of training at the Iowa Commission for the Blind Orientation and Adjustment Center. It was then that she met Kenneth Jernigan, the Commission's Director. She refused to learn much about the NFB although she now says, "The Federation had already begun to have a profound influence on my life." She found college difficult, she says, because her academic background was so weak. Nevertheless, Walhof graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in 1967 with a degree in Russian language.

In 1968 Ramona Willoughby married Chuck Walhof of Boise, Idaho. During the next several years she was busy. She and her husband had two children, and she taught two sessions of Headstart and one course in college Russian. She also managed two vending facilities. After the death of her husband in 1972 she returned to Des Moines, Iowa, first as a teacher at the Orientation and Adjustment Center of the Iowa Commission for the Blind and then as an assistant director of the Commission.

In 1979 Walhof moved to Baltimore, Maryland, to take a position at the National Center for the Blind as the Assistant Director of the Job Opportunities for the Blind Program, operated jointly by the NFB and the U.S. Department of Labor.

In 1982 she returned to Idaho to assume the position of Director of the state Commission for the Blind. Her reputation for innovative approaches and dynamic forthrightness soon reached far beyond the borders of Idaho. In 1984 the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho awarded Walhof its Thelander Award for her contributions to the blind of the state.

Later that year she left government employment to go into private business. Today she operates extensive multi-state public relations and community outreach programs for the blind and other groups.

Ramona Walhof has written widely on topics relating to blindness, including the following books: Beginning Braille for Adults (a teaching manual); Questions Kids Ask about Blindness; A Handbook for Senior Citizens: Rights, Resources, and Responsibilities; and Technical Assistance Guide for Employers.

In 1988 Walhof became president of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho and was also elected to membership on the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind. In 1992 she was first elected Secretary of the National Federation of the Blind, a position she continues to hold. She retired from the presidency of the Idaho affiliate in 2000.

Walhof says, "The Federation has had a profound influence on my life. Dr. Jernigan and other leaders pushed me over and over again to attempt projects that at first seemed impossible to me. Often I met their expectations and raised my own. Now I am honored and excited to extend this kind of support and challenge to the next generation of blind people. I have lived through an amazing number of accomplishments for the blind, but the need is still great. Now that my children are supporting themselves, I have the time and (I hope) the experience to pass on to others the message I first received as a young adult. In the new century the Federation is leading the way to better integration and new opportunities for the blind, and I can think of nothing more gratifying than to do what I can to continue and accelerate the pace."

Allen Harris
Teacher, Wrestling Coach, and Rehabilitation Professional

Allen and Joy Harris
Allen and Joy Harris

Allen Harris was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 1981. In 1985 he became Secretary, and in 1988 he was elected Treasurer. He says, "I take some satisfaction in many of the things I have accomplished in my life, but nothing has given me more pleasure and reward than my work in the Federation."

Harris may well take satisfaction in his accomplishments. Blind since birth in 1945, he completed high school at the Michigan School for the Blind in Lansing. He says of this period, "The two most valuable things I learned in high school were wrestling and typing. Although I could certainly have used some other things, these two skills have served me well ever since." Allen Harris was a championship wrestler throughout high school and college. He was also a champion debater at Wayne State University and graduated magna cum laude in 1967.

Harris then began looking for a teaching position and enrolled in graduate school. At that time high school teachers were much in demand. He sent out 167 applications and went to 96 interviews without receiving a single job offer. After a year of futile search Harris was depressed, and his friends were outraged. One friend went to a meeting of the Dearborn school board. She spoke openly about the blind applicant for a teaching position who was qualified yet was being ignored by scores of school districts.

The tactic worked. School officials said that they were unaware of Harris's candidacy although he had submitted an application. He was called for an interview and hired to teach social studies. In addition to a full-time teaching schedule, he coached high school wrestling, as well as swimming and wrestling for boys from age five to fourteen. He has coached at least six high school wrestling teams that have won league championships and one high school state championship team. His age group swimming teams won five state conference championships, and his age group wrestling teams won six. Harris also worked for several years administering the age group program, and the Dearborn teams continued to excel.

In 1982 Allen Harris was transferred to Edsel Ford High School in Dearborn as a social studies teacher. He became head of the social studies department in 1984. Because of limited time, he decided to give up the head coaching job and from then on worked only with the ninth graders, who did not lose while he was their coach. In 1985 Harris was selected by the National Council of Social Studies as one of two outstanding social studies teachers in the state of Michigan.

Harris says that he was aware of some Federation materials when he was looking for his first teaching position and that he found them helpful, but his real knowledge of and involvement in the Federation began in 1969 when an organizing team came to his door to pay a visit. They told him there was to be a state convention of the Federation that weekend in Lansing and that he should go. He did, and he was elected Secretary of the NFB of Michigan. He served as President of the Detroit chapter of the NFB from 1970 to 1975 and was the President of the NFB of Michigan from 1976 to the end of 1998. Harris was the recipient of the prestigious Blind Educator of the Year Award in 1992 and also received recognition that year from the NFB of Michigan for his lifetime of achievement in the Federation. In 1999 Allen received the NFB's Jacobus tenBroek Award for outstanding service.

In the 1990's the NFB of Michigan, under the leadership of Allen Harris, established a Saturday School for blind and visually impaired children, which provides instruction in Braille, cane travel, and other skills of blindness and includes recreational opportunities. When asked about the Saturday School, Harris fervently responds, "This is among the accomplishments I hold most dear. Mastering the skills of blindness is absolutely central to living a full and productive life as a blind person. For too many blind kids this is impossible. Because of Saturday School in Michigan it isn't."

During the years of Allen Harris's presidency, services to the blind in Michigan were consolidated into a single and separate commission for the blind, a major victory indeed. In 1983 Harris was appointed by the governor to the board of the Michigan Commission for the Blind and served as Vice-Chair of the Commission until 1991.

Allen Harris was married to Joy Osmar in 1994, the second marriage for both. They have five children (now grown) Eric, Scott, Katie, Jennifer, and Bryan. They also now have two grandchildren.

After completing thirty and a half years of service as a teacher, Allen retired in January, 1999, from Dearborn's Edsel Ford High School. That same month he began working for the New York Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped as Bureau Chief, Director of Field Operations (Director of Rehabilitation). In this new career he is steadily and increasingly improving the quality of rehabilitation for blind people across the state of New York.

 

Stephen O. Benson
Teacher, Administrator, and Press Assistant

Peg and Steve Benson
Peg and Steve Benson

Stephen O. Benson, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, was born in 1941. Eighteen months later doctors informed Benson's family that his vision would be permanently impaired by retinitis pigmentosa. His eye doctors predicted that Benson would always have "some vision." When he entered first grade, Benson was placed in what was then called sight saving class in which he was expected to read large print, a task he was never able to do efficiently. With each passing year, his vision deteriorated, but it wasn't until fifth grade that school officials decided that Braille would be a more appropriate learning medium and authorized Benson's transfer to Alexander Graham Bell School. Six months later, at eleven years of age, for the first time in his life Benson borrowed a book from the library and read it--a biography of Andrew Jackson. It was in Braille.

At the time Benson transferred to the blind school, he was apprehensive about the move. He still had some vision and did not regard himself as blind; however, his concerns soon melted away when he realized that blind kids did the same things as everybody else. As part of his social studies curriculum he mastered geography through puzzle maps, raised-line drawings, and three-dimensional globes. In gym class he learned to use the side horse, still rings, and other apparatus. He and his classmates were required to perform calisthenics. Benson enjoyed sports and participated in swimming, softball, football, basketball, and track. As an active Boy Scout he earned a swimming merit badge and worked toward the life saving merit badge. During the summer between eighth grade and high school Benson learned to travel independently using the long white cane.

High school presented new challenges. In biology and physics Benson was required to perform all experiments. However, he wasn't prepared for the reality of discrimination; blind kids were prohibited from taking physical education. The position of the PE department was that the blind kids might get hurt. Benson and his fellow blind students, instead, took the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) courses, which covered physical training, marching in formation, the manual of arms, field stripping an M-1 rifle, driver education, and other requirements. There were no exclusions. Moreover, the ROTC classes swam in the same pool as the PE classes. In Benson's mind the whole business of physical education being off limits to blind kids made no sense.

In 1965 Benson graduated from DePaul University with a major in English and minors in social studies and education. When he enrolled at DePaul, he hadn't planned on becoming a teacher; however, by his junior year it became clear to him that teaching at the high school level was the appropriate field for him. When Benson announced to the state rehabilitation agency that he planned to teach high school English, they threatened to cut off financial assistance because, they said, blind people couldn't teach. Benson remembers that his attitude was "I dare you to try." The agency backed down.

As his senior year at DePaul drew to a close, Benson prepared for what he anticipated to be the difficult task of finding a job. He was astounded when, at the second interview, he was offered and accepted a position as a tenth grade honors English teacher at Gordon Technical High School in Chicago. While the classroom work was both challenging and rewarding, the mountains of paperwork eventually caused Benson to look for another field. He sold insurance in 1968, and in 1969 he took a position with the Veterans Administration Hospital at Hines, Illinois, teaching Braille and daily living skills.

In 1984 Benson became assistant director of the Catholic Guild for The Blind in Chicago, where he designed educational programs, managed publicity, and coordinated corporate and foundation fund-raising.

Since 1991 Benson has worked at the Chicago Public Library as a press assistant, doing promotional publicity for the largest free municipal library in the country. Benson also hosts a monthly, hour-long author interview program on Chicago's municipal cable television station.

Benson married Margaret (Peg) Gull in 1984. Their son, Patrick Owen, was born in 1985.

Benson joined the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois as a charter member in 1968. He was elected to the affiliate's first board of directors. From 1974 to 1978 Benson served as president of the Federation's Chicago Chapter. In 1978 he became president of the NFB of Illinois. He has been re-elected to that position for consecutive two-year terms ever since. Benson has also been elected to the Federation's national Board of Directors each term since 1982.

From 1976 to 1981 Benson served on the governing board of the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. He has also served on the state-wide advisory board of the Illinois Library for the Blind and on the Advisory Board to the Illinois Attorney General's Disabled Persons' Advocacy Division. In addition, he has served on the school board of his son's elementary school and as vice president of the band booster club at Patrick's high school.

"Although I have had good blindness skills for many years," Benson says, "my involvement in the NFB has imbued me with confidence and perspective on life and on blindness that have focused my activities and energized my effort on behalf of blind people. As I reflect on my experience as a student, as a teacher in a large high school classroom and in a rehabilitation setting, as an agency administrator, as a writer feeding the media print and electronic stories about the programs and activities of one of the largest public libraries in the United States, and as an advocate for blind people--all accomplished as a blind person, I must assert that collective action is the only means by which the quality of life for blind Americans will improve. There is no question in my mind that the unified, collective action of the National Federation of the Blind is the best hope blind people have to change their position in society. The Federation has changed what it means to be blind from overwhelming tragedy and dependence to independence, dignity, self respect, and freedom. The Federation has made enormous progress changing attitudes toward blindness, but much work remains to be done so that all will know that, when blind people have proper instruction and genuine opportunity, we lead fully independent, productive lives on the basis of complete equality with our sighted neighbors."

Charles S. Brown
Attorney and Federal Official

Jacki and Charlie Brown
Jacki and Charlie Brown

With a bachelor's degree from Harvard and a law degree from Northwestern, Charles Brown should have found the job market both exciting and receptive in 1970, a year of expanded economy and bright prospects, but this was not the case. Even though he had impressive credentials and good grades, his job search was difficult. He was blind. It was not the first time he had observed adverse and extraordinary treatment of the blind, but it was the first time he had personally faced such serious discrimination. It took him an entire year and more than a hundred interviews before he found a job.

In 1971 Brown became a staff attorney in the Solicitor's Office at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and earned regular promotions. He eventually became the DOL's counsel for special legal services. After twenty years Brown left the DOL in 1991 to join the legal staff at the National Science Foundation (NSF) as assistant general counsel. He is the NSF's designated agency ethics official, responsible for managing the Foundation's ethics counseling, conflict-of-interest prevention, and financial-disclosure programs.

Brown has received numerous awards. DOL presented him with achievement awards five times--in 1979, 1985, twice in 1986, and 1987. In 1982 he received the Distinguished Career Service Award, one of the Department of Labor's highest honors--often presented at the time of retirement. But Attorney Brown was chosen for this honor after only eleven years of service. He capped his DOL career by receiving the Secretary of Labor's Recognition Award in 1991. NSF has, so far, presented Brown with three Merit Awards, in 1994, 1995, and 1998. He has also received two awards from the U.S. Office of Government Ethics--an Outstanding Ethics Program Award in 1998 and an Outstanding Service Award in 1999 (for his work as an officer of the federal Interagency Ethics Council).

Born blind in 1944 with congenital cataracts, Charlie Brown entered a family that expected success from its members, and he met the expectation. He attended Perkins School for the Blind until the eighth grade. He then attended Wellesley Senior High School in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and graduated in 1963, going immediately to Harvard. When he applied to Northwestern Law School, questions were raised about blindness. He answered them satisfactorily and believes he was one of the first blind law students ever to study there.

During summer jobs in 1966, 1967, and 1968 at agencies serving the blind in Chicago, Brown learned firsthand of the abuses of the sheltered workshop system for the blind in this country. Also at that time he met Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and made his initial contact with the National Federation of the Blind. Jernigan was speaking at a national conference which, among other things, was considering ways of improving methods of instruction and increasing the availability of Braille. After the meeting Brown talked with Jernigan and began to subscribe to the Braille Monitor, the Federation's magazine. It was not until 1973, however, when he received a personal invitation from a chapter member in Northern Virginia, that he went to a Federation meeting.

Through a chapter in Northern Virginia Brown officially joined the Federation in 1974 and later that year was elected to office. In 1978 he became President of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia and has been re-elected to that position for successive two-year terms ever since. He was first elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 1984.

Brown believes in serving his community. He is a member of the Kiwanis Club and of the Arlington County voter registrars' advisory committee. He recently completed a term on the advisory board of Northern Virginia's fair housing agency.

Brown has always taken an active part in the life of the United Church of Christ. He has been a deacon, taught Sunday school, and serves energetically on committees at the Rock Spring Congregational Church. He has served generously at the Church's national level. In 1979 he was elected a corporate member of the United Church Board of Homeland Ministries (the body that oversees the missions work of the United Church of Christ). Within two years he was named Chairman of the prestigious Policy and Planning Committee and a member of the Executive Committee, both positions that he filled with distinction for four years. He continues to be active in the Board's alumni group.

Brown met his wife Jacqueline during law school, and the couple now has two sons, Richard (born in 1974) and Stephen (born in 1978).

Brown says: "I used to believe that one had to overcome blindness in order to be successful, but I have come to realize that it is respectable to be blind. Our challenge as Federationists is to persuade society of this truth."

Donald C. Capps
Insurance Executive and Civic Leader

Don and Betty Capps
Don and Betty Capps

Few more compelling examples of personal independence and social contribution can be found among either sighted or blind Americans than Donald C. Capps of Columbia, South Carolina. Since the inception of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina in 1956, he has served fifteen two-year terms as President, retiring from this office in the year 2000. He has subsequently served as President Emeritus of the affiliate. Capps was elected Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind in 1959 and served in that capacity until 1968 when he was elected First Vice President and served with distinction in that position until 1984, when for health reasons he asked that his name not be placed in nomination. In 1985 Capps (restored in health) was again enthusiastically and unanimously elected to membership on the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, a position which he still holds.

Born in 1928, Capps was educated at the South Carolina School for the Blind and later in public schools. Following his graduation from high school, he enrolled in Draughon's Business College in Columbia and after graduation joined the Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company in Columbia as a claims examiner trainee. By the time of his retirement, he had risen to the position of Staff Manager of the Claims Department.

Capps first became interested in the organized blind movement in 1953 and the following year was elected President of the Columbia Chapter of the Aurora Club of the Blind (now the NFB of South Carolina), before assuming the presidency of the state organization. Under Capps's energetic leadership the NFB of South Carolina successfully backed thirty pieces of legislation affecting the blind citizens of the state, including establishment of a separate agency serving the blind. Capps edits the Palmetto Blind, the quarterly publication of the NFB of South Carolina. In 1960 Capps directed a campaign which led to construction of the NFB of South Carolina's $230,000 education and recreation center, which was expanded in 1970 and again in 1978. He now serves as a member of its Board of Trustees. He has been instrumental in establishing full-time daily operations of the Federation Center.

In December, 1972, the Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company presented Capps with an award for "twenty-five years of efficient, faithful, and loyal service." In 1985 Don Capps retired from the Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company after thirty-eight years of service.

In 1965 Capps was honored as Handicapped Man of the Year, by both the City of Columbia and the State of South Carolina. He has held numerous appointments on community and state boards and bodies. He has been a leader in Rotary, church, and civic organizations. In 1977 he was elected Vice Chairman of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind Consumer Advisory Committee. Also in 1977, at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Don Capps received the highest honor bestowed by the organized blind movement, the Jacobus tenBroek Award. In 1981 he was appointed by the Governor of South Carolina to membership on the Board of Commissioners of the South Carolina School for the Blind, where he serves as Vice Chairman.

Other awards and honors Capps has received include the Outstanding Leader in Education Award in 1994 (given by National School Public Relations Association). In 1999 he received the Colonel Sanders "Colonel's Way" award. Also that year the CBS television affiliate in Columbia presented him the Jefferson Award for community leadership. In late 2000, in appreciation for his contributions to the school and to the lives of blind South Carolinians, the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind dedicated to Capps its book celebrating its 150 years of service to the community. In 2000 he also received the Order of the Palmetto, the highest honor conferred by the State of South Carolina.

Betty Capps has been an active Federationist as long as her husband has. The Cappses have two grown children, Craig and Beth, and three grandchildren. Although Donald Capps has retired from business, he continues to be as active and effective as ever in the Federation, exemplifying leadership and confidence. His ongoing dedication to the NFB provides inspiration and encouragement to his many colleagues and friends within and outside the Federation.

Wayne Davis
Businessman and community leader

Wayne and  Carmen Davis
Wayne and Carmen Davis

In September of 1952 a ten-year-old boy enrolled in the fifth grade at the Tennessee School for the Blind. Though no one knew it at the time, it was to be the final year in which Kenneth Jernigan taught at the school--in the spring he would lose his job for defending students being abused by members of the teaching and administrative staff. The name of the child entering the fifth grade was Wayne Davis, and although he did not have Dr. Jernigan as a teacher that year, he remembers that he was well aware of the respect and love in which the students held this young and courageous teacher. He never imagined at the time what a profound impact Kenneth Jernigan would have on his life in later years.

Davis was born in Abingdon, Virginia in 1942, and his family soon moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where his father worked at the Atomic Energy Commission. From his earliest years it was clear that Wayne's vision was poor and becoming poorer. Luckily for him his special education teacher in the public school recognized his need to learn Braille, so they tackled memorizing the code together.

Attending the School for the Blind for several years enabled Davis to master Braille and other useful techniques, but by the time he finished the eighth grade he was ready to return to public school, where he graduated with honors. Since Davis was interested in pursuing a career in music (he played both guitar and bass), he decided not to attend college.

For a number of years he made his living playing in country and rock bands and supplemented his pay by doing anything he could turn his hand to, including training horses and doing telephone sales.

In 1972 he met and shortly afterward married a blind woman originally from Cuba, Carmen Florida. Their only child, a son David, was born a year later. Davis entered the Randolph-Sheppard Vending Program and worked in a number of locations first in Georgia and then in Florida before leaving to work for radio station WIOD in Miami. Among other duties he reported on traffic. He then left to open his own business scanning emergency frequencies and reporting the information he gathered to insurance companies.

In 1988 Wayne and Carmen Davis discovered the National Federation of the Blind. They threw themselves enthusiastically into the Federation's work. Wayne became President of the Greater Miami Chapter that year, a post he held for six years. Also that year he began serving on the state affiliate's board of directors. A year later he was elected First Vice President, and when the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida resigned for personal reasons in 1990, he completed her term as President. He has been reelected every two years since. In 1995 he was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind.

The Florida affiliate has flourished during the years of Wayne Davis's presidency. Five of the sixteen chapters have been organized under his administration, and there are plans to create several more. Wayne Davis says: "The NFB of Florida works hard to improve the lives of the state's blind citizens. But it is more than a committed group of volunteers; it is a loving community of those who share a vision of what life can be for blind people. Both Carmen and I were only children. We never knew the joys and sorrows of a large family of brothers and sisters, but in the years since we joined the Federation, we have found our true home. We have discovered that we actually have fifty thousand brothers and sisters, all of them members of the National Federation of the Blind."

Priscilla Ferris
Homemaker, Girl Scout Administrator, and Community Activist

Priscilla and Jack Ferris
Priscilla and Jack Ferris

In 1938 Priscilla Pacheco Ferris was born in Dighton, Massachusetts. From the time she was a small child she knew she had weak eyesight, but she and her family did not know that the condition, retinitis pigmentosa, would deteriorate into total blindness. During her early school years Ferris used print, but three years later, when her brother (who had the same eye condition) entered school, the staff refused to teach two blind children. So the Pacheco youngsters enrolled in the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts.

When Ferris entered Perkins, she was beginning the fourth grade, and she was expected to learn Braille immediately even though she could still read large print. She remembers that it took her about a month. She didn't feel put upon; it was simply a challenge. Today she recalls this when she must deal with debates about which method a blind child should use to read, Braille or print. "Teach both," Ferris says unequivocally. "Low-vision children were able to learn both when I was a kid, and things haven't changed that much since."

After high school graduation in 1956 Priscilla Pacheco worked first in a curtain factory and then in a cookie factory, doing whatever needed to be done, including assembly line work, packaging, and packing. She married Jack Ferris in 1961, and in 1963 she resigned from her job to begin a family. The Ferrises now have two grown daughters and four grandchildren (one granddaughter and three grandsons).

In 1977 Priscilla Ferris attended business school, where she earned a degree and graduated with distinction. Then she found a job as secretary for the Fall River Public Schools, where she worked until funding cuts eliminated her position.

From her curtain factory days until her own daughters were involved in scouting, Ferris led Girl Scout troops from time to time. In 1974 she began fourteen years as town administrator for the Girl Scouts in Somerset, Massachusetts, a job in which she was responsible for the entire scouting program for the city. She quips that, not only can she light a fire in the rain, raise a tent in a storm, and dig a latrine almost anywhere, but she can teach anyone else to do the same. In 1986 she was elected to the Board of Directors of the Girl Scout Council of Plymouth Bay and served two consecutive three-year terms. She continues to volunteer her time and experience to help the Scouts.

Ferris first heard of the National Federation of the Blind when a new chapter was formed in her area in 1961, but she did not join the Federation until 1973 shortly before losing the remainder of her eyesight. In 1976 she was elected President of the Greater Fall River Chapter of the NFB of Massachusetts and served in this capacity until 1991.

In 1977 Ferris was elected Second Vice President of the NFB of Massachusetts and in 1981 became First Vice President. In 1983 she became President of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts and has been re-elected for succeeding two-year terms ever since. She was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind in July of 1987.

Today she serves on numerous advisory councils and boards in the blindness field and volunteers as an outreach educator throughout her community.

Bruce A. Gardner
Attorney, Church Leader, and Community Activist

Bruce and Becca Gardner
Bruce and Becca Gardner

Bruce A. Gardner of Mesa, Arizona, was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind at its 1997 Convention in New Orleans. Bruce is a long-time Federationist, and he is also known and respected for many of his other activities and accomplishments.

Bruce was born in Morenci, Arizona, in 1955. As a child he gradually lost his sight and was diagnosed at the age of eight with juvenile bilateral macular degeneration. Two of his seven brothers are also blind.

Bruce attended public school for both his elementary and secondary education. Of course neither his family nor the educators around him had learned about blindness from the National Federation of the Blind. Therefore, like other partially blind children of that era, Bruce was never helped to adjust to his blindness and was not taught the skills which are essential to successful blind people. Looking back, Bruce says that he had no role models to emulate except, of course, for the hapless Mr. Magoo.

This lack of proper training as a child is one of Bruce's biggest regrets. Instead of learning to use Braille and the other proven alternative techniques, he relied upon magnifying glasses and his mother's reading to help him complete high school.

In spite of his poor training and limited view of his abilities, Bruce was determined to get an education to ensure some kind of success in adulthood. Therefore, following his high school graduation, he enrolled in Brigham Young University, where he majored in interpersonal communications.

The years 1976, '77, and '78 struck like a bolt of lightning and turned out to be pivotal in Bruce Gardner's development and in his life. First, in the summer of 1976 he was introduced to the National Federation of the Blind by his brother, Dr. Norman Gardner, and his life was changed forever. Bruce was just completing a two-year Mormon Mission when Norman first gave him some Federation materials to read. Norman said, "Bruce, have I ever got something for you!"

In the summer of 1977 Bruce took advantage of the opportunity to become a summer student at the Idaho Commission for the Blind's Orientation and Adjustment Center. He also attended his first National Federation of the Blind Convention that summer in New Orleans, and he was invited to attend a National Leadership Seminar that Christmas.

In April of 1978 Bruce met Becca, his future wife. He also served an NFB internship with Jim Gashel in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1978, and he married Becca in November. This Bruce Gardner was a far cry from the insecure and frightened young man whose only role model had been Mr. Magoo.

Bruce settled into family and school life and earned his B.A. degree magna cum laude from Brigham Young in 1979. By the time of graduation he had already decided to go to law school, and he had been accepted at Brigham Young. He graduated from Brigham Young law school cum laude in 1982.

Bruce had the usual run-ins with discrimination against the blind. When he decided to go to law school, he tried to take the Law School Aptitude Test--the national test for prospective law school students. He was refused. Therefore Brigham Young accepted him based on his outstanding undergraduate record.

In 1981 he had his second run-in with discrimination. Like other law school students, Bruce spent his summers clerking. In the summer between his second and third years he clerked in a firm of approximately thirty lawyers, where he reported to one of the managing partners. It is common for law firms to make employment offers to second-year law clerks. No job offer was made to Bruce, however, even though everyone found his work outstanding. The managing partner later apologized for the short-sightedness of his partners--they simply refused to hire a blind attorney.

But some good things happened too. In the law school's moot court competition, Bruce received the Dean's Cup, given to the outstanding oralist. The Cup was presented to Bruce personally by U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist.

Upon graduation the search for that elusive first job also proved to be difficult. Typically top law school students choose a number of firms with whom they would like to interview on campus. The firms then review the students' résumés and follow up by interviewing those students in whom they are interested. Despite the fact that Bruce was one of the top students in his class, he got only about half as many invitations to interview as his classmates.

Fortunately for Bruce, he received job offers from some of the largest and most prestigious law firms in Salt Lake City and Phoenix. He says he is grateful that, thanks to the work of the Federation, his experience was different from that of Dr. Newel Perry, who never found a job in mathematics, the profession for which he was trained and qualified, and from that of NFB founder Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, who had to begin his working career with temporary, part-time employment.

Bruce began his career with the firm of Streich, Lang, Weeks, and Cardon, P.A., in Phoenix, where he worked for three years handling real estate transactions and litigation cases. Then in 1985 he accepted a position as an in-house attorney with the Arizona Public Service Company (Arizona's largest electric utility company), where he works today.

He has now risen to the position of senior attorney. In this capacity he oversees all of the numerous tort and commercial litigation cases involving the company, and he handles all of its legal real estate matters.

Bruce Gardner's life is a visible demonstration of the soundness of the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. In addition to his legal work, Bruce is a committed family man. He and Becca are the proud parents of six children, three of whom are teenagers. Bruce and his family enjoy raising horses, goats, pigs, ducks, and geese on what some would call his gentleman's farm. He has always enjoyed scouting activities and was an Eagle Scout himself. He has held various positions with the Boy Scouts and today serves as a scout troop committee member. Bruce participates in many scouting events with his three sons--mountain climbing and backpacking. He has even hiked the Grand Canyon from rim to rim to rim. He and his oldest son recently took scuba diving lessons and became certified open-water divers. Besides all of this, Bruce and several of his children play and sing country and western music together, sounding like professionals.

Bruce is also active in his church. He has held various volunteer positions with the church and since early 1997 has served as Bishop of the Lehi First Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In his capacity as Bishop he serves as the spiritual leader and day-to-day lay administrator for his church.

Then there is community activity. Bruce believes that being an active member of his community is

also an important part of Federationism. He has served as president of the Lehi Community Improvement Association since 1995. He is a member of the Lehi Citizens on Patrol, a neighborhood crime prevention task force, which patrols the Lehi community, and he serves as Republican precinct committeeman in the district where his home is located.

Another large part of Bruce's mission in life is to share NFB philosophy with others. He has done this informally by speaking with friends and acquaintances and as a mentor for other blind people. He has also held many appointed and elected positions in the NFB--as a member of the National Scholarship Committee and as director of the Legislative Committee for the NFB of Arizona. He served for ten years as First Vice President of the NFB of Arizona and was elected President in 1995.

In addition Bruce has held several positions from which he has been able to have influence in other ways. He is a past member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, was appointed by the Governor of Arizona to serve on the Board of Directors of the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, and has been appointed by two Arizona Governors to serve on the Arizona Governor's Council on Blindness and Visual Impairment.

The National Federation of the Blind is fortunate to have found Bruce. He is also fortunate to have found the Federation, since the Federation taught him the truth about blindness and helped him to overcome his low expectations and low self-esteem. Today Bruce agrees with Henry Ford, who said, "If you think you can or you can't, you're right."

Bruce Gardner has taken the training and followed the opportunities that life has brought his way. He has found alternative ways of doing anything he would have done with eyesight and is, therefore, successful doing whatever he decides to do.

Sam Gleese
Businessman and Ordained Minister

In 1947 Vicksburg, Mississippi, was not an ideal place for a black child to be born with congenital cataracts. For years no one even noticed that little Sam Gleese had difficulty seeing, least of all Sam himself. He simply assumed that everyone else saw things with the hazy imprecision that he did.

Vanessa and Sam Gleese
Vanessa and Sam Gleese

One day, when he was in the second grade, the teacher in the segregated school he attended sent a note home, asking his mother to come to school for a conference. To the Gleese family's astonishment she told them that Sam had significant difficulty seeing to read and do board work. By the fourth grade the bouts of surgery had begun. Glasses (which Sam hated and forgot to wear most of the time) were prescribed. But none of this effort enabled young Sam to glimpse much of what his friends could see. Then, in 1962 when he was fifteen, Sam underwent surgery that gave him enough vision to show him by comparison just how little he had seen until that time.

He graduated from high school in 1966 and enrolled that fall at Jackson State College, where he majored in business administration. Looking back, Sam is sure that he was legally blind throughout these years, but he never considered that he might have anything in common with the blind students he saw on campus. His struggle was always to see, and that made him sighted. Occasionally he was forced to deal with his difficulty in reading, particularly when a fellow student or teacher pointed out what he seemed to be missing, but for the most part he denied his situation and resented those who tried to make him face his problem.

After graduation in 1970, Sam joined a management training program conducted by K-Mart. Everyone agreed that he was excellent on the floor and dealing with employees, but, though he did not realize it, he was extremely unreliable in doing paperwork. He consistently put information on the wrong line. His supervisor confronted him with the problem and told him he had vision trouble. Sam hotly denied it, but within the year he was out of the program.

During the following years Gleese applied repeatedly for jobs that would use his business training. When he supplied information about his medical history and his vision, would-be employers lost interest. Finally in late 1972 he got a job as assistant night stock clerk with a grocery chain. He had a wife to support--he and Vanessa Smith had married in August of 1970--and he needed whatever job he could find. Gradually he worked his way up to assistant frozen food manager in the chain, though it wasn't easy.

Then in 1979 his retinas detached, and within a few weeks late in the year he had become almost totally blind. For a month or two he was profoundly depressed. His wife, however, refused to give up on him or his situation. Gradually Gleese began to realize that she was right. He could still provide for his family and find meaningful work to do. He just had to master the alternative methods used by blind people. Early in 1980 he enrolled in an adult training center in Jackson, where he learned Braille, cane travel, and daily living skills. He is still remembered in the program for the speed with which he completed his training. By the following summer he was working as a volunteer counselor at the center, and in the fall, with the help of the state vocational rehabilitation agency, he and his wife Vanessa were working in their own tax preparation business.

It was difficult, however, to maintain a sufficient income year round, and the Gleeses had a daughter Nicole, born in 1976, to think about. In 1983 Sam decided to try taking a job making mops in the area sheltered workshop for the blind. He worked there for two years until a staff member pointed out that he could do better for himself in the state's Randolph-Sheppard Vending Program, which had finally been opened to African Americans in 1980-81.

In January of 1985 Sam Gleese was assigned the worst vending stand in the state of Mississippi. Because of his degree in business administration, his phenomenal record in personal rehabilitation, and his work history in the grocery business, officials decided that he needed no training but could learn the program in his own location. He spent two years in that facility, mastering the business and improving his techniques. Then during the next several years he had somewhat better locations. But in 1992 he bid on an excellent facility, then appealed the decision which awarded it to another vendor. Though the appeal decision which eventually came down did not give him personal redress, it did correct unfair practices that had plagued many vendors in Mississippi for years. In April of 1994 Sam, with the help of his wife Vanessa, became the manager of one of the largest food service operations in the state vending program.

Gleese has always been active in the Missionary Baptist Church. From 1973 to 1990 he taught the adult Sunday school class in his own church, and in 1980 he became a Deacon. He was ordained to the ministry in November of 1992 and is now senior associate minister at the College Hill Baptist Church. He heads the scouting program and the tape ministry.

Sam Gleese first heard about the National Federation of the Blind in the early 1980's and attended his first National Convention in 1983. He reports that from that moment on he has been a committed Federationist. Vanessa has worked steadily beside him through the years as he has struggled to improve the lives of Mississippi's blind citizens. He became President of one of the state's local chapters in 1985, and the following year he was elected state President. He has continued to serve in that office ever since. Under his leadership the number of chapters in the Mississippi affiliate has nearly tripled.

In 1992 Gleese was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind. He has dedicated his life to educating the public, blind and sighted alike, about the abilities of blind people. According to him, too many people in Mississippi believe, as he did for many years, that blind people can do nothing and belong in rocking chairs and back rooms. Sam Gleese is making a difference everywhere he puts his hand.

In May of 1999 Sam was chosen by the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, to serve as chairperson of the newly formed Mayor's Advisory Committee on Disabilities. In September of that year he was appointed and confirmed by the City Council of Jackson, as the first blind person to serve on the Jackson-Hinds Library Administrative Board. This board oversees the services of public libraries in each of the seven towns in the Hinds-County area.

In August, 2000, Sam retired from the vending program for health reasons. He is now serving in the Ameri-Corps volunteer program. The project with which he is associated encourages and enables people with disabilities to become fully involved in the community. The program is the only one of its kind in Mississippi and is staffed by disabled people. Sam explains that the other Ameri-Corps programs are designed to assist in education--tutoring and the like--but this program allows him to increase his outreach to blind people and the general disability community. It provides him yet one more way, he says, of living his Federationism and ministering to the people he is called to serve.

Diane McGeorge
Medical Secretary and Agency Director

Ray and Diane McGeorge
Ray and Diane McGeorge

Diane McGeorge was born in 1932 and grew up in Nebraska. She was blinded by meningitis at age two. She graduated from the Nebraska School for the Blind. After that she learned that no blind person--regardless of how well-qualified--has an easy time in the job market. She enrolled in a Denver business college to learn typing and transcribing before going on to the University of Colorado to train as a medical secretary, her profession for a number of years, with time away to raise her family.

McGeorge spent eight years as a full-time homemaker and mother, including stints as den mother, Sunday school teacher, and PTA officer. Throughout these years she was a passive member of the Federation. She served on committees and prepared refreshments, but she did not consider that she had any part in the struggle of the blind against discrimination. Her husband Ray was much more active in the Federation. She ignored or overlooked the instances when she had been turned down by landlords or barred from restaurants because of her dog guide, describing her actions as "looking on the bright side."

However, McGeorge attended the 1973 NFB convention in New York City and discovered for herself the power and commitment that derive from shared experience and determination to alter the status quo. From that moment her life began to change. This is the way she tells it:

"One bitterly cold day in December, Ray and I stopped at a run-down coffee shop. It was the only warm place available, or we wouldn't have set foot in it. We did so, however, and when we did, the proprietor told us we couldn't bring my guide dog in. I was so furious I almost burst into tears. I walked out, but I thought and thought about that experience--and I said, deep in my heart, that nobody was ever going to make me feel that way again. I had been a coward to let it happen.

"About six months later we attempted to go to a movie, and the manager said we couldn't bring the dog into the theater. I was well acquainted with Colorado's White Cane Law, so we had what turned out to be a two-hour battle over the issue. I came away from there not feeling cowardly or guilty or as if I were not quite as good as the manager because he could see and I couldn't."

In 1976 Diane McGeorge assumed the state presidency of the NFB of Colorado, and she served in that office for fifteen years before deciding to step down in September of 1991. She was again elected to the presidency in 1995. Under her leadership the NFB of Colorado has become one of the strongest state affiliates in the Federation. In January of 1988 the NFB of Colorado took a giant step forward in serving the blind of the state. The Colorado Center for the Blind, an adult rehabilitation center with Diane McGeorge as executive director, opened its doors for business. Four students enrolled initially, and the numbers have been growing ever since. These students learn the skills of blindness from teachers who believe in the fundamental competence of the blind. But, even more important, they learn positive attitudes about blindness. Diane left the post of agency director in 1999 and now chairs the agency's board of directors.

In 1977 McGeorge was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, an honor and responsibility which she continues to hold. From 1984 to 1992 she served as the organization's First Vice President. In 1982 Diane and Ray McGeorge were presented the Jacobus tenBroek Award for their work in improving the lives of the nation's blind.

McGeorge says of her life since 1973, "These years have been more stimulating and rewarding than any previous period in my life. I don't wish to imply that I was unhappy prior to becoming active in the Federation--quite the contrary. I was busy, and the things I was doing were important. But they were not as important as the Federation's agenda. Each thing the NFB does affects tens of thousands of people. Part of what I have learned is that what I do matters.

"I suppose," she says, "it is a commentary on the way I used to feel about myself; but until the last few years, it never occurred to me that anyone could do what I have done and am doing--let alone that I could. I would have been astonished to learn that thousands of blind people could and would work together to make real changes that affect all of us profoundly."

Carla McQuillan
Montessori Teacher and Business Owner

Carla and Lucas McQuillan
Carla and Lucas McQuillan

Carla McQuillan was born the youngest of four children in Orange County, California, in the spring of 1961. When she was eight years old, one of her older brothers complained of a significant loss of vision. Unable to diagnose the cause of such a serious condition, the ophthalmologist referred the family to a psychiatrist. When a year of psychiatric counseling proved an ineffective treatment for the child's problem, the family sought out another eye-care specialist. Within months of her brother's diagnosis of juvenile macular degeneration, McQuillan experienced a sudden loss of vision that left her legally blind as well.

Determined that her blindness would not adversely affect her life, McQuillan engaged in elaborate efforts to hide her blindness from the world--a charade that would dictate her every action for the twenty years to follow.

Carla attended a local community school. She received no training in the skills of blindness, even though she was unable to read print without significant strain and difficulty. Because her parents had no notion of how to raise blind children, McQuillan and her brother were expected to compete with their peers: an attitude and approach to which she attributes her subsequent success and determination.

Throughout high school and college McQuillan competed on the forensics team, memorizing all of her speeches and the literature that she performed. In 1981 Carla married Lucas McQuillan, the captain of her college debate team. At that time she left college to support him through graduate school.

In looking for work, McQuillan targeted jobs that didn't require acute vision. Still pretending to have normal sight, she was able to secure a job in the field of childcare. In the spring of 1982 McQuillan received Montessori teaching certification and taught in Montessori schools until 1988, when she returned to college to complete her bachelor's degree. By this time the McQuillans had a five-year-old daughter and a plethora of student loans.

McQuillan learned of the Federation in 1988 as the recipient of the first Frank Walton Horn Scholarship, awarded by the NFB of Illinois. When she discovered that it was respectable to be blind, she immediately dispensed with her charade. She served as the Illinois Student Chapter President and Treasurer and also as a member of the state Board of Directors.

In 1990 the McQuillan family moved to Oregon. During her first year in Oregon she organized a chapter in her local community and was elected to the Board of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon. In 1992 she was elected President of the NFB of Oregon and has served successive two-year terms ever since.

In 1993 she opened Children's Choice Montessori School, where she served as director of a forty-five-student preschool. In 1996 she purchased an acre of land and had a building constructed to accommodate a growing preschool and elementary program. By 1998 the enrollment had exceeded the facility's seventy-student capacity, and two new classrooms were built.

Today McQuillan is the Executive Director of Main Street Montessori Association, operating two school facilities with a combined enrollment of 125 students. In addition, the Association hosts an annual professional Montessori conference, at which McQuillan has presented many workshops and a keynote address.

Carla was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 1998 and has been returned to the Board every two years since. She serves as the Director of NFB Camp, a program that provides care and activities for over 100 children during the National Convention each year. Her husband Lucas and their two children (Allison, born in 1983, and Duncan, born in 1989) are all active members of the National Federation of the Blind.

Carla says, "My parents had high expectations, but it was the Federation that instilled the confidence and provided the tools necessary for me to become a successful blind person."

Noel Nightingale
Attorney, Rehabilitation Manager, Wife, and Mother            

Jim Peterson and Noel Nightingale
Jim Peterson and Noel Nightingale

Born August 22, 1964, Noel Nightingale was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when she was a senior at Whitman College in Washington State. Since her father, who was also blind, had put himself through law school and married, Nightingale knew intellectually that blind people could be successful. But she found it difficult to pull the entire package of alternative techniques together. The summer of 1991, as she was getting ready to return to graduate school, she won an NFB scholarship and for the first time got to know other students and young professionals who traveled efficiently and independently and who used Braille as an integrated tool in their work. Even so, she entered law school that fall still using large-print books and the Zoomtext computer-screen-enlargement program. However, as she continued her studies at the University of Washington Law School, Nightingale realized that she needed to acquire alternative techniques before entering the profession of law.

Three very important events occurred in Noel's life in 1994. She graduated with honors from law school, became engaged to Jim Peterson, and enrolled for adult rehabilitation training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB), one of the programs conducted by the National Federation of the Blind based on NFB philosophy. At LCB Nightingale learned more than the skills of blindness. She began to internalize and personalize the belief that she could be successful.

Successful Noel has certainly been during the years since. In 1995, after she graduated from the LCB program, Nightingale accepted a job practicing environmental law with the Seattle firm of Heller Ehrmann White and McAuliffe. She found the work challenging, and she proved to herself that she could compete effectively in the rough and tumble of a big-city law firm.

But in 2000 Nightingale's career took a new direction. In her law firm job, while her mind had certainly been engaged, her heart had not been. She has now taken a new job and dedicated her life to serving blind people as blindness skills development director at Washington State Services for the Blind, the state's vocational rehabilitation agency for the blind. This position allows her to combine her personal life as an advocate for blind people, her first-rate rehabilitation training, and her legal experience to help improve the state's services to its blind citizens.

Nightingale has also held a number of leadership positions at the local, state, and national levels of the National Federation of the Blind. From 1991 to 1993 she was Treasurer of the NFB student division, the National Association of Blind Students. She was the Seattle Chapter President from 1996 to 1998, and she has chaired the NFB's Pre-authorized Check Plan Committee since 1997. She has been the Washington state affiliate president since her election in 1998, and in 1999 she was elected to the NFB's national Board of Directors.

In addition she has found time to volunteer for other important civic service. She served on the Advisory Council of the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind from 1988 to 1994. From 1995 until its recent closing she served on the board of directors of the Westside Place School, a nonprofit school for children with learning disabilities. She was appointed by Washington's governor to the Board of Trustees of the Washington State School for the Blind in 1997.

Noel Nightingale lives in Seattle with her husband Jim and their daughter Leila Nightingale Peterson, who was born in November of 1999. She says of the National Federation of the Blind:

The National Federation of the Blind is like no other nonprofit organization. The NFB is its members, and we dedicate our lives to helping improve the lives of blind people everywhere. NFB members are a family of people with like minds, the determination collectively to improve the lives of blind people, and the discipline actually to do it. Our members work day and night. We use our vacation time; we use our leisure time; we do what it takes to help blind people. And we have the results to show the effectiveness of our work over the past sixty years. I am grateful to those who were working on my behalf when I didn't even know it, and I intend to repay my debt by helping future generations of blind people.

 

Joanne Wilson
Teacher and Agency Director

Harold and Joanne Wilson
Harold and Joanne Wilson

Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1946, Joanne Ziehan Wilson moved with her parents to Webster City, Iowa, when she was seven. When she was three, doctors discovered that she had retinitis pigmentosa. She remembers everyone's attitude toward her poor eyesight. No one regarded her as blind, but everyone knew her eye condition could lead to blindness--a fact which friends and family did not want to confront. The whispers taught Wilson that this being "blind" was a dreadful thing. She learned to pretend she could see to avoid the pity that would follow if she could not. And she learned to avoid thinking about blindness. It was too awful. Never once can Wilson remember discussing blindness with a teacher or friend at school. She never met a single blind person. All she knew was that she did not want to be blind or think about the possibility. Being blind wasn't respectable.

After Wilson graduated from high school, she enrolled in a junior college. At that time the Iowa Commission for the Blind conducted a career day for blind students, which she attended. For the first time she met blind people. They were confident and capable. She decided that at the end of her second year of junior college she would take time out to attend the Orientation and Adjustment Center. Those nine months she describes as "the most exciting time of my life. I found freedom, and it wasn't always easy."

In 1969 Joanne Wilson graduated with honors from Iowa State University, where she received a B.S. in Elementary Education. During one quarter she was selected as a Merrill Palmer Scholar to do advanced work in education in Detroit, Michigan.

For the next four years Wilson taught elementary school (second and fourth grades) in the Ames, Iowa, public school system. In 1971 she received a master's degree in guidance and counseling and administration. During this time Wilson helped to organize the North Central Iowa Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, and she served for several years as its president. From 1977 to 1979 she was First Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa.

In 1973 Wilson had stopped teaching to begin a family. She is now the mother of five children ages sixteen to twenty-seven. In 1979 she and her family moved to Louisiana, and here she continued her Federation work. In 1981 Wilson led the formation of a new NFB chapter in her hometown of Ruston, Louisiana, and forty people attended the first meeting. It was the eighth chapter in the state. Today Louisiana boasts twenty-two chapters.

Joanne Wilson was elected President of the NFB of Louisiana in 1983 and has been elected for successive two-year terms ever since. In 1985 Governor Edwin Edwards recommended to the State Legislature that money be appropriated directly to the NFB of Louisiana for a training center for blind adults, and the prestige and reputation of the organization were such that the legislature responded affirmatively.

The Louisiana Center for the Blind opened in October of 1985 with Joanne Wilson, who has received certification to teach visually-impaired students, as its director; and the program which she has built is today recognized throughout the nation as a model of excellence. Well over five hundred fifty students have now enrolled in the program, and they graduate ready for competition in the mainstream of society and convinced that it is respectable to be blind. In the spring of 1991 Joanne, who had been divorced from her first husband for a number of years, married Harold Wilson, a quiet man who shares his wife's dedication to improving the lives of blind people everywhere.

Gary Wunder
Programmer Analyst-Expert and Electronics Technologist                   

Gary Wunder was born three months prematurely in 1955, the oldest of four children. His family lived in Kansas City, Missouri, and Wunder remembers that since he was blind from birth, he managed to persuade everyone in his family except his father to do precisely what he wanted. It would be many years before Wunder could appreciate his father's instinctive understanding that Gary had to learn to do things for himself.

Gary Wunder
Gary Wunder

Wunder tells with amusement the story of his dawning awareness of his blindness. When he was quite young, his home had sliding glass doors separating the living room from the patio. When those doors were closed, he could not hear and therefore did not know what was happening on the other side and assumed that no one else could either. One day he found several soft drink bottles on the patio and broke them. His father then opened the doors and asked if he had broken the bottles. Gary said he had not and that he did not know how they had been broken. His father then astonished him by saying that both his parents had watched him break the bottles and that his mother was now crying because she had thought surely her baby couldn't tell a lie. Gary's response was to say, "Well, she knows better now."

Wunder attended grades one through five at a Kansas City public school. When he was ten, a boy who attended the Missouri School for the Blind persuaded him that he was missing real life by staying at home. At the school, his friend told him, kids rode trains and buses. They could bowl and swim and didn't have to listen to parents. As a result Wunder did some persuading at home and was on hand for sixth grade and some necessary but painful lessons about that real world.

At the close of seventh grade Wunder returned to public schools, having learned several vitally important lessons: he knew the basics of using a white cane; he recognized that his father's demands on him had sprung from strong love and eagerness for his son to succeed; and he understood that people beyond his own family had worth and deserved his respect. But he had also learned that the school for the blind was not the promised land, and he was delighted to be once more in public schools for eighth grade and high school. He was elected to the National Honor Society his senior year but struggled with the mechanics of getting his work done. Braille was not readily available, and readers were hard to recruit without money to pay them.

Wunder planned to attend the University of Missouri at Kansas City in order to live with his grandmother, but after a taste of freedom at the orientation center in Columbia, Missouri, the summer before college he decided to enroll at the University's Columbia campus, where everyone walked everywhere and where he could contrive as many as three or four dates an evening if he hurried from place to place.

Wunder enjoys recounting the adventure which persuaded him that a blind person should always carry a white cane: "I was having dinner with a young woman who lived near me, so I had not brought my cane, figuring that I wouldn't need it. To my consternation and her distress, my plate of liver and onions slid into my lap. She asked if I wanted her to walk me home so that I could change. I was already so embarrassed that I assured her I would be right back and that I did not need her assistance. The busiest intersection in Columbia lay between me and clean slacks, and after I successfully survived that street crossing, I swore that I would never again be caught without my cane."

Wunder decided to major in political science and philosophy because he felt compelled to avoid the science and math that he loved but feared to take. During his sophomore year he met a professor from Central Missouri State University who suggested that he was ducking the challenge. Together they explored the question of whether or not a blind person could follow schematics and read voltmeters. The answers seemed to be yes, so Wunder transferred to Central Missouri State, where he graduated in 1977 with a degree in electronics technology. He had done well with the courses, but he did not see how he could run a repair shop with its responsibility for mastering hundreds of schematics for appliances. He could teach electronics, but the professors from whom he had learned the most were those who had firsthand experience. He didn't want to be the theory-only kind of teacher.

Wunder looked for interim jobs after graduation while he tried to decide what to do, and he discovered the hard way that blind job-seekers have to be better than the competition in order to be considered at all. He vowed to become so well trained at doing something that would-be employers could not ignore him. Wunder enrolled in a ten-month course in computer programming offered by the Extension Division of the University of Missouri. No blind person had ever entered the program before, but Wunder completed it successfully and was hired immediately (in the fall of 1978) by the Pathology Department of the University of Missouri Hospital and Clinics in Columbia. Years and promotions later, Wunder is successfully working at the hospital and is now a programmer analyst-expert in the Information Services Department.

Wunder first learned about the National Federation of the Blind the summer before his senior year of high school. He says, "In the beginning I thought this talk about discrimination was a pretty good racket. No one did those things to me, and I assumed that all this Federation talk about jobs being denied and parents having children taken away from them was an effective way of raising funds. I didn't realize that my father's name and reputation in my hometown were protecting me from the worst of real life. So far I had gotten what I wanted, including a motorcycle to ride on our farm and my own horse. It was some time before I recognized that these talented and committed blind people whom I was getting to know in the Federation were trying to teach me about the world that I was going to inherit. They frightened me a little, but more and more I wanted to be like them."

In late 1973, several months after Wunder started college in Columbia, Missouri, a Federation organizing team arrived to establish a new chapter, and he took an active part in the preparations. Wunder was elected president, and when he transferred to Central Missouri State two years later, he organized a chapter in Warrensburg. In 1977 Wunder was elected First Vice President of the NFB of Missouri, and in 1979 he became President. Except for one two-year term, he has continued in that post ever since. Wunder was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 1985.

Looking back over the years of his involvement with and commitment to the Federation, Wunder says: "Despite all I learned from my parents about honor, responsibility, and the necessity to be competent, what I could never get from them was a sense of where blind people fit in a world composed mostly of sighted people. Friends and loved ones had always told me how wonderful I was (wonderful for a blind person, that is), but until I came to know members of the National Federation of the Blind, no one had the experience or knowledge to say how I could expect to measure up alongside the sighted. The NFB was the first place where I didn't get a round of applause for performing the routine activities of life. If I wanted my Federation colleagues' recognition and admiration, I had to merit them. It sounds contradictory, but while I was learning that I wouldn't be applauded for insignificant accomplishments, I was also learning that I didn't have to possess special compensatory senses or talents to make my way in the world. When you believe that your only opportunity for success lies in being a musician but you know that your only musical talent is in listening and then you suddenly find that you are capable of doing the average job in the average place of business, your sense of freedom, hope, and possibility know no bounds."

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